One of the chief architects of the Indian men’s hockey team’s bronze-medal win at the Tokyo Olympics, Rupinder Pal Singh has finally decided to hang his international hockey stick. The 30-year-old fullback probably did the right thing by calling it a day on the back of a successful Olympic campaign even as several youngsters are pushing for national spots. Rupinder played his part at the Tokyo Olympics bringing his drag-flicking prowess to the fore – he had scored India’s first goal at the Tokyo Olympics against New Zealand and then produced a brace to help his team seal a 3-0 win over Spain.
The burly defender, who has made 223 international appearances, scored in India’s 5-4 win over Germany in an edge-of-the-seat bronze medal play-off thriller. Employed with Indian Overseas Bank, Rupinder made his senior international debut in the 2010 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup at Ipoh, where he had scored his maiden international goal against Egypt – a game India won 7-1. He came into his own at the 2011 Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, scoring a sizzling hat-trick in India’s 3-1 win over Great Britain and went on to emerge as the top goal-scorer with 6 goals even though his side finished a lowly 6th among seven teams.
Former Indian fullback and Olympian Mohinder Pal Singh – better known as MP Singh, says Rupinder could have played at least till the 2022 Asian Games. “I think Rupinder should have played for a year or so with the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games slated for next year and our team would have benefited from his vast experience. Unless there are any fitness issues, he should have continued playing.”
Singh, who had played in the 1988 Seoul Olympics as well as in the 1986 World Cup in London, thinks Rupinder could have paced his international career nicely given that there is hardly domestic hockey happening. “Look, during our playing days even if a player retires from international hockey, there was a lot of pressure of playing in departmental tourneys. Rupinder has no such pressure as there is not much domestic hockey being played and he could have prolonged his career given his current good form and experience,” opines the former defender who made 275 international appearances and scored over 100 goals.
Singh who had played alongside the likes of Mohammed Shahid, MM Somaya, Jude Felix and Pargat Singh in the eighties, feels that Indian hockey is in great shape and promises much for the future. “Hockey India deserves credit for providing consistent international exposure to our team and the results are showing.”
Former Indian hockey forward and four-time World Cupper Ashok Kumar says Rupinder has been a massive contributor to Indian hockey. “He was outstanding at the Tokyo Olympics and scored in key moments of the game. Not just his drag-flicking, his short running inside the ‘D’ is very good and he has served the Indian defence with aplomb.”
Kumar feels that the retirement announcement of Rupinder will enable the coaches and selectors to groom youngsters in his place for the future. “The World Cup and Olympics are two three years away and this is a good time to try youngsters and we can have a settled look in defence ahead of these major tournaments.”