Former hockey player VR Raghunath believes that the current Indian team boasts of a world-class defensive line-up and with quality drag-flickers in the ranks, the side can challenge the world's best during next year's Tokyo Olympics. Raghunath, who was a lethal flicker in his playing days, said having four penalty corner specialists in the current set-up augurs well for the eight-time champions in the run up to the Tokyo Olympics, postponed to next year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"They are very experienced and the current set of defenders have about 50-80 caps together. They know each other very well and I don't see them having any problems even when they are put in a tough match-situation against any top team in the world," said Raghunath. "Having two top dragflickers who can play full match is an advantage for India. Both Harmanpreet (Singh) and Rupinder (Pal Singh) are equally good and they have completely different execution and qualities. Having various options and combinations in drag flick is always good.
"Plus, India has good options in Varun Kumar and Amit Rohidas who can be great support when one of the two top flickers are having a rough day," he added. The 31-year-old former defender is of the view that the Indian team should make a fresh start in its Olympic preparations following a forced break due to the pandemic.
"I think the team must take this period as a one year countdown, and forget everything that's happened in the last 6-8 months. It is time to start afresh," he said. "The six-week break was ideal for the players to return to the national camp feeling fresh. The Indian team's fitness is top class and they will continue to build on this plus point the next one year but having the right mindset in their approach and staying mentally positive will be very important."
Raghunath emphasised on the need for players to be mentally strong in these trying times. "How the players cope mentally in this new scenario, how they approach every day mentally and once they start training and playing matches, how they will cope with the pressure and the results will matter a lot," he said.
"Usually in the lead up to the Olympics, the last 6-8 months pass by really fast and the team must be absolutely prepared physically and mentally."