MUMBAI: Even as a core group of 33 is in a preparatory camp for the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup and the World League Semifinal in Bengaluru, former India captain VR Raghunath is enjoying his time away from hockey. After playing for India for more than a decade, the 28-year-old has chosen to take a break from national duties.
“I’ve been playing continuously since 2010. I sincerely wanted a break,” Raghunath said. “After playing 10 years, if you don’t act from your mind and heart, it’s a waste. When you’re not at 100 per cent and you’re going and just pushing, it’s not really a good thing. I felt that instead of taking a break at the last moment, I should do it now and see how it goes. If I really want to come back, and my body allows me to, then fine, I’ll try to get back. If not, then I can announce my retirement on a good note. No regrets.”
Having made his India debut in 2005, the broad-shouldered full-back has been part of the team that has seen the lowest of lows and worked step by step on getting Indian hockey back on the world map. Raghunath, who has won 228 India caps, was part of the squad when India failed to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. “The 2008 Olympic debacle woke us up. We were all ashamed of ourselves,” the drag-flicker says.
“By 2010, we decided that the next four years are crucial and that we need to improve. Every tournament we had a target. At CWG 2014, we knew we were worthy of silver. Asian Games, we had the target of gold. Nothing else. We started building up. When we got up the boys got confident and we started to believe. At the Rio Olympics, we could have done much better. But in the last four years, we moved up from 13 to six in the rankings. We now have to push to be in the top 3-4 in the world.”
Raghunath believes the team is now in good hands with the junior players making their way in the senior camp. Eleven players from the Junior World Cup winning squad have been included for the on-going national camp and has a variety of drag-flicking talent in Harmanpreet Singh, Rupinder Pal Singh, Jasjit Singh Kular and Gurjinder Singh.
“The team is in good hands now, so I am not leaving them in a spot,” says Raghunath.
“Unlike the earlier generations, we are fortunate. We now have the financial security, through Hockey India League or our government jobs that I can take a decision like this and not try to prolong my career just to make a living.”