‘Need to prove my worth again’

Raring to go: S.V. Sunil is looking forward to making his mark in India colours again.  

S.V. Sunil is a relieved man. There was a time, not that long ago, when he wondered if his career as an Indian hockey international was over. But, nine months after suffering a severe knee injury in Bhubaneswar, Sunil is back in the scheme of things.

Last week, he was named in the Indian team for the Tokyo Olympics Test Event; it came as a reward for months of hard work and painful rehabilitation on the sidelines. When Sunil was left out of the Indian side for the FIH Men’s Series Finals in June, there were doubts about his future in the set up. But now, the 30-year-old from Somwarpet is keen to make every chance count.

“I’m feeling happy,” he says at the SAI here. “My first target was to get back into the team after injury. Hockey India and the team management have now given me a chance. I need to prove my worth again.”

It was in October last year that Sunil injured his left knee (a grade three LCL tear), during a training camp in the lead-up to the World Cup in Bhubaneswar. He then watched, hobbling around on crutches, as Odisha put on a grand spectacle before the world. “It was my dream to play in a home World Cup,” he says. “I was very hurt. I had worked so hard. But there was nothing I could do.”

Strenuous rehabilitation

Robin Arkell, Scientific Advisor to the men’s team, put Sunil on a strict strength and conditioning routine. Life was difficult at the beginning. He was on crutches for two months, and the lack of exercise told on his body. He put on seven kilos, with his body fat percentage rising from 7.5 to 12. When Sunil, a forward renowned for his speed, did finally start running again, it felt “as if someone was sitting on my back.”

Sunil could run only in straight lines at first; to turn and twist at pace would be to risk damaging the knee ligaments again. “I felt I had fallen far behind the rest of my teammates,” he says. “I was feeling really low. It hurt to sit at home when tournaments were going on. But I used that as motivation.”

To quit or not...

The thought of bidding hockey goodbye did cross his mind, he admits. “This is my second major injury. I had injured my right knee earlier. So at one point I wondered if I had had enough. But I spoke to my coaches, and to close friends like Sreejesh and Birendra Lakra who came to visit me every day. They told me that there was still a lot of hockey left in me. Even my family urged me not to give up. Self-belief was important,” he says.

A one-on-one meeting with chief coach Graham Reid proved to be reassuring. “He was positive about my future,” says Sunil. “He assured me that everyone would get a chance, but that proving myself was in my hands. That was enough for me.”

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Printable version | Apr 14, 2021 5:16:38 AM |

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