CHENNAI: A 5-foot 10-inch man stood over the penalty corners awarded to IOC in the league match against Air India in the Murugappa Gold Cup hockey tournament on a cloudy Sunday evening here at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium. Having made a living by converting short corners, the four chances were belted in different directions but found the mark. The goalkeeper barely had time to react.
But a couple of weeks back that wasn’t the case as India lost 1-2 to the Netherlands in the group stages at the Rio Olympics. The Blues were awarded so many penalty corners, but the expert did not have luck on his side as he stepped up. “We tried all the possible variations. There even was a goal-line clearance. You have to give credit to them. However, being a drag-flicker, I feel I could have done more,” said VR Raghunath.
However, in Chennai, he repeatedly sounded the board and in some style. No stranger to these shores, Raghunath, a Murugappa Cup regular, said he loved coming here. “Murugappa has always been a top domestic tournament. Everybody loves to play here. Nowadays, most of the teams have improved. Lots of youngsters have come in the last few years and the competition is very high,” he said, Raghunath is coming back to the domestic scene after a gap of two years.
Felicitated with the prestigious Arjuna Award recently, the drag-flicker was constantly bombarded with selfie requests. Having played for the Chennai franchise in the defunct Premier Hockey League (PHL), the fan following for Raghunath is quite natural. “It has been a long time since I started playing for India. Hockey is a team game and to get noticed for individual performance makes me really happy. All credit goes to my family, teammates and coaching staff. ”
With pundits heaping praise on the tremendous transformation in Indian hockey since the gold at the 2014 Asian Games, the 27-year-old was extremely positive when asked about his Rio experience. “I would have been happier if we had won the quarterfinal. It was a great learning process. We are ranked 6th now and hopefully, we will be able to climb up,” he said.
Raghunath also feels that the critics don’t think from the athletic angle. “Expectations are always high when it comes to hockey. The sacrifices and the whole process of keeping together a big team are often not mentioned,” he concluded.
Results: Hockey Unit of Tamil Nadu 3 (Veera Thamizan 17 PC; Hassan Basha 61; Judson Gabriel George 65) bt Mumbai Hockey Association 2 (Jugraj Singh 26,41 PC); BPCL 3 (Sunil Somwarpet 19, 24; Sher Singh 66) bt Air India 0.