Former Indian hockey star and ace drag flicker VR Raghunath recently claimed that the current crop of players are much better equipped than the batch that headed to Rio de Janeiro in 2016 with the aim to finish on the podium.
The Indian men’s hockey team finished eighth at the Rio Olympics. Reflecting on the Olympics campaign five years ago the veteran defender said, “The Canada match which we drew cost us in 2016. 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,” Raghunath went on to add.
He feels that the players have that rhythm in them to perform their best at the Tokyo Olympics. He wants the players to keep a free mind and not think too much about the big stage.
“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”, said VR Raghunath.
“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 veteran defender opined.
Raghunath also spoke highly of current Indian team vice-captain Harmanpreet Singh. He opened up on how he and Rupinder Pal Singh took him under their wings and now he has taken over the drag flick responsibilities of Raghunath.
“Harman had immediately arrived after the U-21 World Cup win. There were instructions from the coaches to take him under our wing. Because of this, we needed to protect him at least for 30-40 matches so that he could get an idea of what international hockey is all about,” he said. “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,” added VR Raghunath.
“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,” said the 32-year-old.