Veteran India men's hockey team striker SV Sunil on Friday announced his international retirement, ending a 14-year-long career during which he was a part of the 2014 Asian Games gold-winning side.
Sunil's decision came a day after drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh and defender Birendra Lakra, who played starring roles in India's historic bronze medal-winning Tokyo Olympics campaign, announced their international retirements on Friday.
Sunil, 32, hailing from Karnataka, was not a part of the team at the Tokyo Olympics. He said it was time for him to make way for younger players and help to build a winning team for the future. He appeared in 264 India matches, scoring 72 goals.
"... time to take a break. More than 14 years after I wore India colours for the first time, I have decided to make myself unavailable for the national camp which begins next week," Sunil, who grew up playing hockey with a bamboo stick due to his family's limited resources, tweeted.
"It was not the easiest decision to make, but it was not the toughest either, given that I did not make it to the team for the Tokyo Games. The omission put a question mark on my future as a player, in the 11-a-side format.
"With the 2024 Paris Olympics three years away, I think, as a senior player it is important that I make way for youngsters and help in building a winning team for the future," he added.
The Arjuna awardee from Somwarpet in Coorg made his international debut in 2007 at the Asia Cup which India won after beating Pakistan in the Final. The two-time Olympian (2012 and 2016) remained a key player in the Indian forward-line for over a decade.
He was in the Indian team that won gold in the 2011 Asian Champions Trophy and silver in the same event in 2012. He also won gold and bronze medals in the 2014 and 2018 Asian Games respectively besides a gold in the Asia Cup 2017.
He was instrumental in the team's historic silver medal wins at the 2016 and 2018 FIH Champions Trophy. He also led the forward-line in 2015 World League Final where the team won a bronze, and was also part of the team that won bronze in the same event in 2017 in Bhubaneswar.
He also has a silver medal from the Commonwealth Games 2014.
Congratulating Sunil for his contribution to Indian hockey, Hockey India President Gyanendro Ningombam said, "SV Sunil has been an inspiration to an entire generation of young hockey players.
"His commitment to the game and discipline was unmatched and he has given Indian hockey some very memorable performances." Sunil said he will continue to be available to play the shorter form of the game (5-a-side hockey).
Sunil said the gold in the 2014 Asian Games was the turning point of his career.
"I am grateful that I represented my country at two Olympic Games -- in London in 2012 and in Rio in 2012.
"I have seen a lot on and off the pitch in the past 14 years. I have battled personal tragedies, career-threatening injuries and other setbacks to remain focussed on giving my best for the country."