Speaking about the importance of having variations during penalty corners, VR Raghunath has mentioned that it is crucial in keeping the opponents confused. The acclaimed drag-flicker also said that the short corners are going to be very important for India in the knockout games.
With India directly making it to the quarter-finals of the ongoing Hockey World Cup after getting the better of Canada in their last pool game, the team is now pumped up to do well in the knock-out stage. The penalty corner conversion has always been an important factor in close games for Indian and they would expect their drag-flickers to execute those perfectly in the upcoming matches of the tournament.
So far in the tournament, India have created 12 penalty corners in three games that they played against South Africa, Belgium, and Canada out of which they have converted only four into goals while one against Belgium was also scored as India earned a stroke after a short corner.
Speaking exclusively to SportsCafe, ace drag-flicker VR Raghunath has stated that in the later stages of the competition, drag-flicks are going to play a major role and India need to be prepared for it as the team coming into the quarter-finals will not have a loose defence at any moment of the game.
“Penalty corners will be a crucial aspect in the knock out stage as both the teams’ defence will be very compact and will not have open shots to take and free goals to score. Conversion rate was good in the last game against Canada and I feel that for the quarters, we need to create more penalty corners. I think we have to make at least five PCs from which we can convert 1 or 2 into goals,” Raghunath told SportsCafe.
“Having a good drag-flicker is an advantage for us and it is not only about Harman (Harmanpreet Singh). It is the combination of Varun (Kumar), Amit (Rohidas) and Harman which should work together and that is where we can get the result.”
The Indian team management, with Harendra Singh at the helm and Australian drag-flick specialist Chris Ciriello as the other man in the coaching team, has tried to do some variations on a few occasions while trying to convert the penalty corners. The experiment worked really well in the favour of the hosts when local lad Rohidas drilled the ball past Canada goalie Antoni Kindler in the 51st minute of the game. He didn’t go for the conventional drag-flick rather pushed the ball first into the striking circle and nailed the goal at a lower height to the right of the custodian.
“We have both direct and indirect converting strategy and it is up to the coach to use what is the best possible way of converting a PC. It is always important to keep the opponent in a confusing mode or in a puzzle so that they will not know what is the variation we are using in the match. It is a good idea to show people that we have so many options and we can use according to match situations,” explained the acclaimed drag-flicker.
Speaking about the team combination in the first three games, the Indian fullback said, “Defence is doing a pretty good job and they have conceded only one goal against Canada and in total three matches only three goals have been scored by the opponents, which is very good at the international level. In the next match, the defence and forward should play compact hockey. It is the combination of both attack and defence. You can’t depend totally neither on attack nor on defence, they should be on their toes so that any small mistake can be covered up by the other.”
Making his debut way back in 2005, Raghunath has played with most of the senior members in the current team including skipper Manpreet Singh. He has also seen many of the youngsters in the Hockey India League games where he led the Uttar Pradesh Wizards. He underlined the fact that the senior players should raise their level of hockey in the knockout games so that the young ones can follow them.
“Manpreet has played with me for a long time and has grown up with me. He knows exactly what to do as a leader and as a player now. He should be an example for the team as a captain and he is doing exactly that,” Raghunath stated.
“Senior most players should raise their game to the highest level so that other junior players can work hard to push them to their maximum best. It is very important for 7-8 or 10 players to play high-level hockey so that others in the team can go on to support and follow them.”
Raghunath, who played the exhibition game between Dilip Tirkey XI and Dhanraj Pillay XI at the World Cup venue a couple of months back, also opined that this is a great opportunity for the Indian team to get the best result as they are playing at home and the vociferous crowd at Kalinga Stadium are always behind the hosts.
“Indian players will not get an opportunity like this in a lifetime. They are playing a World Cup quarter-final in home conditions and at a venue like Bhubaneswar with a good crowd support. Everything fits and it will be a perfect game for them and they should go for a positive result by enjoying the game.
“At present, they are playing quality hockey which made India the pool toppers and we qualified for the quarters directly. I think the next stage of the tournament will be a completely different ball game. We should take every match as the last match as there is no second chance after this. Quarterfinals will be more aggressive and attacking and whatever you do you have to do in the 60 minutes. It will be exciting watch the quarters,” the 30-year-old defender from Karnataka concluded.