Former India hockey captain Dhanraj Pillay is upset with the selection of only one goalkeeper in the Indian team due to take part in the Incheon Asian Games starting, Friday.
“It’s a very bad strategy, I can say. You cannot take chances with the goalkeeper. You go in with one full back less and have a second goalkeeper instead,” said Pillay, recalling how discarded custodian Adrian D’Souza got severely hurt in the first match in Hyderabad, a few years ago in a League when defending a penalty corner.
Wishing the Indian team well, the current Air India coach cautioned the Sardar Singh-led squad not to take any team lightly, especially arch-rivals Pakistan, who have not been seen in international hockey for quite some time now.
“We are in a tough pool with Pakistan. We have to play according to plan and strategy should be very good. We have not seen Pakistan or South Korea for seven months or so and we cannot take them lightly,” said the 46-year-old four-time Olympian.
“Every time we play against Pakistan, it’s like war. I have played in four Asian Games finals, two of those against Pakistan and the others against South Korea,” recalled Pillay who scored the match-winner in the final against Pakistan at Bangkok in 1998 to fetch India only its second men’s hockey gold at the Games.
Pillay felt that the new four-quarter game format, that will be introduced in the Games, would benefit coaches and not Indian players who take time to settle down.
“It’s very good for the coaches. In the first quarter the coach will field his best team, in the second he will rest some, in the third he will again play them. But in 15 minutes you can’t show everything but Indian hockey is adopted by European style of hockey.
“I came to know through players (in camp) that they are playing for 3 minutes, 5 or 7 minutes (before being rested). Indian and Pakistan players need more time to adjust, settle down and understand opposition.”
Pillay was also unhappy with the hockey authorities for having faith in only foreign coaches since the 2004 Athens Olympics (barring a spell when India’s Joaquim Carvalho).
“I don’t know whether Indian hockey is going in the right direction. The 1998 team was one of the best we have had. In 2002 also we played in the final, but unfortunately we lost to Korea. After that we have been struggling,” he said.
“In Qatar (2006) we could not qualify for semis and after that did not qualify for the Olympics. Hockey India should have faith in Indian coaches,” he said.
He emphasised that when he quit the game at the international level ten years ago “Indian hockey was on top.”
“Hockey was going up from 2000 till 2004 Athlens where we had foreign coach for first time. Since then we have been playing well in patches.
“In the recent Commonwealth Games only two teams New Zealand and Australia were good and we lost to Australia, with only 4-5 top players, 4-0 in the final. In the last ten years neither are we playing in the Indian nor in European style.”
He also took a pot shot at HI secretary general Narinder Batra for his constant war of words with Sports Authority of India or the government’s sports ministry.
“We are fighting with IOA (Indian Olympic Association), Government (sports ministry) or SAI whether coaches will go or official will go. Yesterday (on Sunday) I heard Jude Felix (former teammate) got confirmation to go (as additional coach).”
The feisty Pillay also criticised Indian coaches who praise the foreign ones skyhigh after working under them.
“But our coaches are also responsible for the sort of treatment we get. Whenever Indian coaches work under a foreign coach they talk so big as if they are the god of world hockey. I think Indian coaches are better than anyone else.”
He was also puzzled as to why HI wants to send the top team to all and sundry tournaments instead of limited the top players’ appearance to events that matter like Asian Games, World Cup, Olympic Games etc.
Pillay, asked whether he would take up the challenge to coach the Indian team to the top, shot back that he will never be made the coach as “I am not (in the habit) of touching the feet” of people in hockey officialdom.