Former Indian drag-flicker VR Raghunath feels that the current Indian men's hockey team is better prepared to win a medal at the Olympics than the previous batch. VR Raghunath was a part of the Indian men's team that lost in the quarter-finals of the 2016 Rio Olympics against Belgium.
In a candid conversation with Hockey Te Charcha, a podcast series launched by Hockey India in the lead up to the Olympic Games, VR Raghunath thinks that the current lot of Indian players are better equipped than the ones who took the field in Rio de Janerio, 2016, to finish on the podium.
“The Canada match which we drew cost us in 2016,” Raghunath reflected on India’s campaign in Brazil five years ago. “That result put us in a different qualification group. But I feel the current batch of players can handle the Olympics a lot better. The same batch of players have been around for seven-eight years now, they are in touch with European players. They can perform much better than Rio. In the Olympics, it comes down to one or two matches and how you get your rhythm right in the arena. I have seen teams keeping it simple and playing with a free mind. I’d tell the players not to think much about the occasion.
“The players are in the same age group and have been quarantined together for a long time so they are familiar with each other and have been winning Pro League games as well. Players like Rupinder and Manpreet were around in the previous edition as well. They have covered every area well,” the 32-year-old added.
The former Asian Games champion was full of praise for current Vice-Captain Harmanpreet Singh, who took over drag-flick duties from Raghunath. He said: “Harman had immediately arrived after the U-21 World Cup win. There were instructions from the coaches to take him under our wing; to protect him atleast for 30-40 matches so that he could get an idea of what international hockey is all about. We guided him and he grasped things very quickly. We could see the results in just 3-4 months. He started scoring as well. Rupinder Pal Singh and I tried to treat him like a brother and not as a player. Our coaches have moulded us in such a way that the juniors are comfortable around the seniors. He has come a long way over the last four years, and I feel, he has another 8-10 years of international Hockey in him. Varun Kumar and Amit Rohidas have also entered the mix. This is good for Indian hockey as we are not sure when a player will be down with an injury.”
Raghunath played a huge part in India’s resurgence as a force in international hockey. The year 2014 was a turning point with the side bagging silver in the Commonwealth Games and clinching a historic gold in the Asian Games.
“In 2013, we were performing very well. We had targeted the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games that year. We had aimed for two targets – to reach the finals of CWG and to bag gold in the Asian Games. We set realistic targets and we worked out rigorously for 8-10 months. We trained in New Delhi. We were more like commandos at before going into those two tournaments. Our homework was so good. We played some fantastic hockey during that period all the way up to the 2016 Olympics,” Raghunath said.
Hockey India launched the Hockey Te Charcha on 14 April, exactly 100 days ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games. Through this podcast series, Hockey India aims to provide the fans of hockey a unique experience to relive the glorious moments of Indian hockey by listening to the iconic players who have brought pride and honour to the nation. The fourth episode featuring VR Raghunath went live today and can be accessed on Hockey India social media handles.