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Hockey World Cup Memories: Dhanraj Pillay on hostile reception in 1990 edition and making waves in Sydney 1994

Dhanraj Pillay is a legend of the game, having represented India ta four Olympics and four World Cups. He spoke to Amit Kamath

It has been 28 years now, but the sound of the furious pounding on the door will never go away from my mind. The people outside the door were blaming us for Pakistan's defeat in the final. Maybe they still do.

But the minutes we spent in the dressing room after Pakistan lost to the Netherlands at Lahore in the final of the 1990 World Cup were nerve-wracking for us.

File image of Dhanraj Pillay. Reuters

File image of Dhanraj Pillay. Reuters

All we had wanted to do was to watch the match live. But we soon realised that watching it from the stands was not a possibility given the way the crowd had treated us for the whole tournament. Everywhere we went during the 1990 World Cup, we were jeered. Or worse. When we played, we were abused. Things were thrown at us. We walked around with a batallion of guards. On every floor in our hotel, there were policemen posted. India were playing a World Cup in Pakistan, what did you expect?

It was my first World Cup and it was shrouded by a feeling of fear. Kahaan se kya aajayega kya maloom?

It was a dangerous environment to play sport in. But I must give credit to the authorities, who took every measure possible to ascertain our safety.

I can say it was a bitter experience. It shouldn't surprise anyone that we ended up 10th at the event.

Four years later though, Sydney 1994 was one of my best experiences. I enjoyed playing at the tournament. I ended up making it to the World XI side which is picked after the tournament. It is a matter of great prestige to be picked and adding to my pride was the fact that I was the only Indian in that side.

One more thing that people often neglect is that even back then we were fifth in the world, just like we are now.

I can safely say that after 1975 — when we won the World Cup for the only time in history — 1994 was India's best performance at a Hockey World Cup. We narrowly missed out on making it to the semis and eventually ended up fifth. I can attribute this performance to understanding between player and the coach and also the amount of freedom given to us. Coached by Cedric D'Souza, we had players like Jude Felix and Mukesh Kumar in our team.

I've had some of the best moments at World Cups. But also the worst.

In 1998, there were a lot of rumours and talk in the media that I was not playing because I was injured. That is not true. India’s chief coach Vasudevan Bhaskaran was not playing me in matches despite me being the captain of the team. All of this made Utrecht a bitter experience for me. We eventually finished ninth at the event.

Four years later, the 2002 World Cup at Kuala Lumpur also brought a bitter experience for me. India finished even lower than the previous edition: 10th.

But I would prefer to remember the good memories I’ve had at the World Cup, rather than the bad ones.

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Updated Date: Dec 06, 2018 21:08 PM

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