Having represented India for over 16 years in more than 300 international matches, Dhanraj Pillay is the name which is synonymous with Indian Hockey. He led India to the golden victories in the 1998 Asian Games and 2003 Asia Cup. Vox Populi and Insight360 got the opportunity to meet this living legend on the final day of Udghosh, the annual sports festival of IIT Kanpur, though briefly. He talked about various things including hockey, Incheon Asian Games and a couple of talismans for the youth. Here is the full interview, straight from the horse’s mouth.
VP:Everyone who knows about Hockey in India knows you. After being synonymous with Hockey for all these years, what has been the most prized moment of your career?
DP: I think the most memorable moment of my career was my debut, the day when my coach offered me the Indian jersey for the first time at the Allwyn Asia Cup, 1989. It was the first time when I got the feeling of accomplishment. Again, when I was playing in the SAF Games, 1995, Chennai, we were up against Pakistan in the finals. We defeated them by 5-2 and I scored 3 goals whereas Mukesh Kumar scored 2. I think this was the turning point of my career as people started to know me thereafter. Before this, Mohammed Shahid( my idol) and Pargat Singh were the only reknowned players. Indian Hockey players were declared national heroes. The whole team was felicitated by Jayalalitha, the then Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. There was no turning back after this achievement.
VP: India has made it to the semi-finals of the Asian Games at Incheon. The last time we won the Gold was under your captaincy in 1998. Can Indian Hockey team end its 16 year long draught of an Asian Games Gold this time?
DP:I sincerely wish that all the previous records are broken by the current Hockey squad. I will be elated to see the Hockey team winning the Gold under the leadership of Sardara Singh. But I must admit that the level of Hockey has gone down in recent years and a prime reason for it is the foreign coaches. It is a general belief that foreign coaches are the best but in my opinion Indian coaches are equally good. Looking back at the performance of the Indian Hockey team, you can easily witness a constant decline in the last decade. We lost two finals in the Commonwealth Games. In 2010, Delhi Commonwealth Games, we lost to Australia by 8 goals. In the recent Commonwealth Games at Glasgow, we were again defeated by Australia, 4-0, in the finals. It hurts me when we face such huge debacles.
VP: How has been your experience at Udghosh?
DP: Udghosh’14 has done a remarkable job, both the student and faculties. The infrastructure of IIT Kanpur is one of the best in the nation. The stay facilities are excellent. I would also like to mention Mr. Santosh Upadhyay and Mr. Abhishek Pandey. Mr. Santosh has been with me for the last 10-12 years and has had a great influence on sports. If you want to know any player in Kanpur, one should go to him as he knows all of them. Abhishek Pandey has been a fellow international athlete.
VP: A talisman for all budding sportspersons and others out there.
DP: Whatever you do, do it with passion and hard-work and you will never fail in life. Success is directly proportional to the amount of hard-work you put in. My mother has been an instrumental figure behind this philosophy. I usually say: Do it with all your heart, whatever the task is! Let me put it this way, I had never thought to represent India one day. My brother, who had played some matches for the national side, inspired me to work hard. He told me that it is very easy to break into the team but sustenance is very difficult. For example, getting into IIT Kanpur is easier than sustaining oneself for four years. I think that it is my brother whose inspiration culminated in the hard work and subsequently my position in the team. So, to be precise, do what you like. If you do not like something, do not do it.
(With this we put an end to the question spree and asked him for a photograph. Even after a two hour long felicitation function, Dhanraj Pillay happily agreed for the snaps and also went on to chat with the enthusiasts outside his room for a considerable amount of time.)
Written by Bhanu Pratap Singh Tanwar