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Pillay's Olympics in doubt
N.Ananthanarayanan | February 25, 2004 14:30 IST
The omission of Dhanraj Pillay from next month's pre-Olympic qualifiers has raised questions over whether India's most capped hockey player would be chosen for his fourth Olympics in Athens later this year.
The 35-year-old striker, regarded as the face of Indian hockey for over a decade, was dropped on Monday from the 18-player squad for the qualifiers starting in Madrid on March 2.
"Hockey is a team game. If some players or coaches are not happy with me, there is no point because the differences will become obvious on the field," Pillay told Reuters on Tuesday.
"At this point in my career, I don't want any player to think I am blocking their place because of my reputation," Pillay, a veteran of over 400 internationals, said.
He still hoped to go to Athens in August, however.
"I will continue my training. I hope I can still come back into the team. I am determined to play in my fourth Olympics."
Almost as popular as cricket's Sachin Tendulkar and Davis Cup captain Leander Paes, the long-haired Pillay still matches younger team mates and rivals in agility and touch.
Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) secretary K.Jothikumaran said Pillay was not fully fit, adding: "This is not the end of the road for him or anything."
Domestic media and hockey observers believe Pillay's outspoken media comments, disputes with coaches and resentment among team mates of his special status were finally taking their toll.
Pillay led India to their first Asian Games gold for 32 years in Bangkok in 1998, but has continued to give himself one last chance for an elusive Olympic medal after the eight-time winners slumped to seventh at Sydney four years ago.
He even finished top scorer in Bangkok, but was among six players to be axed immediately after the triumph over a payment dispute. He was subsequently recalled to use his experience.
His differences with Rajinder Singh have also continued to make media headlines. Singh has in the past expressed unhappiness that Pillay's comments were undermining team unity.