V. Raghunath: 'We need to keep pushing for bigger results'

“I believe the seniors must give a chance to the juniors. This is the right time. It is always important to think positively about the team. Hockey being a team game we must think of the team’s progress and future,” says V. Raghunath.

V. Raghunath... “When the juniors have performed so well by winning the World Cup, it’s important for them to get into the senior squad and gain as much exposure as possible, early in the new Olympic cycle.”   -  AP

India’s hockey coach Roelant Oltmans drafted a number of players from the junior World Cup-winning squad into the senior men’s probables for the national camp. V. Raghunath, one of the senior India players was left out of the probables list, but according to the 28-year-old full back and drag-flick specialist from Karnataka, he has opted for a break after more than a decade.

Raghunath agrees with the decision to expose talented juniors to competition, keeping in mind the next Olympic cycle.

Speaking to Sportstar, the player from Indian Oil Corporation also says that hockey now offers financial security to the players.

Excerpts: 

Question: A number of players from the junior World Cup-winning team figuring in the list of senior men’s probables for the national camp is positive news for Indian hockey. Does this move indicate the chief coach’s long-term plan for the juniors?

Answer: It is very important to focus on the next Olympic year and plan accordingly. When the juniors have performed so well by winning the World Cup, it’s important for them to get into the senior squad and gain as much exposure as possible, early in the new Olympic cycle. In this way, they can gain enough match practice and develop into better players ahead of bigger tournaments in 2018 and 2020. Inducting as many as 11 juniors into the list of probables is a very good initiative and a much-needed move.

You are supposed to have taken a break from international hockey. Can we have your side of the story — on your name missing from the probables list? Was Roelant Oltmans in the loop about the decision?

I’ve taken a break now. It was completely my decision, and I discussed it with the coach. I needed to spend some time with my family. It has been a very long and rewarding journey in hockey for me; I’ve been in the national side for almost 10 years. I don’t remember taking a break. As for my future, I will think about it after six months as to what I want to do and hope for the best.

Competition has become intense now. In this scenario, confirmation of a place in the men’s squad is tough for anyone taking a break...

I believe the seniors must give a chance to the juniors. This is the right time. Deserving juniors will get an opportunity to show their skills and gain experience. It is always important to think positively about the team. Hockey being a team game we must think of the team’s progress and future. Whenever juniors are showing great potential at a higher level, it is important to show them the way in order to help them get better.

If you ask about my position, there are two really good drag-flickers, Harmanpreet Singh and Rupinder Pal Singh, in the team. Both are doing great work and have shown the maturity to shoulder the responsibility.

An Olympic medal eludes India. Do you agree that achievements in major events like the World Cup, the Champions Trophy, the Asian Games are overshadowed by the Olympic highs and lows as far as the Indian public is concerned?

Nothing like that. When we plan for a new Olympic cycle, we always take one step at a time, one tournament at a time, and aim to better our performance. The Indian men’s team is performing well in the Asian Games, the Champions Trophy and the World League. Each of these tournament results will be taken in different perspective. We analyse how much we need to work, and on what areas we need to work. It’s important for the public to think at what level we were in the last seven to eight years and the level we are at now... how much we have improved as a team. I believe we are only moving up. India is World No. 6 (in FIH rankings) now and will only go higher. We just need to keep pushing for bigger results.

India's drag-flicker V. Raghunath goes through penalty corner drills during a training session at the national camp ahead of the 2016 Rio Olympics.   -  K. Murali Kumar

 

Hockey India League is changing the way the world views India as a place where sports leagues flourish. Big names from the European and Australian leagues are making themselves available for the HIL. What are your views on this?

One of the reasons the HIL is getting so popular is because of the intense level of hockey on display. It makes it all the more exciting with the world’s top players taking part. It is a great initiative by Hockey India, with StarSports  coming on board to broadcast the league worldwide. The tournament also encourages youngsters in a big way and gives them a platform to display their skills, with and against the world’s best players. The League is attractive and has a great fan base, thanks to the franchises. Financially too, it is rewarding. The HIL exposure has benefited the national team and has helped it get better results in the international arena.

The Indian players — seniors and juniors — gain financially by playing in the HIL. From your personal experience, having played for Uttar Pradesh Wizards, do you think hockey deserves to be described as a professional sport offering financial security to the players?

Yes, of course. It’s not just the Indian players, but many domestic players too have benefited from the HIL. When someone decides to take up a sport professionally, the key thing he/she will look for is financial security. Hockey offers financial security now. This is a big positive because players can focus on their game and not worry about monetary aspects.

Organisations such as the IOC, BPCL, ONGC, Air India and Indian Railways and banks (Punjab & Sind Bank) and the defence employ hockey players. They build teams and offer out-of-turn promotions to attract talent. Do you feel Indian hockey is ready for the take-off in a nation obsessed with cricket?

Public sectors have played a huge role in promoting hockey and they have always taken care of the hockey players, offering them good jobs and positions. Though I think it’s not right to compare hockey with any other sport, I believe good results will always bring greater accolades.

What do you think of the HIL rule that counts a field goal as two and a goal off a penalty corner as one? Will the drag-flickers continue to be in demand?

Every penalty corner goal is important in the HIL. A lot of matches are decided by the number of PCs converted or lost. It is a 50-50 kind of thing. When the opponent scores a PC and we score a field goal, we take the lead. It makes it very exciting. You can see lots of skills on display with players attempting field goals, it is exciting for viewers and spectators. The new rules have received good reviews over the past two years. Personally, I am enjoying it.

Hockey as a sport is changing with regard to the surface, rules, skills, formations... Which of these changes was the most challenging for your generation?

Every sport has its own rules, and small alterations are needed in the long run to make the sport more entertaining for viewers and players. Likewise in hockey too, to make it more interesting at the world level, some of the rules have been changed and those have been beneficial.

As professionals we know how to adapt to the changes. The Indian team has adapted well to the changes. It is challenging no doubt, but what’s the fun without challenges? Hockey offers all kinds of masala now — quick restarts, scoops, overhead attempts to score. All these have made hockey popular and we enjoy playing under these new rules.

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CAREER HIGHLIGHTS

2016: Member of the Indian team that won the silver medal in the Champions Trophy in London. Australia beat India 3-1 on penalties in the final.

Captained India in the four-nation tournament in Australia.

Won the Arjuna Award.

2015: Member of the Indian team that won the bronze medal in the World Hockey League in Raipur. India finished third behind Australia and Belgium.

2014: Member of the Indian team that won the gold at the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.

2013: Member of the Indian team that won the silver medal in the Asia Cup in Ipoh. South Korea beat India in the final. Raghunath was adjudged the ‘Best Player’ of the tournament.

2013: Captained Uttar Pradesh Wizards to third place in the Hockey India League, behind Ranchi Rhinos and Delhi Waveriders. Raghunath was the top-scorer for his team.