‘India should target Asian Games final’

Former India hockey star Dhanraj Pillay says India needs to treat the CWG as a path to the Asian Games.

Former India hockey star Dhanraj Pillay also feels that in India-Pakistan games, one needs a heart to play more than skill.   -  THE HINDU PHOTO ARCHIVES

Dhanraj Pillay is positive about the impact of professional leagues in raising the profile of hockey. The former India captain, connected with the sport in different capacities (Joint Secretary of Air India Sports Promotion Board and Technical Director to Sports Authority of Gujarat), is of the view that reaching the next Asian Games hockey final should be the target and Commonwealth Games (CWG) can be a stepping stone on that path.

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Do you feel the professional sporting leagues, taking off in India in a big way, leave an impact on sportspersons?

The Pro Kabaddi League gets all the TRPs and is the most followed league after the Indian Premier League. The sport has got the status it richly deserves. Hockey was the first sport to take the initiative. The Premier Hockey League took off (in 2005) when Mr K.P.S. Gill was the president of the Indian Hockey Federation. It could not be sustained due to financial reasons. The World Series Hockey was launched (in 2011) and for one season, hockey got a boost before the FIH announced the tournament did not have its sanction. By then, big corporates had come out with something different in football and managed to get support from Bollywood, then kabaddi followed.

Is a professional league the way forward for an Indian sport?

All major sports in India have their own leagues, from hockey, football, badminton, wrestling, table tennis to cuesports. Anand Mahindra took personal interest in Pro Kabaddi and Nita Ambani got movie stars to become team owners in Indian Super League. Shooting will join the list soon after catching the attention of the younger generation. It is a costly sport, but parents are willing to spend for the specialised training abroad. The performance of our shooters has increased the popularity and I will not be surprised to see shooting launching its own league by 2020.

READ: India to clash against Pakistan in Champions Trophy hockey opener

Having been involved with Hockey India League (HIL) closely, as part of the franchise, UP Wizards, do you feel the league effect is seen in the international and domestic players?

In the first two years of HIL, I did not see any benefits, maybe two players in Mandeep Singh and Manpreet Singh emerged. From season three onwards, I can vouch for the league producing players like Birender Lakra, Lalit Upadhyay, Affan Yousuf, Akashdeep Singh, Ramandeep Singh who gave their best for their respective team in the HIL and later on represented India.

Can you elaborate on the various ways Indian hockey benefited from the league?

The players gained financially from the HIL and more importantly, realised the dream of every hockey player about rubbing shoulders with world stars. The biggest names in hockey like Teun de Nooijer, Jamie Dwyer and others from Australia, Spain, Germany, Argentina, Belgium played here. Credit is due to Narender Batra for changing dreams into a reality. The impact was seen when Hockey India got in foreign coaches for most teams, like Roelant Oltmans, Terry Walsh, Barry Dancer, Jay Stacy who was the best Australian player during my time. Indian players gained experience and exposure under these coaches, who explained how a team was built in club leagues back home and expected players to perform according to plans. Hockey could be called a game of skills, now it is a game of fitness. Individual players cannot determine the result of a match. All 16 players, coach, manager, support staff need to be involved. The national teams too are working on similar lines, the way foreign clubs prepare for big competitions.

Will the HIL advantage help India at the CWG 2018?

HIL experience would have benefited the Indian national team if they were playing in CWG immediately afterwards, not one year later. Due to a crowded international tournament schedule, the HIL could not be held this year, which I understand. Players like S.V. Sunil, P.R. Sreejesh, Harmanpreet Singh, Manpreet Singh, Chinglensana Singh, Kothajit Singh have all come from the HIL and know the intensity of training needed for a league and international tournaments, so they are prepared and fit to represent India at the CWG and Asian Games. Indian hockey prepares teams the way foreign clubs do. The approach is professional, with doctors, physios, masseurs, mind trainers working with specialist coaches under a chief coach.

As a competition, is CWG a real test of quality for participating nations?

The level of competition at Asian Games, World Championships or Olympics Games is tougher than CWG; only two teams are tough in CWG, Australia and England. It should be treated as match practice for Asian Games preparation. Every tournament we take part in, don’t expect to win each one. The target should be to reach the Asian Games final in 2018.

Sardara Singh did not find a place in the team for CWG, your thoughts?

Trying out new players in CWG is fine, Sardara’s experience will be valuable at the Asian Games 2018 where a gold medal results in a direct entry into the Olympic Games. He played against Australia many times in his career and the Indian team will miss him in big matches at the CWG.

What do you think about Oltmans as Pakistan coach?

Oltmans will need time, at least six to eight months, to gauge the players. When it comes to India-Pakistan games, you need a heart to play more than skill. Whether a player is 15 years old or 32 years, you need to give your best.

READ: Roelant Oltmans eyes revival of Pakistan hockey

India will also be fielding the women’s team at the CWG…

The Indian women qualified for the Rio Olympics, so they are aiming high and government support is the right thing. There is no discrimination between men and women’s sport across the world. I can only talk about hockey; England, Australia, Netherlands, Germany or Argentina concentrate on women’s hockey also. Performance is the bottom line. The Rio Games was the first Olympic hockey medal for the Argentine men, whereas their women have been semifinalist or finalist at the Olympics, World Cup for a long time. In India, the mindset is also changing. The feats of Mary Kom, Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal, P.V. Sindhu and then Sakshi Malik, Dipa Karmarkar are making parents support sporting ambitions in the girl child. Bollywood movies on women in sport have come out. Parents feel their kids should represent the country in women’s hockey also. We also have a capable coach (Harendra Singh) in charge of a group of women players peaking in time for international competitions.

Hockey India men's and women's team captains Manpreet Singh and Rani Rampal with former players (L-R) Dilip Tirkey, Dhanraj Pillay and Viren Rasquinha.   -  R.V. MOORTHY

 

You deal with parents on a regular basis in Gujarat as part of work with the state hockey academy. How do parents view sport in relation to their kids’ careers?

It was very difficult to convince people in Gujarat to take interest in Olympic sports like hockey for the children. The change has been noticed in the last five years when Sandeep Pradhan became the Director for Sport (Sports Authority of Gujarat). Infrastructure for different Olympic events came up during his tenure. When I am in Vadodara for the hockey project, parents of kids training there inquire about their child’s future in sport. Talent is available across the nation and should be tapped at the right time. The selectors who are looking to scout players through the Nationals can also spot new faces from teams which exits before the final stage. Hockey India should look beyond the core group of players.