Raghunath had to make way for youngsters, says Oltmans

When asked what Raghunath could do to return to the side, chief coach Oltmans simply said: “To be honest, I don’t think that will happen.”

V.R. Raghunath, who has 228 senior appearances to his name, may never play for India again, according to Oltmans.   -  AP

The door appears all but shut on V.R. Raghunath’s return to the Indian hockey team. The experienced defender was left out of the core group of 33 players who began training at the national camp here this week, with the management instead keen on promoting younger players at the beginning of a fresh Olympic cycle.

“Everyone knows that at a certain moment, a youngster will take your place; that's normal,” chief coach Roelant Oltmans said. “This was the moment that they were better than a senior competitor. It’s a normal process in every country, especially at the start of a new Olympic cycle. I know that from Holland, Germany and Australia, it’s the norm. Coaches can’t just look at this moment. We have to look at the future.”

When asked what Raghunath could do to return to the side, the Dutchman simply said: “To be honest, I don't think that will happen.”

Whatever the reasons, the decision will have felt like a shock to a player who only in November captained the Indian team on its Australia tour, and has 228 senior appearances to his name. He had spoken to the 28-year-old, Oltmans revealed, explaining the situation to him. “We discussed it. In his heart, of course, he will fight and try to give his most (return). But at this moment, we have so many good youngsters, especially in defence. All of them are not good to be picked right now. But if we don’t give them the chance to develop properly, they will never be there in 2020, 2022. Take a guy like Dipsan Tirkey. He’s only 18 but he’s highly talented. If I don’t take that talent, it will die. I can’t afford it.”

Raghunath understood the decision, Oltmans stated. “We have experienced defenders like Surender (Kumar), Biru (Birendra Lakra), Rupinderpal Singh, Kothajit (Singh), and we have youngsters like Gurinder (Singh), Dipsan, Harmanpreet, Jasjit. So if Raghu was still there, one of these youngsters will not make the same development that’s required at this age. That is what it is. Raghu understands. He’s in my heart; I am serious. He played for India for a long time and was the captain of my HIL team (UP Wizards). But you need to explain to him and he was fine with it.”

The emphasis is clearly on youth, with 11 of India's Junior World Cup-winning squad part of the probables here. While a few of them have played for the Senior team already, the others would be slowly blooded in, Oltmans said, with the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup (April), the HWL Semifinal (June) and the HWL Final (December) on the horizon. “Do not forget the Asia Cup (Dhaka, Sep-Oct),” he added, “The title is not with us; we lost the final in 2013. We want to establish that we are the best in Asia.”