January 18, 2020
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'No One Told Us What To Do'

There hasn't been a worse outing for India than the current World Cup. Captain Dhanraj Pillay on the three consecutive defeats that have put question marks on the future of Indian hockey as well as his career:

'No One Told Us What To Do'
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There has been a question mark on your fitness.

Doctors cleared me at home. True, I am not the Dhanraj of 1994 or 1996. But this same Dhanraj hit a goal with a fractured foot against Pakistan. In one of the matches, I ran for 23 minutes before touching the ball. I did a lot of off-the-ball running to draw away defenders. That created space for Mukesh. People in India aren't used to this kind of hockey, so they say I'm not fit. Also, the through balls aren't coming like before. The few that came I missed. I've never had this kind of slump before.

Why the team's poor performance?

Against Holland we dominated in the first 20 minutes. But we missed many sitters. Our defence was also a weak link. Against Germany we gifted away goals. Against Korea we were at the receiving end of bad umpiring from a Pakistani. He awarded a penalty corner after the final hooter. When we couldn't sustain the pace against Holland there was no one to tell us what to do. We haven't been able to use our skills through good tactical play. Three or four German players know little more than how to receive and pass. Yet they produce results.

How has 1997 changed hockey?

For the whole of 1997, we played no hockey. I can't begin to tell you how far behind we are. Then they brought in things like the left sweep. Ideally they should ban it as there's no way of knowing which way it's going to go. Nobody is scoring goals through direct hits. Everyone is into scoops and deflections. Because of the offside rule there are two players always around the D. Then, we don't have international umpiring in India. Our domestic umpiring is very different.

The skill is going out of the game. Teams have even begun blocking with their foot. Some rules convert hockey into football. Also, we are not professional in watching video clippings. (German coach) Paul Lissek calls his defenders individually and explains the opponents' dodging styles.

We've been aware of our penalty corner weakness for two decades.

Unless all the Indian fullbacks gather for two months and practise nothing but this, there will be no improvement.

India's was the only World Cup team without sponsors.

If sponsors come, they should invest but forget about results for two years. This competition has put us back a lot. The biggest tragedy of my life is that I have no gold medal, nothing. Taras gaye medal ke liye (we are starved for medals).

Is hockey not seen as lucrative enough by youngsters?

It was never lucrative. From an allowance of $10 a day when I started playing, now we get $20. You can't play today's hockey on $20 a day. I am the only player ever to get any endorsement. The only thing going for me is my job with the Mahindras. But without good results little will change. We've even come to the '98 World Cup with 1997 flags. When I exchanged flags with the Germans, the captain said: "This is 1998 Dhanraj, why are you going around with 1997 flags?"

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