Interview: Important to start well, says Indian Hockey vice-captain Vokkaliga Raghunath

Raghunath Vokkaliga Ramachandra (R) and Shivendra Singh of India

The Indian men’s hockey team is readying up for the first FIH Hockey World League semifinals beginning in Rotterdam on Thursday. And one man whose robust defence as well as his goal-scoring prowess would be looked forward to is vice-captain Vokkaliga Raghunath.

The burly fullback has carved out a reputation for himself for his power-packed drag-flicks as well as his incisive defending. And his skills would be put to test when India launches its campaign against Ireland on June 13. “We’ve worked really hard in our final camp in Bengaluru. We hope to seal our 2014 World Cup berth in Rotterdam itself, although we also have a second chance of qualifying in the Asia Cup,” he says in an exclusive interview to Sportskeeda.

The Indian team had went on a tour of the Netherlands a month back, and Raghunath believes it would augur well for the team. “Certainly it will help us. There will no such thing as acclimatizing to the conditions. We know what to expect and it will surely benefit us,” the 25-year-old defender says.

Raghunath, who has played over 130 internationals and scored 94 goals, is extra delighted to see drag-flicker Sandeep Singh in the national fold. “Sandeep is a good friend of mine. He brings so much experience to the side and is a class act with his drag-flicks. We also have Rupinder Pal Singh – our drag-flick department definitely looks healthy as one of us can always trouble the opposition whenever we get a penalty corner,” he says matter-of-factly.

The mantle of vice-captaincy was entrusted to him for the 34th Champions Trophy and since then he has coped well with the new responsibility. “I don’t think it’s a responsibility because when I’m on the pitch I play like any other player. I play behind Sardar Singh who is a great inspiration for me, there is so much to learn from him. I feel lucky to be playing alongside one of the world’s best centre-halfs,” he eulogies his captain.

The team will miss the services of Gurwinder Singh Chandi and Danish Mujtaba on account of injuries. Raghunath feels the team has the wherewithal to fill the void. “Both Gurwinder and Danish have done well for us in recent times, but both being injured there is little we can do rather than look forward with what is available to us. I think we have the players to make up for their absence,” he quips.

The Indian Oil employee says the recall of Shivendra Singh will stand the side in good stead. “Shivendra has so much experience and is always dangerous in front of the opposition goal. Sunil also have good experience and then we have talented youngsters like Mandeep and Akashdeep – I’m pretty confident that our forwardline will fire in Rotterdam,” he remarks.

India are placed in Pool B alongside hosts Netherlands, Ireland and New Zealand. “It’s very important to start well, we will be looking to do that. All teams will be tough to beat and no team is unbeatable on any given day. We are backing ourselves to fare well,” he oozes optimism.

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