Mumbai: A settled defensive line up has been a big advantage for the Indian team in its resurgence in world hockey, feels seasoned full back V Raghunath.
"The defence has played together for quite some time -- one and a half to two years -- and the understanding among myself, Rupinder, Kothajit, Gurbaj and Birender Lakra has improved a lot which is very important. Our combination has come out very well," said Raghunath here on Tuesday.
"We understand each other's plus and minus points very well. You need time to do it. We try to cover up for each other which is more important as it's a team game. If we don't concede goals, we can win maximum number of matches, that's the idea," the 26-year-old drag-flick expert explained.
Raghunath played for his employers Indian Oil in the ongoing All India Bombay Gold Cup tournament here barely four hours after landing in Mumbai from Australia via Delhi after taking part in the four-Test series Down Under. India had registered a historic 3-1 series victory over Australia.
Raghunath reminded coach Terry Walsh's words that the series win in Australia was only a small step in India's preparation for the Rio Olympic Games in 2016 for which the team qualified by winning the coveted gold medal in the Incheon Asian Games last month.
"We have a target of playing against strong teams like Australia, Germany, Holland. India really needs to play these teams to find out the level of improvement over the past one year. This is the first step in the build-up to Rio Olympics, our coach (Terry Walsh) has said," Raghunath said.
The Karnataka-born player said all the players put their best foot forward in the series Down Under. "Everyone's personal best has given the best result in Australia. Forwards came up with very good goals and defence conceded only one goal in the last three games after the loss (0-4) in the first. The defence has worked out very well," said Raghunath.
"After a long time we won a Test series in Australia. The team was very good. We also went all out as we wanted to check where we stand in international hockey. The boys have proved we have capability, fitness, skill level and strength to come to the top at the international level."
Asked about a suitable back up to India's number one custodian P Sreejesh, Raghunath said that the untested Harjot Singh of Punjab was tried out in the Test series in Australia and performed very well in the second match that India won.
"I want to say the first match we won in Australia was with the second goalkeeper. He made some wonderful saves. His consistent level is coming up," he said. Raghunath said the key now was to maintain the same level and improve on the weaknesses before next month's Champions Trophy tournament in Odisha.
"We should concentrate on keeping up this level and put up our personal best show in the (December 6-14) Champions Trophy (in Bhubaneswar) as a build up for Rio. We have go work on the grey areas before Champions Trophy and put up a good show," he said.
"Next year, Australia will be coming which is good for Indian hockey." On the team's aspirations in the tough Champions Trophy tournament, the full back said there was no point in putting themselves under any extra pressure barring the will to perform at their best.
"I want to say just this, let the Indian team perform its best and let each and everyone have the freedom to perform at his best and not look at the result and not put any pressure on ourselves.
Looking back at the strides the team has taken recently, Raghunath said the turnaround happened when it defeated Asian power South Korea in the World Cup in May.
"We beat Korea in the World Cup and that's where the turnaround started. We then did well in the Commonwealth Games (by winning silver medal in Glasgow). We could not take down Australia there, we had that small challenge," said Raghunath.
"It takes time to build up a team. We took the same challenge into the Asian Games. The target there was to win the gold and we did it. We want to build up the team slowly. Let the result come slowly. Most important thing was to qualify for the Olympics and we have done it two years in advance. It's a good opportunity for Indian hockey to show some quality level."