Dhanraj Pillay, the mercurial Indian Airlines and India striker is one of the all time greats of the Indian sport. He was born on 16th of July 1978 at Kirkee (near Pune) in Maharashtra. Wiry, 5’.8” tall, tremendously fit for his 35 years and a heart that is bigger than anybody else in the world of hockey, Pillay has brought romance back into the game of hockey through his personality, his grit and his recent performances with the Indian hockey team.
Pillay spent his youth in the Ordinance Factory staff colony in Kirkee, where his father was a groundsman. Playing on the soft, muddy surface of the OFK ground with his brothers and friends from the colony, he learnt his skills with broken sticks and discarded hockey balls, imitating the style of legendary forward and idol, Mohammed Shahid. His mother, whom he gives all the credit for his greatness, encouraged all her five sons to play hockey despite leading a hand-to-mouth existence.
Dhanraj moved to Mumbai in the mid-eighties to join his elder brother Ramesh, who was playing for RCF in the Mumbai league. Ramesh had already played for India in international matches, and his guidance helped Dhanraj develop as a potent, speedy striker. He then moved over to Mahindra & Mahindra where he was tutored for greatness by India defender, Joaquim Carvalho. With excellent performances for his employers and for Mumbai in the national championships, it was only a matter of time before he took his rightful place in the Indian hockey team, which he did in the Asia Cup of 1989.
Pillay is the only Indian to have played in 3 Olympic Games, 3 World Cups and 4 Asian Games. He has also played for foreign clubs like the Indian Gymkhana (London), FC Lyon (France), Selangor (Kuala Lumpur), Abhahani Limited (Dhaka) and Stuttgart Kickers (Stuttgart). He was also the highest goal scorer in the Bangkok Asian Games and was the only Indian player to figure in the World Eleven side during the 1994 World Cup at Sydney. He is a recipient of the Arjuna Award (1995) and the K.K. Birla Award (1998-99) for excellence in Sports. He has also received the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award (1999) and been conferred with the coveted Padma Shri in 2000.
The Indian hockey team is now sponsored by Sahara India, bringing in much needed money into the game, and Pillay has signed a contract with Percept D’Mark, which will fetch him approximately Rs. 25 lakh a year. A bachelor, he lives in Powai and drives a Ford Ikon.
Dhanraj Pillay’s dream is to be part of an Olympic Gold medal winning team.