Marathon man

Published : May 02, 2009 00:00 IST

P. V. Sivakumar
P. V. Sivakumar

P. V. Sivakumar

Dilip Tirkey, the most-capped hockey player in the world, talks to V. V. Subrahmanyam about the highs and lows of his career.

Two years ago, while going through Sportstar, Dilip Tirkey took note of a statistic by the hockey statistician, B. G. Joshi, which referred to him as the most-capped player (360 matches) from India in international hockey. That was when he touched his heart and decided to create history by becoming the most-capped player in the world.

Dilip Tirkey, 31, who is often referred to as the ‘Wall of Indian hockey’, achieved his goal during the recent Sultan Azlan Shah Trophy in Ipoh (Malaysia), where India, led by Sandeep Singh, emerged victorious.

For someone who had seriously thought of quitting the sport in the wake of the all-round condemnation following India’s failure to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, becoming the most-capped player in the world was a great achievement indeed. Tirkey had to not only overcome the mental trauma associated with India’s debacle in the Olympic qualifiers but also an ankle injury that put him out of action for five months.

“Those were horrible days when everything seemed hopeless. The widespread criticism really hurt us. Personally too I felt terribly down after the failure to qualify for the Olympics. Then, the ankle injury.

“I was just not able to even walk, leave alone run. It was really frustrating and very difficult to be in the right frame of mind. But thanks to my friends and well-wishers, who kept reminding me of my long career saying that the sport doesn’t quite often see someone of such longevity, they ensured that I stayed focussed,” Tirkey said in a chat with Sportstar.

“That was the phase when the athletics coach, Arun Das, and trainer Mukti Prasad really worked hard with me,” he said.

When he became the most capped hockey player in the world (408 matches now) — Jeroen Delmee of the Netherlands held the record with 401 caps — Tirkey’s joy knew no bounds. “It is a great feeling. It is always nice to be with the Indian team. Obviously this record means a lot to me in particular and to Indian hockey in general. And, when we won the Azlan Shah Trophy, it was more special. It was a double delight,” Tirkey explained.

The affable defender, who thwarted the best of forwards with his impeccable and gritty displays, said that he was always confident of making a comeback to the Indian team after being out due to injury.

“The sheer love for the sport made me believe that I should be there in the Indian team,” said Tirkey who admires former India captain Pargat Singh and Dutch penalty-corner specialist Floris Bovelander.

For inspiration he also looks to Sachin Tendulkar, Leander Paes and Baichung Bhutia for the way they have sustained their level of excellence for such a long time at the highest level. “Their commitment and passion for the sport are two big characteristics that I try to imbibe,” Tirkey said.

Tirkey doesn’t seem to be bothered about who is in charge of the Indian team. “For me, once selected, the first objective is to give more than 100 per cent. Team’s interests are of primary concern. I have never chased any personal goals,” he said.

Talking of India’s triumph in Ipoh, Tirkey said: “Sandeep is young and led admirably in the Azlan Shah Trophy. The best part of our victory was that we started scoring more field goals and played real attacking hockey. This is great news for us. Everyone chipped in and thoroughly enjoyed the whole event.

“I do believe that the Azlan Shah victory would give us a lot of confidence. We badly needed this and it came in a very emphatic manner in the final,” he added.

Is Tirkey still chasing any dream?

“The fact that I haven’t won an Olympic or World Cup medal still haunts me. But right now, I am focussing on playing in the Asia Cup, then the Commonwealth Games and the World Cup (both to be held in Delhi),” he said.

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