Bengaluru, May 31 | The current Indian men’s hockey team is better equipped to finish on the podium than the one that competed at the 2016 Olympic Games Rio de Janerio, feels former India drag-flicker VR Raghunath.
“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 told Hockey Te Charcha podcast series.
“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 would tell the players not to think much about the occasion,” he said.
India lost 1-3 to Belgium, the eventual finalists, in the quarter-finals and crashed out.
“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,” Raghunath said.
A former Asian Games champion, Raghunath was all praise for current vice-captain Harmanpreet Singh, who took over drag-flick duties from him.
“Harman had immediately arrived after the under-21 World Cup win. There were instructions from the coaches to take him under our wings; to protect him at least 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,” he said.
“We could see the results in just three-four 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 eigh-10 years of international hockey in him.”
Raghunath pointed out that 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.”