Dhanraj Pillay (born 16 July 1968) is a retired Indian field hockey player and former captain of the Indian national team.He currently serves as the manager of the team. Also, he is a member of the ad hoc committee of Indian Hockey Federation, formed after the suspension of Kanwar Pal Singh Gill. As a player, he is regarded one of India’s best ever.
Pillay made his debut in 1989 with the national team and in a career spanning over 15 years, appeared for India in four Olympic Games, World Cups and Champion Trophies each. He made 339 appearances for the national team and is recorded, unofficially, to have scored 170 goals. He also played for clubs in countries such as Malaysia, France, England and Germany. Recognizing his achievements, he was awarded the Padma Shri by the government of India in 2000.
Dhanraj Pillay was born at Khadki near Pune in Maharashtra. He is the fourth son of Tamil parents Nagalingam Pillay and Andalamma. As a bachelor, he lived in Powai, Mumbai, while his parents continued to live in Khadki. He is fluent in Tamil ( his Mother tongue), Hindi, English and Marathi.
Pillay spent his youth in the Ordnance Factory staff colony 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 success, 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 by the then Indian coach, J.M. Carvalho.
Dhanraj Pillay’s debut in international hockey was in 1989 when he represented the Nation in the Allwyn Asia Cup in New Delhi.
Dhanraj Pillay, whose career spanned from December 1989 to August 2004, played 339 international matches. The Indian Hockey Federation did not keep official statistics for the goals scored. There is no credible information on the number of International goals scored by Dhanraj. He scored around 170 goals in his career, according to both him and leading statisticians in the world. He is the only player to have played in four Olympics (1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004), four World Cups (1990, 1994, 1998, and 2002), four Champions Trophies (1995, 1996, 2002, and 2003), and four Asian Games (1990, 1994, 1998, and 2002). India won the Asian Games (1998) and Asia Cup (2003) under his captaincy. 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 has also played for foreign clubs like the Indian Gymkhana (London), HC Lyon (France), BSN HC & Telekom Malaysia HC (Malaysia), Abahani Limited, HTC Stuttgart Kickers (Germany) and Khalsa Sports Club (Hong Kong). Towards the end of his career Dhanraj played in the Premier Hockey League for the Maratha Warriors for two seasons.
Dhanraj Pillay turned out for the Karnataka Lions in the World Series Hockey being played in India. He scored two goals for his team, captained by ex-India captain Arjun Halappa. He also played for Indian Airlines in Beighton Cup. He is currently the coach of the same team.
He is the recipient of India’s highest sporting honour, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award for the year 19992000. He was awarded the Padma Shri, a civilian award in 2001. He was the captain of the 1998 Asian Games and 2003 Asia Cup winning hockey team. He was awarded the player of the tournament award in the 2002 Champions trophy held at Cologne, Germany. In 2017 East Bengal club conferred Pillay with Bharat Gaurav.
Pillay is currently involved in trying to start a hockey academy at Mumbai. To raise funds for his academy he is heading a drive to collect empty plastic printer cartridges in Mumbai and sell them to a European recycling firm.
He joined Aam Aadmi Party in February 2014 and started his political career.
Dhanraj is often described as mercurial and has had his share of controversies. Time and again, he has vented this ire against the Hockey Management. He was not selected for the Indian team after the triumph at the Bangkok Asiad. The official reason given was that Dhanraj and 6 other senior players were rested. But it was largely seen as a retaliation for his outburst against the management for improper reception and non-payment of match fees. He protested against the low team stipend on overseas tours before the 1998 series against Pakistan. On receipt of the Khel Ratna, Pillay commented, “The award will help erase some bitter memories”.
His plans to start a hockey academy at Mumbai have not taken off fully as Mumbai Hockey Association has refused to allow its astroturf facility to be used for training.
Pillay’s biography, Forgive Me Amma, written by journalist Sundeep Misra, who tracked his career for over two decades, released in 2007.