New Delhi: The Indian mens hockey team has always relied on VR Raghunath's 'dragflicking' skills to score many a goal but the think-tank is also preparing to use the Karnataka-born player as a backup option for current goalkeeper PR Sreejesh. India today named an unchanged 16-member squad for the Asian Games to be held in Incheon, South Korea from September 19 to October 4 with Sreejesh being the lone goalkeeper in the team to be led by Sardar Singh.
"Being the lone goalkeeper in the team is an advantage as well as a disadvantage. Advantage in the sense that you get to play in every game and the disadvantage is that if you get injured there is no replacement. So you need to very cautious," Sreejesh told reporters on the sidelines of a training session at the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium here.
Asked in case if he suffers an injury during the Asian Games, does the team have any replacement player who can fit in his shoes temporarily, Sreejesh said: Yes, we are preparing Raghu for the job. I am teaching him about the basics of goalkeeping. "In case if I get injured, which is highly unlikely, Raghu can stand in front of the goal." Raghunath understands the pressure of burden on his dhoulders but said if situation demands he is up for the challenge.
"99.9 per cent this situation won't arise but if it does I am mentally prepared. The coach is using me in the practice matches in the last 10-15 minutes," he said. Goalkeeping is something which is not new to Raghunath as he started playing the game as a custodian before switching to a dragflick specialist. "I have done it (goalkeeping) before. When I was a child I was a goalkeeper. It is not easy.
But if really needed I am ready for the job," he said. "Sreejesh only is my coach. He is giving me all the basics tips that are needed," the strapping penalty corner specialist from Karnataka added. India's chief coach Terry Walsh also hopes that the team won't face such a crisis but said fielding one goalkeeper in the 16-member squad for a less demading tournament like Asian Games give the side more options on the turf. "Yes, we are preparing Raghu as Sreejesh's back up. But I don't think a situation like this will come. If it does he is capable of taking the responsiblity," Walsh said.
The Australian feels going into the Asian Games India are better prepared than what they were in the Glasgow Games. Although he stopped short of saying that India can win the gold medal, he feels India have bright chance in the Asian Games. "The last couple of weeks we have been working really hard. We are working combinations, nothing specific. We have changed the extent of physiology. We have gone into a much higher area.
The players are showing bit more sharpness which we haven't addressed in the past," he said. "We have been working a lot towards moving into the scoring zones. We are continuously working on our defensive mentality to ensure that we don't give away silly penalty corners. It is a rigorous programme. We continue to improve in the international scene. "If you look at the level of our performance, I think we have a very good chance.
But we don't know what Korea and Pakistan are doing because these are the two sides who also have realistic chance," Walsh said. "My job is to get the team play at good level. We have got a very good chance and that's an honest assessment. I think we should play the semifinals quite easily. I would be confident if I was supporter of this team," he added. Walsh said India are fast progressing the international hockey scene. "We are moving to another level.
Our level is aimed at being in the top 2-3 in the world, thats what we aspire towards but are we there? No we are not there but we are getting closer," he said. But India captain Sardar Singh has clearly stated that they will gunning for the gold in the Asian Games.
"The way we are training after the World Cup and the Commonwealth, we will definitely go for the gold medal. But our present focus is on the first match against Sri Lanka," the star midfielder said. "We have worked on our penalty corner conversions and also on how to avoid conceding goals in the last minutes."