NEW DELHI: There’s a change of guard in Indian hockey after the Tokyo Olympic bronze medal win. The baton in the defence has been handed over by Rupinder Pal Singh and Birendra Lakra, and SV Sunil has applied permanent brakes to his sprints down the flank. The trio walked into the sunset of their international hockey careers together.
Last week saw the three seasoned names in Indian hockey announcing that they have decided to put their international sticks down. It started with Rupinder, followed by Lakra and then Sunil.
The buzz from the end of sources is that the veterans were told the focus is on blooding in youth with an eye on the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Senior statesmen Rupinder, Lakra and Sunil thus chose to exit respectfully and save themselves the embarrassment of being ignored for the national camp.
For Rupinder and Lakra, the moment coincided with a bronze that ended India’s 41-year wait at the Olympics. For Sunil, the writing was on the wall, after he was ignored for the Tokyo Games.
“At some point, I had to take this decision,” said Rupinder, who insisted that the call wasn’t forced upon him, while talking to TimesofIndia.com. “I wanted to leave at the peak of my career, never wanting to be shown the door. That was always the plan.”

(Rupinder Pal Singh with his Tokyo Olympic bronze medal – Twitter Photo)
The 30-year-old tall drag-flicker brought the curtain down on his international career, which included 223 matches and 119 goals. Lakra, who is 31, had 201 caps to his name. The 32-year-old Sunil is the senior-most among the three with a career spanning 264 matches. He scored 70 goals.
“A player never feels he has had enough. You always want to keep at it,” Rupinder added. “One thing that you have done your entire life, it’s not easy to leave that, especially now, when we have won a medal (at the Olympics), so you want to continue.
“But you have to make such hard decisions in life if you have to move on and don’t want to get hurt later. So once again, I would have felt bad if I was ignored (not selected). I don’t want to be in that situation,” Rupinder told TimesofIndia.com.
Rupinder, Lakra and Sunil were together in the Indian team that won the gold and silver at the 2014 Asian Games and Commonwealth Games, respectively.

“I discussed my retirement with everyone before deciding,” Rupinder added. “It was difficult for the family to understand but ultimately they did. They know I can still play.”
The Faridkot defender, however, isn’t done with hockey, as far as his playing career is concerned. He is looking to make a move to the leagues in Europe, before possibly switching to coaching at some level.
“I will continue playing (club) hockey and want to play in the leagues in Europe. Maybe later I can do some coaching in India,” said Rupinder.

Rupinder missed out on the Arjuna award last year, which left him disappointed, especially having overcome a career-threatening hamstring injury in 2017 to make a successful comeback to wear the national colours, which, two months ago, culminated in a historic Olympic bronze.
“If I deserve it, I can get it (Arjuna award) even now. There is no dearth of achievements in my career.”


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