'Kaushik Sir understood a player more than anyone else'
- Dhanraj Pillay, skipper of the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games hockey team, pays tribute to MK Kaushik for inspiring India to glory after a 32-year wait.
It is a very sad day for Indian hockey, both MK Kaushik Sir and Ravinder Pal Singh Sir have made great contributions to the game.
I cried a lot when I got the news from Harendra Singh about Kaushik sir. He was a thorough gentleman, down to earth, very humble. It was shocking because I remember Dec 19, 1998, the way he was enjoying the victory; he ran with us holding the Indian flag.
He was a person who understood a player more than anyone else. He gave freedom to senior players in the 1998 Asian Games - goalkeeper Ashish Ballal, full back Dilip Tirkey, Mohd Riaz, Sabu Varkey, Baljit Singh Saini, in the forward-line Mukesh and I were handling. He had a lot of faith in players. And also in 1998 some players were in decline, like me, Ashish Balal, Mukesh. He fought with the Indian Hockey Federation that “I need all these players if you want the gold medal”. I remember, during the preparation camp senior players and coaches used to have a meeting every night at 9 pm at MP Ganesh’s house in Bangalore. Ganesh was deputy director at SAI, Bangalore; after dinner we would plan for the next day, what kind of practice we need to do, how to beat South Korea, Pakistan, Japan.
It was a very special victory because after 32 years we won the Asian Games. In the same city (Bangkok) we won again, where we had won in 1966. It was special for Kaushik sir and for the senior players. It brought so much confidence in the senior players that we can play till 2002, we can play the 2000 Sydney Olympics also.
I enjoyed that Asian Games more because there were no likes or dislikes in the team. He handled it very well, we had a lot of fun. Another important decision he made was to invite Merwyn Fernandes for the national camp. They had played together, Merwyn was right-in, Kaushik bhai was right-out. He knew Merwyn had a lot of ideas, lot of game planning. We benefitted a lot from that also.
He never used to keep knowledge with him, he would always share that. Never spoke harshly with anybody, always soft-spoken. He would boost the confidence of the players. I have seen him in 1986-87 in Mumbai when he was playing for Tata Sports Club. My elder brother, Ramesh used to give me his example because I started playing as a right-out. I had speed, but at that time dodge-wodge utna nahin tha (didn’t have top-class dribbling skills), when I had newly come to Bombay. My brother used to tell me, “Dhan, Kaushik bhai ka match jab Bombay mein hota hai toh jaake dekha kar” (when Kaushik is playing in Mumbai, you go and watch his game). How he plays, he runs outside the line but how he keeps the ball inside and runs. I have all these memories of him.
In the Asian Games, I spent a lot of time talking to him. When I used to go to Delhi, I used to meet him; we used to speak on the phone also. For the last three-four days, I was in touch with Harendra, who was in touch with Kaushik bhai’s son. Harendra only gave me the sad news in the evening. We both were crying… this Covid has taken away so many of our people.
Ravindra Pal bhai was also a lovely person, very soft-spoken. He was a fine player. In the 1980 Moscow Olympics he had done a great job. But I met him only once in Lucknow. I did not get to meet him more because he rarely came for the matches. But what I have heard from MM Somaya sir, Joaquim Carvalho sir, Marcelus Gomes, he was a five player and very humble; he would stick to his game.
Really, really sad day for Indian hockey fraternity. We are all in mourning.