After failing to qualify for the Olympics (Beijing 2008) for the first time in 84 years, the Indian men’s hockey team brought joy to hockey lovers when they qualified for the 2012 London Games with a thumping 8-1 win over France in the final of the six-nation Olympic Qualifier tournament in New Delhi in February.
However, even as most hockey afficionados are now dreaming of a medal at next month’s London Games, four-time Olympian Dhanraj Pillay thinks otherwise. “Right now I do not wish to comment on medal hopes. I will be more than satisfied if India finish in the top six,” Pillay told MiD DAY on the sidelines of the Monnet Go for Gold torch relay function held in the city to mark the 30-day countdown to the Games.
It’s not that Pillay does not have faith in this team though. In fact, the mercurial forward credited national chief coach Michael Nobbs for bringing about a vital change in the approach towards the game. “Nobbs has worked very hard in the last year and a half. Traditionally, Indian hockey was known to be individualistic, but credit must be given to Nobbs as the current crop of players play unselfish hockey. Also, physio David John has helped the boys become fitter,” Pillay (43) added.
In London, World No 10 India is placed in Group B along with Holland, Belgium, Germany, South Korea and New Zealand and begin their campaign against the Netherlands on July 30. Beginning the tournament well, will do wonders for the team, felt Pillay. “Normally we tend to start badly and that affects the entire campaign. So, we should look for a win against the Dutch first-up. That will be a great confidence booster for the team,” he said.
Pillay reserved special praise for midfielder Sardar Singh, who was recently picked as Player of the tournament at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia. “Sardar is one of the fittest players in the team right now. He does the job of three people. He plays in the centre-half position, but in a crisis, he turns into a full-back and then is also present in the forwardline when the team needs to score. Our team’s chances will be pinned on him in London,” added the former India captain.
Finally, Pillay said Indian hockey will improve by leaps and bounds if we consistently play in top level tournaments and for that a good finish in London will be key. “I’m hoping for a top six finish at least in London because that will ensure India’s participation in the next Champions Trophy, which is a prestigious event that features some of the world’s top hockey-playing nations.”
Shivendra, wrestler Yadav to get Rs 15 lakh from Maha govt
Maharashtra Sports and Youth Welfare Minister Padmakar Valvi yesterday announced a cash bounty for Mumbai-based London-bound hockey forward Shivendra Singh and wrestler Narsingh Yadav from the state government. “The Sports Ministry has decided that both Shivendra and Narsingh will be given Rs 15 lakh each for their preparations for the London Olympics. We have already given a similar amount to pistol-shooter Rahi Sornabat and swimmer Virdhawal Khade. We also plan to give 5 lakh rupees to Yuvraj Walmiki,” said Valvi on the sidelines of the torch relay function.