When SV Sunil suffered a knee injury that required surgery in early 2010 and kept him out of action the whole year,few would have expected that two years on,he would become one of the keystones that Indian hockeys Olympic dreams would be built around. Putting both personal and physical pain behind,Sunil has emerged as the most recognised face at the ongoing Olympic qualifiers. The fact that he isnt flamboyant or outgoing like some of his teammates makes his recognition all the more special.
In every game so far,the 24-year-old Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) with the Indian Army has left the opposition stranded with his speed,stamina and skills. His attacks have been so relentless that sometimes the rest of the Indian team has problems keeping pace. I know, smiles Sunil he hardly ever laughs out loud and I have been advised to hang on for just that extra second inside the striking circle to allow others to come up as support. But I have a good understanding with Shivendra Singh and Gurvinder Singh Chandi and they understand that this is my strength. We just try and make sure that I dont get stranded up front, he adds.
The Sunil one saw before his comeback in 2011 he was called up for the preparatory camp in New Delhi,ahead of the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament – was vastly different. It was a confidence issue, he admits. Earlier,I was hesitant to go all out. I always had the speed but thought of being without support upfront,and was not too sure of being able to dodge past the opposition defenders in case I got stuck because of their physical superiority. But now I have been told to just play my natural game.
The coach has told me not to worry about the opposition or think of getting stuck. Most importantly,he hates back passes,so we are always encouraged to go and attack. That has given me more confidence, he adds.
Though the Coorgi player admits he was below par against Canada in Indias last game,he is no longer affected by the odd poor performance on field,unlike earlier when he used to think too much of his game.
Having lost his father,a furniture carver,during the 2009 Azlan Shah tournament in Malaysia – where India won gold after 12 years – Sunil is now the sole bread-earner of his family that includes his stepmother and three younger siblings. And he admits he has changed in his approach to both the game and life since then.
Responsibility ke saath maturity aa jati hai,bachpana khatm ho gaya hai (with responsibility comes maturity,the childishness is gone), he smiles. Earlier I used to play hockey because I liked it and it helped me get a job. There was a time (in 2010) when I thought my career was over. It was very bad year – I had missed three big competitions the World Cup,the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games two of them at home. But then I realised that my family survives on my performance. So now its a much more serious thing, he adds.
With so much responsibility on and off the field,it helps that he has an easygoing roommate in Kannadiga VR Raghunath. He puts on music that we both enjoy. It helps me relax. I also talk to my family at least once a day to know that they are fine. It keeps me grounded, he says. The polite smile finally gives way to a gentle laugh when asked about his marriage plans. Not before my sister. She is in her first year of graduation,a few years from marriage. Only after that, he says. Till then,he will be happy running circles around the opposition defence.
(Men) Canada vs France
Singapore vs Italy
(Women) South Africa vs Canada
Ukraine vs Poland
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Indians in comfort zone
While India have booked their place for Sundays final,the opponent they play on Sunday will be decided by the results of the games on Friday. Depending upon the result of the Canada-France match earlier in the day; Indias win,loss,or draw against Poland will throw up a different finalist. We dont mind any team in the final, insisted coach Michael Nobbs after a hectic training session on eve of the game against the team on second position on the table. The focus of the workout was on the goalkeepers. They havent been tested so far in the competition so this was needed, Nobbs explained. ENS