Upholding a billion hopes, dodging the prowling opponents, and racing against a timer, Dhanraj Pillay kept striking the ball into the goalpost, throughout his career to script many fond victories for India. Teja Kovvali talks to the hockey wizard, who was recently in Visakhapatnam to attend The Presidential School’s Annual Sports event.
“Hockey has always been in my blood,” says Dhanraj Pillay, who was born in a humble Tamil family residing in Khadki, Maharashtra. Coincidentally, the neighbourhood where he grew up was completely hooked on to the national sport.
As a child, Pillay was strongly influenced by his family’s strong affinity for hockey. A young Pillay would often be seen going through his drills and practising the sport at the community ground early in the morning to master the skill he was gifted with. As things progressed, Pillay debuted for India in 1989 and went on to carry the country’s torch for fifteen glorious years. His illustrious career boasts of many titles and covetous honours, including the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna (1999 – 2000) and Padma Shri (2001). The modest man humbly credits his mother, and her blessings, for all his success.
However, as is the case with the greats of any sport, it was not a smooth sail for Pillay. From battling the odds to break into the national team during his initial phase, to making a comeback after being dropped for no reason in the later half, there stood many hurdles that he crossed in his time.
“Sport in itself is a challenge. The difference though is made by how you take it. As a forward, I had my target fixated at the goalpost and no matter what came in my way; I always tried to shoot the ball into it. After all, hockey is my everything,” Pillay says, giving us an essence of his doctrine towards life and facing the challenges that come along.
An extremely fierce competitor on the ground, and equally relaxed off it, the 4-time World Cup player remains concerned about the Federation’s step-motherly treatment of the Indian coaches. “History tells us that Adolf Hitler had come down to Berlin Olympics to watch the game of Dada Dhyanchand, who was trained by an Indian coach! When this testifies the calibre of our domestic breed of coaches, why should the Federation prefer foreigners to coach our team?” questions a visibly pained Pillay. He adds that while there might be talented players out there, it is important to give them the confidence that they too can make it big on the world stage.
With his share of payback to the game, the iconic striker is now busy grooming fledgling talents in the sport. Helping them take major strides, he even yearns to watch a few of them represent India at the Olympics in 2020. Pillay hopes that an Olympic medal, or a World Cup win, will trigger an inclination towards hockey, as he strives to drive the national sport forward in a country that largely remains smitten by a sport of English origins.