Need to prove my worth again, says returning striker S.V. Sunil

Veteran Indian striker S.V. Sunil is making a comeback into the national team for the Olympic Test event in Japan after a nine-month injury layoff.

Sunil missed the Hockey World Cup 2018 due to a knee injury.   -  k. murali kumar

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. Nine months ago, the veteran forward suffered a severe injury - a grade three tear of the Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) and misalignment of knee bones - during a training session at the Kalinga Stadium.

After months of hard work and painful rehabilitation, Sunil is back in the scheme of things. Last week, he was named in the Indian team for the Tokyo Olympics Test Event. After being ruled out of the crucial 2018 World Cup and the latest FIH Series Finals, the 30-year-old from Somwarpet is keen to make every chance count.

"I'm feeling happy," Sunil says, at the team's preparatory camp at Sports Authority of India, Bengaluru.

"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."

READ | Harendra still open to coach junior hockey team, but on his own terms

Watching the World Cup from the sidelines, hobbling on crutches, hurt the most.

"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."

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 had to rely on crutches for two months and the lack of exercise told on his body. Sunil put on seven kilos, with his body fat percentage rising from 7.5 to 12. When the forward, who is 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."

ALSO READ | Hockey India names women’s squad for Tokyo Olympics test event

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."