Asian Games | Captain Harmanpreet is Dhoni of Indian hockey, says Dhanraj Pillay
“He keeps guiding the team from behind, does not allow emotions to overpower him and remains calm under pressure,” he said.
Drawing an analogy, former Indian hockey team skipper Dhanraj Pillay said the calm leadership of Harmanpreet Singh was the defining point behind the Indian men's hockey team's gold-winning effort at the Asian Games, a trait that reminded him of ‘Captain Cool’ MS Dhoni. Harmanpreet netted 13 goals to emerge as India’s leading goal-scorer in the Hangzhou Asian Games.
Dhanraj, who led India to the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games triumph, said Harmanpreet never buckled under pressure. “To a large extent, the credit (for the victory) goes to Harmanpreet's captaincy. He is the Mahendra Singh Dhoni of Indian hockey,” Dhanraj said.
“He keeps guiding the team from behind, does not allow emotions to overpower him and remains calm under pressure,” he added.
India dominated defending champion Japan 5–1 on Friday (October 6) to reclaim the gold, and the result also gave the side a direct qualification to the Paris Olympics.
“This victory will be written in history. It is a historical gold. The boys played together and scored so many goals,” Dhanraj said. “I am happy that we completely dominated and played better than them in all four quarters. It is not easy to win 5–1 in a final,” said Dhanraj, who played for India in four Olympics, Asian Games, World Cups and Champions Trophy apiece.
A reminder of 1998 gold winners
The 55-year-old also credited the senior Indian players for keeping the dressing room a united space for the entire duration of the tournament. “Senior players like PR Sreejesh, Manpreet Singh, Lalit Upadhyay and Amit Rohidas created a very good coordination in this team, which reminded me of the gold-winning team in 1998,” said Dhanraj.
India had defeated South Korea 4–2 on penalties after the scores remained 1–1 after the regulation time in Bangkok. In that match, Dhanraj had scored India's equaliser in the 23rd minute after Korea went ahead in the fifth minute through Woon Koon.
India’s epochal victory
Dhanraj went down memory lane and remembered that epochal victory which got India its second title in the Asian Games. “I had such a strong team in 1998. There were experienced goalkeepers like Ashish Ballal and AB Subbaiah. There were Lazarus Barla, Dilip Tirkey as full-backs. Sandeep Somesh, Balbir Singh Saini, Mohammad Riaz were also in defence, while in the forward line, there were players like Mukesh Kumar, myself, Sameer Dad and Baljeet Dhillon,” said Dhanraj.
Dhanraj said India's victory over Japan gave him a lump-in-the-throat moment. “When the Indian team stood on the podium (at Hangzhou) wearing a gold medal, I went back 25 years. After winning the medal (at Bangkok), I was crying holding Subaiya and Ballal,” he added.
India book a berth in Paris Olympics
Dhanraj was also happy about the fact that India booked a berth in the Paris Olympics 2024 through their win in Hangzhou. “It is a great relief. Now, we can focus on the preparations (for the Olympics). I was praying for our qualification for the Olympics from Asiad,” he said.
“You need twice the amount of preparation for the Olympics because there we need to face teams like Australia, Netherlands and Germany,” he added. Dhanraj said now there will be pressure on the team to change the colour of the medal in Paris, as they had won a bronze at the Tokyo Olympics.
That was eight-time gold winner India’s first Olympic medal in 41 years. “There will also be pressure to change the colour of the medal (in Paris). Last time there was bronze, now there will be pressure to win silver or gold.” The champion player urged the team to seclude itself from outside noise.
“Ignore what is happening outside and just focus on the game. It is very important to stay safe from injuries,” he added.
(With agency inputs)