Dhanraj Pillay is a forgotten legend of our national sport. He is hailed as one of the greatest the game of hockey has ever seen; the former Indian skipper was instrumental for India during his 15 years long regime and represented the country in a staggering 339 international games, netting more than 170 goals.
July 17th marks the birth date of this unsung hero of Indian hockey. If there is one man who is considered to have the phenomenal aura and skills with the stick after the legendary Dhyanchand, it is Dhanraj Pillay. He is credited to carry forward the Indian legacy on the hockey turf. Today, on his 48th birthday, let’s remember some of the most glorious moments from his majestic career.
Born to Tamilian parents in Khadki, Pune, Dhanraj came from a very humble background. He started playing hockey at a young age. He played at the Ordinance factory staff colony where his father was a groundsman. Not fortunate enough with the available resources, he would play with broken sticks and old hockey balls carving his ball control skills. He later moved to Mumbai where he came to terms with the sport under the guidance of his brother.
He was mentored by his elder brother Ramesh who was then playing for RCF in Mumbai League and had also represented India. After brushing up basics with the help of his brother, Pillay later joined Mahindra & Mahindra, where he trained under the then India coach J M Carvalho.
He made his debut for India in the Allwyn Asia Cup in 1989 and never looked back there after. He went on to represent India in a record 4 Olympic Games, 4 World Cups, 4 Champions trophies and 4 Asian games tournaments. He also led the Indian side to victory in the 1998 Asian Games and the Asia Cup in 2003. It was in the 1994 Sydney Olympics that Dhanraj Pillay announced himself to the world; the audiences were left in awe when he drizzled past defenders with great aggression and sturdiness. He was the only Indian to feature in the World Xl that year.
He was someone who possessed immense mental and physical strength. There were very few who could read the game as good as Pillay. He was honoured with the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award for his extra-ordinary performance during the year 1999-2000, and the Padam Shri in 2001 for his imperative contribution to the sport.
But not all beautiful things last forever. Pillay played his last game in the 2004 Athens Olympics, where he was taken off the pitch in just two minutes 55 seconds by the then coach Gerhard Rach. He didn’t receive the farewell he deserved. He had differences with coach Rach, who was later sacked in January 2005 following an unsuccessful term with the team.
Dhanraj Pillay is currently serving as a manager to the Indian hockey team, and wants to set up a hockey academy of his own to mould future talents for the game. A player of his caliber is a boon for the country and will always be remembered as one of the greatest to have donned the blue colours for India on the hockey pitch.