The Rediff Interview / Dhanraj Pillay
'I am sure we will do very well in the World Cup'
Dhanraj Pillay. The name has been synonymous, for over a decade now, with Indian hockey. An indication of his stature lies in the fact that leading up to yet another World Cup - Pillay's fourth - the veteran striker is still seen as the key to India's prospects.
Shobha Warrier caught up with him in Chennai, shortly before the team left for Kuala Lumpur for the February 24-March 9 World Cup.
Excerpts from the conversation:
There are rumors you will retire after the World Cup. What prompted the decision?
The truth is, I haven't even thought about retirement. I enjoy playing and right now, I am concentrating on the World Cup. True, I have been playing from 1989 onwards, I have already played three World Cups and this will be my fourth. But I believe there is a lot of hockey left in me, and I hope to continue playing for the country.
You are the senior-most player in a squad that contains a large number of juniors. Do they treat you with awe, or as just another teammate?
We have both seniors and juniors in the side, and the understanding between both groups is very good. When you are on the field, you are merely a player. It was like this even when I was a junior - there were great players in the side at the time, and they encouraged me and guided me. Similarly, now, we too give the juniors guidance, we help them in any way we can.
What would you say is the single biggest reason for India's lack of success at the highest level?
We have plenty of talent in the country, but the trouble is, we have not changed in our thinking. Hockey has changed in the last few years, but we have not changed with it. Today, skill is no longer important, the game is about hard running and hitting -- and we should train accordingly. But we haven't. But let me tell you that now, we are on the right track. In the last two Olympics, we were very close to a semifinal placing. And since then, we have won quite a few tournaments, in the last year, and that has been a morale booster - I am sure we will do very well in the World Cup.
India has been ranked number 14 by the International Hockey Federation - will that dampen the team's morale?
No, why should it? Players don't think about FIH rankings. While on that, we are actually number six, now that we have won the Champions' Challenge, we will be playing the Champions Trophy and that means we are one of the top six teams in the world.
You've started a hockey academy in Mumbai and another in Bangalore - two cities that are traditionally cricket oriented. What was your thinking behind this?
The whole of India is cricket crazy! Actually, I am from Mumbai, so I wanted to do something from the place I belong to. As for Bangalore, that is because (former India goalkeeper) Ashish Ballal lives there, and he can take care of that branch while I look after the Mumbai branch. The response has been very good - in Mumbai, 180 boys came for the first level selection. We picked 45, and have whittled that down to 35. We have two coaches there and the training program is going on very well.
Why is cricket so popular, when hockey is what we used to excel at? It is our national sport.
Cricket has been marketed very well by the cricket board. That is one very big reason for its popularity. Hockey can become equally popular - what we need is one big victory, either in the World Cup, or in the next Olympics. If that happens, you will see the change - the sponsors will come forward, the people will develop an interest, everything will change.
Of late you have played a lot of hockey in Germany, England and France, for various clubs. What has the experience taught you?
I learnt a lot in the eight years I played in France - it is because of my stint there that I learnt how to keep fit, and that is one reason why I am still playing for my country. In Europe, they don't play skilful hockey - so they play to a plan instead. They follow the coach's instructions; they play hit and run hockey.
Another important factor is if you take Germany as an example, only one pattern of hockey is played throughout the country. They follow one uniform training method.
Whatever coaching method and strategy the national coach recommends, all coaches in the country follow it. In India we have a hundred coaches, and each follows his own method. Also, over there, they play throughout the year, either indoors or outdoors. And before every international tournament, they get together for a 15-day camp.
Should India have a foreign coach?
I don't think so. We have very good coaches. What we need is continuity. If we have one coach for one year and then next year another coach comes along and follows a different method, then the players and the standards will get affected.