January 27, 2020
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Pillay Eyeing Elusive Dream

One of the fittest in the team at age 35, the Indian skipper is determined to bring home the hockey gold from the Athens Olympics

Pillay Eyeing Elusive Dream

At 35, the man from Pune is the senior-most hockey player in the country. But the veteran Indian captain is yet to allow age to mellow him.

Two days after celebrating his 35th birthday with teammates at the picturesque hill-resort of Barog in Himachal Pradesh, mercurial striker Dhanraj Pillay said he still feels like 18 when he enters the field wearing Indian colours.

"Hockey is everything to me and you can say it is my  life. I love playing for the country. I know age is catching up but being 35 or 40 never comes to my mind when I get down the field," Pillay said in an interview just before the team's departure for Delhi after the conclusion of a five-day fitness camp here.

The awe-inspiring player, whose career spans over a period of 15 years and during which he has played in over 300 internationals, is still considered one of the fittest players in the side.

"I don't have any bad habits and possibly that is why I am still very fit. I also work quite hard and have a strong will power which is necessary to survive at the highest level."

The veteran striker also chose the occasion to put to rest speculation about his retirement plans saying he wants to continue as long as possible. 

"There are talks of my retirement after the Champions Trophy or the Olympics. But tell me why should I retire if I am playing well and contributing to the team's success. I don't have any such plans now and would continue playing for the country as long as possible," he said.

Pillay, who was out of the team only once due to injury in the last 15 years, said he has only one regret -- the inability to win an Olympic medal during his tenure.

"I had no hard feelings when I was stripped of captaincy and Dilip Tirkey was given the reins. But I felt really bad when we failed to reach the final of the Sydney Olympics, which we should have. But I am determined to bring the Olympic gold to India in Athens.

"I have also a dream of India finishing in the first or second position in the Champions Trophy."

India's last Olympic gold came in 1980 in Moscow and since then the country is yet to win a medal in the world's biggest sporting extravaganza.

In Champions Trophy, India won their only medal in 1982 when they finished third in Amsterdam, Holland.

India will be looking to better their record when the team leaves for Holland next month to play in the elite tournament beginning in Amstelveen on August 16.

Despite leading a team consisting mostly of players 10 to 15 years younger than him, Pillay said he had no problem in communicating with his teammates as he is a "complete team-man."

"I am a happy and satified man and I feel that I am the senior-most and the captain of the side. All players are vital to a team's success and the boys are doing really well at the moment. In a sport like hockey, winning depends on the performance of the entire team and not on any single individual," he said.

Pillay, probably the only star in the team, said India have a bright future but it will depend how the youngsters play in future.

"We have some very fine players but continuing to excel for 10 years at the international level is not a small thing. The players need to keep their heads down and maintain their composure for at least the next few years and play in the same way. They should not allow success to go to their head."

The Indian captain said to bring back lost glory, efforts should be made to promote hockey at the grass root  level.

"We have a very good system. We have sub-junior, junior, India-A and senior teams but what is not there is a hockey culture at the grass-root level. Steps should be taken to promote the game at the school level and nurture talent from the beginning."

Pillay said when he retires he would take up the job of popularising the game.

"I am keen to become a coach after my retirement. I will travel to schools, colleges, universities and villages to promote and popularise hockey which is India's national game."


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