'We are playing laptop hockey, not field hockey'

India hockey veteran Dhanraj Pillay questions frequent substitutions in modern-day hockey; Dilip Tirkey feels the pace has curbed players' creativity.

Indian hockey remains nothing like what it used to be, agree both Dhanraj Pillay and Dilip Tirkey.

For all the years they played together, Dhanraj Pillay and Dilip Tirkey remained fire and ice of Indian hockey. Striker and defender, fiery and calm, flamboyant and subdued – the two were poles apart. More than a decade after they quit playing, they remain the same.

The only thing they agree on is the fact that Indian hockey remains nothing like what it used to be. And neither is sure whether all the changes have been for the best. “Success is all about discipline. I can proudly say that my discipline towards the game was impeccable. I never took it for granted or disrespected the game that has given me everything. Now things have changed,” Pillay said.

“The one advice I always followed was to stay away from newspapers during a tournament. A good report may make me overconfident and a bad one spoil my game. Today, there is so much of social media, all players are always busy with their phones. I would only suggest that team bonding is crucial and that cannot come from social media, you have to spend time with each other,” he added bluntly.

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Pillay himself is hardly present on social media, similar to Tirkey, a former Rajya Sabha member and a key figure in Odisha politics now. As two of the fittest players ever in Indian hockey, they also agree on heightened fitness but unsure skills as the hallmark of the current side.

“We cannot even compare the fitness levels now with our time. This team is at par with Australia, Germany, Holland, the sides who set fitness standards back then. But we used to beat them in skills, by which I don’t mean only dribbling. In this exhibition match, you saw Deepak Thakur score twice. It was because of his game sense, positioning, ability to control the ball and finish off with a goal. That is now missing,” he explained.

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Tirkey, on his part, added that the pace of modern hockey made it too technical. “It is difficult for a player to even understand what is happening and yet he has to get into action immediately. Not easy to think creatively in such a situation,” he shrugs.

Pillay is more curt. “Even for a genius it takes time to get into the mix on field. I cannot understand substitutions every 2-3 minutes with everything decided by equipments from outside. We are playing laptop hockey, not field hockey,” he declares.

As for the World Cup, there will be no easy matches. Tirkey is confident the crowd will continue to support the home team and that will propel it to success. Pillay warns of complacency and backlash from the same public if the team played medicore. Between them, the two remain hopeful of the ultimate glory on home soil.