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2010 WC: Team India
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Vikram Pillay: Engine Room of Indian Hockey (2/26/2010)
--s2h Team

You hardly find Vikram Pillay without a smile on his face. Just as you seldom find him uninvolved with the action on the pitch. Clearly, the latest star from the hockey loving suburb of Khadki in Pune lives up to his image of being the engine room of the India team.

Rugged, ready and game to meet any physical challenge that the Europeans or Australians may throw at him, the 22-year-old mid-fielder is part and parcel of the changing face of Indian hockey ever since the 2001 Junior World Cup triumph in Hobart, Tasmania, where he played a major role. “The Junior World Cup was the start of everything,” the amicable Vikram says with a glint in his eye. Surely, he is going to remember that moment for the rest of his life.

Vikram is yet another example of a Khadki-born hockey player’s fight against adversity. He comes from a lower-middle class family, just like Indian icon Dhanraj Pillay. His father Vishnu is a workshop worker and has raised a family of four sons with limited resources at hand. And Vikram, brought up with dignity and humility, is not the one to forget Vishnu’s, and his mother Pushpa’s, role in his growth as a player. “After God, it’s my parents who have supported me to the fullest,” he says.

Vikram, like Dhanraj, left Pune for Mumbai when he was only 16. Pune sadly offers little toward the development of a hockey player’s career and Vikram thought it wise to emulate the countless players from the city who travelled to the metropolis across the Western ghats. From Govind Perumal, the double Olympic gold medallist to Dhanraj himself, the list of players who have gone to Mumbai to develop their hockey is both illustrious and large.

Strangely, Dhanraj and Vikram, although from the same locality, never met until 1997. “I was with the Mumbai team at the Junior Nationals in Bangalore and we were to play the India side who were training there,” Vikram recollects. “Before the match I was introduced to Dhanraj,” Vikram explains. “He shook my hand, saying ‘oh, so you are Vikram, the promising young player from Khadki. I have heard about you’ !”

Although he was quick to shine in Mumbai while playing for Union Bank of India, Vikram fondly remembers his formative years in Khadki. Now playing for Indian Airlines after stints with Tata Sports Club and Air-India, top teams in the nation, Vikram first caught the eye while representing All Saints High School.

He stood out at camps organised in the city and played for Kids XI and Champions Sports Club during which time he imbibed valuable lessons. Coaching stalwarts M.A. Anthony and Sridhar Kulkarni had a say in young Vikram’s development but the greatest influence was Shyamsundar Gangadhar Sathe, his teacher and coach in All Saints High School. “Sathe Sir did everything to help me especially when to came to playing matches and coping with studies after missing classes because of playing commitments,” Vikram says. Vikram is profuse in praise as he says of Sathe: “I owe my early development to him. He encouraged me to play for the state and shared his knowledge with me be it tactics, skills and techniques and thoughts on discipline and healthy living”. “I remember him even now after playing so many games for my country,” Vikram says. Sathe on his part remembers Vikram as an obedient hard-working lad. “He followed whatever I adviced him.” Intense and determined on the pitch, Vikram belies his amicable manner off it. “I can’t recall a single instance of him fighting with any of his schoolmates,” Sathe says. “And when I scolded him, he never back-answered,” the Marathi and physical education teacher reminisces.

Vikram’s development progressed by leaps and bounds in Mumbai. With Union Bank of India, he blossomed under coach Nasir Khan. Then he came under the tutelage of Clarence Lobo when he joined Tatas Sports Club . “I soon grew in confidence and I have to thank Nasir Sir and Clarence Sir for that,” Vikram says. “Also, when I joined Tatas I was able to gain wide experience at the All-India level.” Vikram was then picked by Air-India and his development was closely monitored by former India international Daryl D’Souza, the coach of the side. Despite being a newcomer, Vikram was asked to lead the Air-India side, which motivated the youngster to large extent.

He toured the country’s top outfit and crossed swords with the best players. Indian Airlines, the glamour side of Indian hockey, had no hesitation roping him in early 2003. By then he was already a full-blooded international. Vikram had made his senior international debut at the 2001 Champions Challenge in Kuala Lumpur, barely three months after the Junior World Cup triumph. His graduation to senior side was made possible when he was declared Best Midfielder in the country’s top prize money tournament, U&I Champions Trophy, in Bangalore. Coach of the junior side Rajinder Singh, who himself has graduated to coaching the senior side, has full faith in his young ward. “The boy can run 70 minutes and is a very strong player between the 25-yard lines,” Rajinder says. What else can one expect from a mid-fielder?

But Vikram has also had to endure trials and tribulations. He has come a long way from being under-estimated by coaches to scale such a height in such a short span of time. It is C.R. Kumar who should be credited for providing him the chance to play at the international level though an injury deprived him of representing the country at the Junior Asia Cup in Malaysia the following year. He earned his national colours in 2000 visiting Poland and Holland under coaches C.R. Kumar and Harendera. This was followed by a brief gap, which was broken when coaches Ripudamn Singh and Amarjeet Singh again picked him up for the Samaranch Cup in May, 2001.

He wasn’t selected for the 2002 World Cup side. But that only made him stronger. “I told myself that I was still young and there would be further opportunities. Instead of brooding, I will work harder.” That he did. And in style. He eventually went to Australia to play in the Men’s Challenge Cup, and to Amstelveen, The Netherlands, for the Champions Trophy.

And as the Indian team rode a crest of success in 2003 at the Hamburg quadrangular, the Asia Cup in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and the Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad, Vikram’s buzz in the mid-field has been ubiquitous.

Vikram’s teenage brothers Vikas and Vinod are hockey players as well and were wide-eyed with their brother’s rise to fame. When Vikram visits his home in Pune, he makes it a point to share his lessons learnt at India camps, not just with his brothers but with the kids in the locality. “I want to share my knowledge, skills and techniques with as many young players as possible,” Vikram explains. Acclaim has far from made him complacent. “There is no limit to what you can learn in hockey,” Vikram opines. “There is always an area of improvement and there is always the need to be fit, very fit.”

Vikram took a short break after the Afro-Asian Games, actually a luxury when one considers the hectic schedule of the national side and it helped him recoup. But the effervescent midfielder itches to get back to training ahead of the Olympic qualifiers in Madrid in March 2004. One can easily see why. “Playing in the Olympics is my dream,” he says. “We have a tough road ahead and the sooner I start, the better.”

For Vikram, it appears, there is no substitute for hard work.

For the other details of him, visit Profiles section
Source: Top Hockey Stars 2004 published by Field Hockey Publications

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