Dhanraj Unleashed

Dhanraj Pillay at the Gachibowli Hockey Complex.-V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM

The mercurial centre-forward of yesteryear reiterates that the only way the nation can regain its past glory in the sport is by hiring former India players as coaches. By V. V. Subrahmanyam.

The youngsters began applauding as Dhanraj Pillay, the mercurial centre-forward of yesteryear who led India to the 1998 Asian Games gold, walked into the Gachibowli Hockey Complex. He was here to train the youngsters as part of the coaching camp, organised by Hockey Hyderabad under the stewardship of Olympian Nandnuri Mukesh Kumar.

Dhanraj and Mukesh, with their renowned artistry on the field, had mesmerised the best of defences around the world for close to 15 years. They were also known for making deadly forays into the rival area. The two players have had great respect for each other and it was discernible even after 10 years after they had stopped playing for their country.

Thanks to the initiative of Mukesh, Dhanraj spent a couple of days with the sub-juniors at the camp, where the emphasis was on the need to have passion for the sport and the willingness to put in the extra effort.

“You should enjoy the game and for that you have to really put your heart and soul into it. Nothing is impossible and there is no substitute for hard work, as the seniors say,” was Dhanraj’s simple advice to the youngsters.

It was a treat to watch when Mukesh and Dhanraj showed glimpses of their artistry of yore to the youngsters, who, simply put, were stunned.

“I think you are all lucky to have a hockey body headed by Mr. Jayesh Ranjan, IAS, and president of Hockey Hyderabad, and Mukesh. And my good friend, my former team-mate knows the pain of a player and should do a lot to change the face of the game in Hyderabad,” complimented Dhanraj.

The talk then veered around to the current state of Indian hockey. Dhanraj, 45, reiterated that the only way the nation can regain its past glory in the sport is by hiring former India players as coaches.

“You have seen in 2004, when a German was the coach. We failed to make it to the 2008 Olympics. India’s performance was disappointing to say the least at the London Olympics. And, each time, it was a foreign coach who was in charge,” Dhanraj pointed out.

The way to do it... Former India captain Dhanraj Pillay and Olympian Mukesh Kumar giving a few tips to the young trainees at the Gachibowli Hockey Complex in Hyderabad.-

“I would like to pose one simple query: when players like me and Mukesh can be so good at the highest level, can’t we be good coaches?” Dhanraj asked.

“Being witness to so many training programmes, it would be naive to think that we are not well-versed with the reasons for the remarkable improvement of the foreign teams’ standards,” he observed.

“It is sad that every time we appoint a foreign coach, the first thing we have to do is to look for an interpreter who sometimes doubles up as assistant coach. The language of hockey in India is not English. It is Hindi or Punjabi. I have seen many players struggling to understand what a foreign coach says,” Dhanraj said.

“Just remember that there is abundance of talent — both amongst boys and girls — in India. But unfortunately, the performances of the national team have been going down for the last 10 years for a variety of reasons. I still can’t understand why Hockey India doesn’t let players like me and Mukesh take care of the sport,” he said. “We seem to take more pride in counting the conversion rate of a US or an Australian dollar by only thinking about foreign coaches.”

The temperamental star of yesteryear, who has had several brushes with the powers-that-be during his heyday, said: “Unfortunately, even as India, which taught hockey to the world, is struggling, the foreign teams have improved dramatically. You give us a chance, we will show the results. Ironically, they call everyone except me.

“I repeat that Indian coaches know our players better than these foreign coaches. For the simple reasons they know our climate, the work ethic and the structure of the sport here.

“There is a serious and urgent need to quickly realise what ails Indian hockey and prepare the blueprint to bring back the past glory. I don’t think it is impossible but certainly needs a lot of courage and sincerity from the powers that control the sport in India.”

* * * Tendulkar - A gentleman to the core

Dhanraj Pillay paid glowing tributes to Sachin Tendulkar as the legendary Indian batsman announced his decision to retire from the game after playing his 200th Test in Mumbai against the West Indies.

“I don’t think we can see another Sachin in cricket. A fantastic achiever, he had his feet firmly on the ground. His records speak for themselves. He deserves all the respect he is getting,” Dhanraj said.

Dhanraj recalled his friendship with Sachin. “We keep talking to each other regularly. He is a terrific human being, always approachable and with no airs at all,” he remarked.

The former India centre-forward said that unlike him, who had quite a few run-ins with the Indian hockey officialdom, Sachin was a gentleman to the core. “The fact that Sachin stayed away from controversies despite playing the sport at the highest level for close to 25 years is a tribute to his impeccable credentials,” he observed.

“Definitely, God has been kind enough to Sachin, for everything he touched turned into gold. This is again a reflection of his great commitment over a long period. I don’t think any modern-day sportsperson can last more than a decade now for different reasons,” he remarked.

Dhanraj finally blamed the media for Sachin’s retirement. “It is the media that put so much pressure on him by debating, day-in and day-out, on this subject. Honestly, I feel he is still good enough for two more years of cricket,” he remarked.

“Now, I can only pray that Arjun (Sachin’s son) will carry on the legacy of his illustrious father,” Dhanraj added.