Tough matches in domestic tournaments helped create larger pool of National players, says Olympian VR Raghunath

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Bengaluru: The recent encounter between Indian Oil Corporation and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd in the round-robin stage at the ongoing Dolo-650 Bangalore Cup All India Hockey Tournament 2019 (Men) showcased the bitter rivalry and competitive intent of both the teams who ended in a 5-5 stalemate. High-quality matches like these provide a great learning experience for young players in the domestic circuit waiting on the sidelines to be picked for the National Camp feels Olympian VR Raghunath who was known for his fierce drag flicks and disciplined defence in the Indian team.

Captaining the Indian Oil Corporation Ltd at the on-going Dolo-650 Bangalore Cup All India Hockey Tournament 2019 (Men), Raghunath said his team alone has at least five players who are vying to return to the Indian Men’s Core Group and playing these domestic tournaments that have equally strong teams in Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd, Army XI, Indian Navy among others gives the youngsters an opportunity to see where they stand in the national scheme of things. “I feel the pool of players in the National core group is bigger than ever before. Almost all the 33 players in the Indian core group today have international experience and there is healthy competition within the group to play for India,” Raghunath said.

“Some of the players who have been left out of this group need to really work hard and show their worth so they are in reckoning again and regularly playing at All-India Invitational Tournaments surely helps as they can keep a check on their form and they can see where they stand in terms of performance. Players like forward Sumit Kumar in our team got a call-up to the national squad following the exceptional performance for IOCL at the domestic tournaments,” Raghunath said ahead of IOCL’s semifinal match against hosts Karnataka at the Dolo-650 Bangalore Cup All India Hockey Tournament 2019 (Men).

Players like Talwinder Singh, Affan Yousuf, Manpreet Singh Junior, Vikramjit Singh and goalkeeper Pankaj Kumar Rajakt of Indian Oil Corporation Ltd have all been part of the Indian team core group in the past while BPCL too has Junior World Cup-winning captain Harjeet Singh, Abharan Sudev, Junior India player Rabichandra Moirangthem, goalkeeper Vikas Dahiya of Junior World Cup fame waiting to receive a call-up from national selectors. “If you see in the last six weeks alone, these players have taken part in two consecutive tournaments and have played nearly 10-12 high-quality matches. Now that this on-going Bangalore Cup All-India Tournament also has players who were part of the recent National Camp that concluded last week, the round-robin stage saw closely-fought matches and the competition is tougher to win the title,” said Raghunath who led the IOCL team to victory at the recent Bangalore Super Division League.

“With India playing Pro League next year, many of these young players stand a great chance to wear India colours again and they just need to keep working hard, play regular domestic matches for their respective teams and not lose hope,” Raghunath said.

Speaking of their opponents for the semis on Saturday, Raghunath said, “Hockey Karnataka has a young team led by Nikkin Thimmaiah who has been in good form. I would expect them to give us (IOCL) a solid fight as their team has some upcoming players who are doing well at the domestic level.”

On Saturday, Indian Oil Corporation Ltd will take on Hockey Karnataka in the first semifinal at 2 PM and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd will play Army XI in the 2nd semifinal at 4 PM.

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