Dhanraj Pillay, one of the greatest Hockey players in India was born on 15th July, 1968 in Khadki. He was the youngest member of the Pillay family. As the family was suffering from some financial crisis, he was given the name, Dhanraj (Wealthy). His father`s name was Nagalingam Pillay and his mother was Andalamma Pillay. Dhanraj was a thin, not that much toughly built but an athlete boy in his childhood and he was called as Dhan by his friends. Athleticism was God-gifted to him. He was a regular schoolgoer in his childhood and was considered as a mediocre student in his school. Dhanraj Pillay did his schooling from the Sugra Vilasi Sabha (SVS) School in Khadki and he was more interested in playing rather that studies. Though he was not a brilliant student in his school, his teachers loved him because of his obedience to them and excellence in the field of sports.
Dhanraj Pillay`s father, Nagalingam Pillay was a worker in the Khadki ammunition factory and he was maintaining a big family, with some occasional difficulties. The youngest member of the Pillay family, Dhanraj Pillay started to play hockey from his early childhood on the Khadki ammunition factory grounds, along with some other youngsters. He used to play Hockey with a few broken sticks pasted up with gum and sutali (gunny-sack strings). The ground was actually a meeting place for the boys of Khadki aged above 10 years and most of them played Hockey on the ground. Dhanraj and his brothers were among the serious players of the game of Hockey, which was the life of Khadki.
Dhanraj Pillay`s wonderful skill in the game of Hockey
was first recognised in a match in Mumbai. His elder brother Ramesh who was also a Hockey player was then playing for a club in Mumbai. Once the club was falling short of one member in the team and Ramesh sent an urgent letter to Dhanraj to join him in the club, as soon as possible. Dhanraj played in the match as a substitute player and he easily got noticed by the coaches, as he was playing with his natural enthusiasm and great ability of playing good Hockey. After that Dhanraj continued playing Hockey and he got his first big break, when Joaquim Carvalho requested him to join Mahindra & Mahindra.
Dhanraj Pillay spent some successful years playing Hockey in the club level and he got exposure in the national circuit, when he played wonderfully in the 1987 Sanjay Gandhi Tournament in Delhi. He played as a right-out in his team and he did beat the famous Hockey player, Rajinder by his extraordinary speed. The spectators named him as Toofan for his wonderful ability of running on the turf in bullet speed. Dhanraj Pillay played well throughout the tournament and he eventually won the title as the best player of the tournament. After the successful tournament, he once again got noticed during the National Hockey Championships in New Delhi (1987). Dhanraj met another young and talented Hockey player, Harendra Singh during the tournament and both of them were desperate to play for the national team of India.
Dhanraj Pillay played as the outside-right for Mumbai (then Bombay) team in the Delhi Nationals in 1987 and Harendra was the full-back and Penalty-corner converter for the Delhi team. As, both of them played quite well in the tournament, Joaquim Carvalho, renowned hockey player and coach, brought both together in the Mahindra team. It can be easily said that Dhanraj got the real chance of harbouring his dream of playing Hockey in the international circuit, at Mahindra & Mahindra. He got the chance of playing along with the famous and experienced players like Marcellus Gomes and Mark Patterson at Mahindra & Mahindra and that helped him a lot to improve his skills. Marcellus Gomes was a member of India`s 1984 Olympics team and Mark Patterson was already an established player for the Indian goalkeeper`s position. Joaquim Carvalho also helped Dhanraj by teaching him the finer skills and by tuning him mentally for the bigger battles that lay ahead. The Mahindra & Mahindra team easily clinched the title in the Bombay league in that year, with the help of some excellent performances from Dhanraj Pillay. The tournament also gave Dhanraj a better exposure in the national level, as the national dailies covered every match of the tournament with special mention to Dhanraj`s wonderful skills.
Dhanraj Pillay first got the chance of fulfilling his dream of playing for the national Hockey team of India, when he was selected into the probable` list for selection into the Indian team, during the Nationals in Gwalior. Dhanraj played with great enthusiasm and skills throughout the tournament and playing for Bombay, he earned the maximum penalty corners in the tournament. Thanks to his extraordinary performance, the Bombay team won the Nationals with ease and Dhanraj Pillay also caught the eyes of the national selectors. Dhanraj continued to show his talent in the national camp also and he got selected for the Indian National for the first time, in the 1989 Asia Cup. The tournament was held at New Delhi and Dhanraj Pillay made his debut for the Indian National Hockey Team against China on 20th December 1989. He played as a substitute for Ram Prakash Singh in the match and he easily caught the eyes of the spectators.
After making some great waves in the first tournament that he played for the Indian National team, Dhanraj Pillay continued to play for the team in the upcoming big tournaments like the 1990 Beijing Asian Games, Auckland 1991 Olympic qualifiers, 1992 Barcelona Olympics, 1994 World Cup and many more. He also fine-tuned his fitness by playing in the English League, French League and the German League during his career and became one of the fittest Hockey players in the history of Indian Hockey.