For a lengthy stint of 14 years, SV Sunil has been a vital cog in the Indian forwardline – his trademark burst of speed on the flanks is a visual treat and the manner in which he used to hustle the opposition defence out of their stride will be ingrained in the memories of the Indian hockey lovers. It’s interesting to note that Sunil has not mentioned the word ‘retirement’ in his media statement, and was only categorical that he is unavailable for the national camp and would continue playing in the shorter formats of the game.
Hailing from the Kodagu district of Karnataka, Sunil battled hardships as he belonged to an economically disadvantaged family and started taking to hockey initially with a bamboo stick. Sunil made his senior international debut at the 2007 Asia Cup which India won. He had slammed a hat-trick on his maiden international tourney in India’s 20-0 mauling of Sri Lanka and going to score once in India’s one-sided 7-2 win over South Korea in the final.
It did not take much to understand that the Tokyo Olympics axing snub devastated Sunil. He has worked hard and was focused on helping the national side make a podium finish at the Olympics – missing out on an Olympic berth was something he did not expect in the first place. “To be honest, I did not know how to react when I did not see my name in the Tokyo Olympic squad. I have given my blood and sweat for the country for 14 years and I never thought that I will be denied a shot at the Olympics. Having said all of that, the team was able to win an Olympic bronze and I’m happy for the boys but on the personal front not being there at Tokyo was hard to swallow. It was my destiny that I would end up playing two Olympics and not three,” says Sunil with a tone of frustration.
Indian hockey has never seen anyone after Mukesh Kumar who could essay Cheetah-like runs on the flanks like Sunil used to orchestrate. Speed was always his forte, backed by goal-creating and goal-scoring acumen. “Being dropped from the Olympics threw up a big question mark over whether I would get another opportunity to wear the Indian jersey at 32. So, I took a call to take a break from national duty irrespective of whether I would be picked or dropped for future camps and tourneys. I take happiness from the fact that I could contribute to the national side winning the 2014 Asian Games gold medal, bag two silver medals in Champions Trophy besides a host of other international achievements,” quips Sunil who made 264 international appearances and scored 72 goals.
Employed with BPCL, Sunil is open about playing in foreign leagues. “I won’t give up playing hockey and I’m good enough to continue for now. I will explore options to playing overseas league hockey.”
Call it a planned thing or an unplanned thing, Sunil’s announcement to take an international break – largely seen as a retirement given his age – is the third instance in two days when a current player called it a day – Rupinder Pal Singh and Birendra Lakra had earlier decided to walk into the sunset – the timing of these announcements would be open to conjecture.