V R Raghunath is considered to be one of India’s finest defenders in recent memory. With 132 goals in 228 games, the former India captain also played an instrumental role in India’s success in premier tournaments such as Azlan Shah Cup and Asia Cup in the last decade and was an integral part of India’s Olympic squads in 2012 and 2016 and the 2014 World Cup in Holland.

As India prepare for the 2018 World Cup on home soil, Raghunath will not be one of those eyeing a place in the squad. No, the 30-year-old isn’t been aged out or has been dropped due to bad form.

Instead, the former Indian skipper has made a conscious choice to opt out of national duty as he now wants to focus on becoming a coach and one day guide the national team.

“I have spent a decade with the team and I know how much time it consumes and the sacrifices you have to make as a player,” said Raghunath, who last played for India during the tour of Australia in 2016, but is very much active in the domestic circuit.

Raghunath is currently representing his employers Indian Oil at the ongoing Gold Cup in Mumbai and on Friday converted back-to-back penalty corners to give his team a 6-3 win over India Navy.

Despite his win, Raghunath no longer holds aspirations of wearing the India jersey. “In March I decided that I won’t be available for the national squad anymore. I had a good career with the national team and it was the right time,” he added.

“There were people who were taking care of the full back and drag flicks. The team was in good hands. Plus I wanted to play leagues in Europe, Germany and Holland and enjoy my hockey. I also wanted to spend time with family,” said Raghunath. “I was crossing 30 and I thought it was a good call.”

He also ended rumours of him making a comeback. “I don’t have plans of a comeback. I don’t regret leaving the team. I gave my 100%. You come, you perform and you should leave your place when your time comes.”

India’s poor conversion rate

The Bangalore resident is already harnessing coaching dreams and is currently coaching at the grass root level for boys and girls under-14 and under-16 teams looking for drag-flickers given India’s problems in converting the penalty corners at the highest level.

Talking about India’s poor conversion rate in the Hockey World League Final, Raghunath said, “During the Hockey World League Final, initially they weren’t much conversion but later on they picked up. I think Harmanpreet Singh and Rupinder Pal are the right combination for India.”

However, the duo missed four PCs in their first game against Australia. Against England, they had only one chance while England converted two out of five. In the semi-final, Argentina had one shot at PC and they converted that to win the match 1-0 despite rainy conditions.

“Rupinder is coming off an injury after 10 to 11 months so he needs time to settle down. They are on the right track. It is important to test ourselves right now and work on the grey areas so that we can improve before the three big tournaments next year,” said Raghunath. “It is all about your day. Gonzalo Peillat had three PCs against Australia in the final but he couldn’t score. It is a part and parcel of the game,” he added. Australia won the final 2-1.

Importance of conversion

However, Raghunath did have a word of advice for the boys. “I want to tell my boys that the graph should be 60% to 70% conversion rate. It should not go very low. They have to convert one penalty corner from three chances and that should be the ratio. We have the best quality drag-flickers. They will be a threat in three to four months,” said the former India defender.

He also backed the team to be in the top-three in the world very soon. “The team deserves to be in the top-three. They should play all the major tournaments and feature in the semi-final or final and nothing less. Ball possession, execution and the amount of chances we create, we are no less that the top teams in the world.

“We are beating good teams and they will upset the big teams soon. The gap is real small now. At their highest level on the pitch, no one can stop them,” he signed off.