During the recent Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Malaysia, India’s Dilip Tirkey went past The Netherlands’s Jerome Delmee’s record of 401 international caps. The 31-year-old defender, hailing from Sundergarh in Orissa, has now appeared in 404 international matches. Excerpts from an interview with ‘The Wall of Indian hockey’…
On playing 400-plus international matches and becoming the most capped hockey player in the world
It’s a great feeling to have played more than 400 matches. Playing for one’s country is an honour. When I made my international debut in 1995, I never thought I would play 400 matches. It has been a long journey. There have been happy moments and also sad ones. Failing to qualify for the Beijing Olympics hurt us a lot. We had just one bad game and we were out of the reckoning. I couldn’t sleep that night. It took me a few days to recover fr­om the shock. However, I have come to accept that all this is part of the ga­me; there will be highs and lows.
On his future
I will continue to play as long as I feel I am good enough to play for the country. The immediate goal is the Asia Cup. We need to win this tournament and qualify for the World Cup. I am confident that our young te­am will able to do that. Hockey is cl­ose to my heart. I want to finish my career on a high note.
On his role as a defender
Right from the time I started playing ho­ckey, I have always wanted to be a defender. Somehow, I like the challenge of being a defender; my playing position is a tough one, but it gives me the chance to prove my worth. Self-confidence is important for a defender because he can’t take any chances; he has to be alert for the entire duration of the game. A defender is always under pressure as his tackles need to be perfect and his clearances clean. Defending can so­metimes be a dirty job. Experience teaches a defender to read the opposition’s game before going for a tackle. One silly mistake can cost you the match. The game has become very fast and it takes tremendous fitness to launch counter-attacks, save penalty corners, particularly during set plays. Moreover, any defender needs to have perfect coordination with his fellow defenders and the goalkeeper.
On his role model
I have always admired Pargat Singh’s game. He exuded confidence, his tackle was hard and he was generally very good at the back end of the field. I was fortunate to play alongside him and have learnt quite a few tricks from him. He always told me to enjoy the game and focus on the ball. His advice has helped me a lot.
On the fitness required of the modern hockey player
Fitness is the key to survival in this game and I focus a lot on fitness. With players needing to give more than 100 percent in international matches, injuries, particularly in the groin and ankle, are common in hockey. Recovery exercises are very important.
On young defenders Sandeep Singh and Diwakar Ram
They are improving with each game. Sandeep has staged a remarkable comeback after injury. He has the hunger, the attitude and the skills to succeed at the international level.
On Sandeep’s penalty-corner drag-flicks
He is fast turning into a dangerous drag flicker. He has good technique and the power needed to execute drag-flicks and has been a match-winner for us in recent times. He has good variations as a drag-flicker and has the ability to keep opponents guessing.
On India’s standing in world hockey
Modern hockey is a highly competitive sport. Although we have suffered a few setbacks, we have done well in the Punjab Gold Cup and Sultan Azlan Shah Cup. The team is improving; we have done well against Germany and The Netherlands in recent matches. However, we need to be more consistent and, for that to be achieved, there needs to be more planning.
On India’s loss of focus in the final stage of matches
This has happened in a few matches and has to do with both the physical and mental sides of the game. We must absorb pr­e­ssure better. Players need to control the ball better and make quick clearances. Ball possession becomes even more important in the closing stages of a match.
On hockey talent in India
There is abundant talent, but we have to nurture young players, impart proper training and give them exposure trips. Players should also enjoy the confidence of the selectors.
On the Asian and European styles of hockey
India should retain its skillful style. We shouldn’t play the European style for the simple reason that we can’t play long passes like them. That is not our style. We are good with stickwork; what we need is better speed and fitness. We can beat the best teams if we adapt to match situations better.