India summer long gone, says former star
At 41, Dhanraj Pillay still has the moves that once made him the most feared player in the world. But he sadly rues the fact that India are not as feared on the field anymore, pinning the blame on the lack of professionalism by the game's administrators back home.
'Indian hockey is not professional. And I'm not talking about the players, but how the game is run,' Pillay said. 'Our hockey has gone down because of political infighting. We have the talent, but the game is run poorly.'
In town with Air India for the annual Quadrangular tournament at King's Park - Pillay was rested yesterday as Air India stormed into today's final against Guangdong with a 16-0 win over the Hong Kong President's XI - India's famed forward called for a radical change in the governance of the sport back home.
'Why are countries like Australia, Holland, Germany etc so good. It is because the sport is run and managed professionally. They are very well organised but this is not the case in India,' Pillay said.
A renowned dribbler, Pillay said: 'Unlike in the past, where you were proud to play for your country, you have to recognise that today, that passion alone is not enough. The younger generation wants to know how they will benefit financially from the sport. If you don't pay them their dues, no one will be interested in playing hockey.'
Pillay last played for India at the 2004 Athens Olympics. He is the only player to have played in four Olympics, four World Cups, four Champions Trophies and four Asian Games. India won the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok under his captaincy.
Those were the days. Two years ago, India failed for the first time to qualify for the Olympics (in Beijing). This month, India finished eighth in the 12-team World Cup they hosted.
'We lacked direction. I felt there was no strategy, no game plan, and no leader. No one could hold the team together. Other teams were more prepared than us,' Pillay said.
A winner of India's highest sporting award, the Rajiv Ghandi Khel Ratna, Pillay believes he can turn India's international fortunes around if given a free hand. 'My dream is to coach India one day.
'It will take some time, but I can guarantee that India can get back to the Olympics or the World Cup again. We have the talent. I'm very confident about the skills of the Indian players. I ruled hockey when I was playing and the big European sides were worried. We were not six feet, we had only skills. We can get back to those days, all it needs is for the game to be run in a professional manner.'