Dhanraj Pillay has been one of the best all time Hockey players of India and also one of the most popular ones the game has ever produced in the nation. An extremely good forward with sharp attacking attitude, Dhanraj came from a very modest background and by dint of his sheer talent and charismatic skills rose to become one of the most prominent Hockey players of the nation.
He was born on the 16th of July 1968 at Khadki, a small town near Pune, Maharashtra. His father used to serve at the Ordinance Factory and little Dhanraj began playing Hockey along with his friends with the broken Hockey sticks and ragged balls. Dhanraj received his education at Sugra Vilasi Sabha School, Khadki. He used to adore the style of the aggressive dribbler Mohammed Shahid, and try to copy him. Encouraged a lot by his mother, Dhanraj loved the game a lot and tried his hardest to excel in the game although he didn’t belong to a financially sound family.
Beginning of Hockey career
The elder brother of Dhanraj, Ramesh used to play for a Club in Mumbai and introduced him to professional Hockey for the first time. Dhanraj showed his commendable capabilities in the first match itself, and was spotted by the sport veterans and Coaches at Mumbai in the first glance. At the age of 17 years, Dhanraj played in the Junior National Hockey Tournament held at Manipur. He got a chance to play at Sanjay Gandhi Tournament 1987 held at Delhi, and further played his first National Hockey Tournament in 1988 in the same city. Owing to his super fast speed (he is said to cover 100m of distance in just 11.6 seconds), he became famous as “Toofan”(Tornado) in the Hockey fraternity. Joquim Carvalho, the famous Hockey player and Coach noticed the talent of Dhanraj and invited him to join Mahindra & Mahindra team at Mumbai. At Mahindra & Mahindra, Dhanraj got to play with the internationally renowned players like Marcellus Gomes and Mark Patterson and honed his skills under the able guidance of Carvalho.
Dhanraj Pillay made his debut in the International Hockey with Allwyn Asia Cup Hockey tournament held at New Delhi in the year 1989. He played his first International match against the team of China on the 20th of December 1989. After this, he represented the Indian team in a number of International tournaments such as Beijing Asian Games 1990, Barcelona Olympic Games 1992, World Cup Hockey tournament 1994 and so on till the year 2004.
He has been the only Hockey player who has participated in 4 Olympic Games (held in the years 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004), 4 World Cup Tournaments (held in 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002, 4 Champions Trophy Tournaments (held in 1995, 1996, 2002 and 2003), and 4 Asian Games (held in 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002). He also served as the Captain of the Indian Hockey team for some time, and led the team to victory in Asian Games 1998 and Asia Cup Hockey 2003. Dhanraj was the highest goal scorer in the Hockey event at Bangkok Asian Games 1998, and has been the only Indian player to appear in the World Eleven team at Sydney World Cup Tournament 1994.
Apart from playing for Indian National Hockey team in various International tournaments, Dhanraj Pillay has represented a number of overseas Hockey clubs, including Indian Gymkhana of London, HC Lyon of France, BSN HC & Telekom Malyasia HC of Malaysia, Abhahani Limited of Dhaka and HTC Stuttgart Kickers of Germany.
As an honor to his extra-ordinary excellence and devotion towards the game of Hockey and his contribution towards nation through his efforts made in the game, the highest sporting honor of India, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna was bestowed upon Dhanraj Pillay by the Government of India for the year 1999-2000, and was honored by the Padma Shri award in 2000. At the Champions Trophy tournament 2002 held at Cologne, Germany, he was named the Player of the Tournament.
- Highest goal scorer in the Bangkok Asian Games
- Member of World Eleven side during the 1994 World Cup
- Padma Shri in 2000
- Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award (1999)