There was no hesitation. No second thoughts. But there were certainly a lot of emotions involved. “I want Australia. I want them in the semi-finals and I want to beat them bad.” SV Sunil, in recent years, has carved for himself the image of a no-nonsense forward in the Indian Hockey team who doesn’t mess around in front of goal. And when it comes to his words, there was no messing around as well.
The pain was real and it spoke through his eyes. The Australians have been a hurdle that the Indian have been unable to cross in recent times. And their recent defeats at the hands of the Kookaburras in the Champions Trophy and the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup seem to have stirred something in the Indian forward’s soul.
It’s been 36 years since India bagged a medal in the sport, but going into the Olympic Games, the mood of the team seemed jovial.
And why wouldn’t they be? The last year and a half have seen a pleasant upswing in fortunes for the Blueshirts. A resounding performance at the Asian Games in Incheon was followed by a third-place finish in last year’s Hockey World League. And to cap it all, a silver in the Champions Trophy just before the Olympics should serve as a confidence booster going into the event.
And that confidence reflected in SV Sunil’s replies. The young boy from Kodagu, Karnataka had jumped on to the scene as a lanky fleet-footed forward in 2007, where India won the Asia Cup. Nine years on and now he will be looking to lead his team to another medal, having become one of the main focal points of the team.
Whilst many have criticised India’s lack of goalscoring prowess and the ability to convert chances, the 27-year-old seems non-plussed about it all. “I think the results in the Champions Trophy speak for themselves. It shows the quality of our forward line,” quips Sunil.
Known for his selflessness in play despite being a forward, Sunil is also looking forward to Roelant Oltmans’ plans of playing Sardar Singh in the forward line. “He is a skillful player and that should help me as well as the other forwards (Akashdeep Singh and Ramandeep Singh). It, in fact, takes a lot of the pressure off us, having such a versatile player in our side,” opines Sunil.
India climb up in the rankings
India’s success is reflected in the rankings as well, with the team now up to 5th. When it comes to India and hockey, the team always goes into the event with a legacy to protect although they have long been nothing but “fallen giants”, like the West Indies in the Cricketing world.
However, Sunil refuses to take on any pressure that comes along with the tag of the ‘Indian Hockey team’. In fact, he uses the expectations of so many in a positive way. A refreshing attitude is what we have always wanted from our hockey team and this one seems to be standing up to the tests.
Sunil is sharp in his opinions as he is with his stick. “We have so many people praying for us. Cheering for us. Why should we have pressure on us? We have played against the best and have shown that we can beat the best. With the upswing we are on, I feel we will get positive results.”
The Indian team will now fly to Madrid where they will stay for a week, practicing and playing friendlies away from the prying eyes of the media, before jetting off to Rio. They are scheduled to play two more friendlies in Brazil before they start their campaign on 6th August against Ireland.