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|August 29, 2001||
I am completely fit: Dhanraj Pillay
Former India hockey captain Dhanraj Pillay, who was dropped from the teams for the World Cup qualifier in Birmingham and Azlan Shah tournament in Malaysia, on Wednesday said he is absolutely fit and looking forward to playing in the 10th World Cup finals in Kuala Lumpur next year.
"I am now completely fit and hopeful of turning out for the country in the World Cup," Pillay told news persons in Calcutta on the sidelines of a function, held on the occasion of hockey wizard Dhyan Chand's 96th birth anniversary.
The mercurial centre-forward had missed India's tours to Malaysia, New Zealand and Australia as also two of the three coaching camps in the run-up to last month's World Cup qualifiers at Edinburgh, Scotland, due to a knee injury, sustained in Bangalore, and was consequently not considered for the qualifier.
He was also excluded from the squad for the Azlan Shah tourney earlier this month following his refusal to attend the coaching camp at Jammu due to an alleged threat to his life by militant outfit Lashkar-e-Tayiba.
Pillay expressed optimism about India's performance in the World Cup, saying the presence of a clutch of experienced players like Sabu Varkey, Baljit Singh Dhillon and Dilip Tirkey has made India a strong side.
"We must prepare hard. We also have the advantage of a favourable pool. We know who our opponents are and, as such, it is easier for us to gear ourselves up," he said.
Pillay felt India must make full use of the few months left before the World Cup and utilise the Afro-Asian Games to enable the team peak at the right time.
"We have to eliminate our traditional weakness in converting penalty-corners," he said.
Asked whether he is under pressure following the threat issued by Lashkar-e-Tayiba, Pillay shot back: "Will you go to Jammu if you are threatened by the LeT? At the back of my mind it is always there. My parents and brothers are all worried," he said.
On India's not-too-impressive performance in Edinburgh, where the team finished fifth to barely clinch a place in the World Cup, he said: "You cannot expect the team to win all the matches".
Pillay parried a question on coach Cedric D'Souza's comment that he was satisfied with the team qualifying for the World Cup, saying, "This query should be put to him."
He, however, was all praise for D'Souza, saying he is well-equipped with modern coaching techniques.
Regretting that frequent change of coaches had led to the inconsistent performance of the national side in the past, he said every coach has his own style and must be given time to give the desired results.
Pillay, who has often in the past courted controversy with his comments, played safe when asked whether it is proper for selectors to constantly push him in and out of the national team.
"This is for the media to judge," was all he was prepared to say.
Mail Sports Editor
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