I want to win a World Cup medal: Dhanraj
Dhanraj hopes to be selected for the World Cup and the Asian Games before he mulls seriously about retirement.
Mercurial hockey striker Dhanraj Pillay is keen to stage one last comeback to the Indian team, win a World Cup medal and, finally, get married and make his ageing mother happy.
Dhanraj, who has had a fine season, hopes to be selected for the World Cup to be held in Germany in September and the Asian Games in Doha in December before he mulls seriously about retirement - and, of course, marriage.
"The kind of performance that I have given this season, I think I should have been in the Indian camp," the 37-year-old player said in an interview.
"I have an inkling that I will stage a comeback. I hope the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) will give me a chance to play for India before I announce retirement."
One reason why Dhanraj is keen on a dignified exit is that the last time he turned out for India against South Korea at the Athens Olympics, he was on the field for just two minutes and 57 seconds. He wants to go out with his head held high.
Apart from his fine form, what gives Dhanraj hope is that the IHF has recalled players like Deepak Thakur, Gagan Ajit Singh and Dilip Tirkey for the Azlan Shah tournament camp.
"They are calling players like Thakur, Prabhjot and Bimal, who have been playing for the last six-seven years. Baljit Singh Dhillion, Baljit Singh Saini, Daljit Singh and a few others who have been left out would, I guess, be called for the World Cup and Asian Games camps," he said, and added that he hoped he too would be invited.
After playing four Olympics, four World Cups, four Asian Games and many other top tournaments like the Champions Trophy, Dhanraj still yearns for a World Cup or Olympic medal, colour immaterial.
"Every player dreams of winning a medal at the World Cup and the Olympic Games. If I get a chance, I would be keen to play good hockey and help my teammates to do the same," he said.
While the Olympic Games are two years away - and it is unlikely that Dhanraj would last that long - there is still a realistic hope of him playing in the World Cup in September.
The last time before Dhanraj played in the World Cup in Kuala Lumpur in 2002, he turned vegetarian on someone's suggestion so that he could excel.
"The motivation is still there. Even the youngsters say that if they get a feeder like Dhanraj 'bhai', they could perform still better," he said.
In the hope to wear the India colours again, Dhanraj, who would be 38 July 16, is not keen to get married even though his ageing mother is, apparently to see him settle down.
"I haven't thought about it. Let me see what happens this year, then I shall think about it," Dhanraj said, a bit blushingly about a topic that he tried to avoid.
Aware that he could no longer play for full 70 minutes of a match at the same intensity, speed and effectiveness as he did 10 years ago, Dhanraj said he could be used as a rolling substitute judiciously.
"They can play me for the 10 or 15 or 20 minutes in the first half and then I can start afresh in the second half. I feel the team as well as players would gain if there were senior players around," he said.
"I am still as dedicated as I was four years ago. Take hockey out from Dharaj Pillay and I am nothing. For me, hockey is everything."
The Pune-born Dhanraj also said he regularly visits a gymnasium in Mumbai, so fitness is not a concern.
"I am fit enough to play for India. I have played for 16 years on a trot, so I don't think I have any problem fitness wise," he averred.
Dhanraj, who has won all the top sports awards of the country, said he could talk to IHF president KPS Gill vis-à-vis his future. His relations with Gill are reportedly strained.
Asked if he would like someone to mediate, he said: "I don't want any favour from anyone. If I decide to talk to the president, I will call him myself and seek an appointment to meet him."