After India's Olympic dream fell by the wayside, drag flick specialist, VR Raghunath talked about what went wrong at Rio and the team's preparation for the 2018 World Cup. The defender, who has recently been conferred with the Arjuna Award, also expressed his joy at the honor.
Although India could not cross the Belgium hurdle in the quarter finals at the Rio Olympics, the change in the mindset as compared to the last decade of the game was palpable. Defenders were solid and players converted the penalties more often than not. The chink was the inability to hold the forte for the last few minutes which cost them goals and the match almost in every game that India lost.
The drag flick specialist does not want to take any credit away from Belgium though, who were the better side in the quarterfinal.
In an exclusive chat with the Times of India, he said, “If you look at our performances over the last two years, I am satisfied with the way our team has done. We have performed well in all major competitions such as the Commonwealth Games, Champions Trophy etc, except for the Olympics. Yes, I agree we could have done a bit more (in Rio) and we still had some more energy on the field and could have pushed it. We had our moments in the Olympics but at the same time - you have to give credit to Belgium (in the quarterfinals). I am sure these things will give our boys the experience on how to handle such situations in the coming years. What we were in 2012 to where we are at this point of time - it's a completely different picture. India is currently one of the top 6 teams in the world. In the next two years, don't be surprised if you see the Indian team in the top three.”
India placed at the bottom in London 2012 Olympics and could not even qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. So, the quarterfinal finish may not look like that bad a finish from outside. But Rahunath talked about the changing mindset of the players post the London debacle.
The 27-year-old Karnataka player said, “I think a lion's share of the credit goes to Hockey India and to our coaching staff. The transformation period started in 2012 and our coach Roelant Oltmans has done a great job in getting the best out of this team. From working on our fitness, diet plans and players' rotation - there has been a lot of change in the way we approach our game and the self-belief in this team is immense.”
He stressed the importance of consistency to be successful in the sport.
I think we should focus on consistency. After climbing into the top 6, it is important to stay there. It would require us to notch up high-quality performances on a regular basis and we should be able to do that. Also, our aim should be to build a pool of players who would take our game to the next level.
The Karnataka drag flicker explained how the rotation of captains has done wonders for the team and towards the unity of the team.
“Our coach Oltmans brought in the concept of captaincy rotation where in every few matches you would have a new man at the helm of affairs. I was the captain for a few games during the Champions Trophy, Sreejesh was the skipper then for a few matches and so on. The reason this concept was brought in was to make players in the team shoulder the responsibility of a captain which in turn builds unity in the side. Both Sardar and Sreejesh have been great players for India, and have only taken the game forward.”
He said the team is preparing for the 2018 World Cup, which will be hosted in Bhubaneswar.
Raghunath said, “The main goal for us is to perform well at the 2018 World Cup which will be hosted in Bhubaneswar. We have the Asian Champions Trophy coming up in the next few months and if we do well our rankings will go up further. We are the No 1 ranked Asian team and want to go all out and win the gold in that tournament.”
The lanky player who has recently been awarded with the Arjuna award expressed the joy of joining the elite company of some of the country’s greatest sportsmen.
“I have been representing India for about a decade now and this recognition is extremely crucial for me because we play a team sport. In this team, I join the likes of Sreejesh and Sardar Singh to get this honour. It was a surreal experience to be present at the Rashtrapati Bhavan and will always be a proud moment for me.”