After Rupinder, Lakra retired, gave India a bronze medal in Tokyo Olympics

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New Delhi
Star drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh and defender Birender Lakra, who were key members of the Olympic bronze medal-winning Indian hockey team, on Thursday announced their retirement from international hockey with immediate effect in an effort to pave way for the youth. Rupinder announced the decision on his Twitter handle while Hockey India announced Lakra’s retirement. However, Lakra, who was India’s vice-captain at the Tokyo Olympics, later expressed his views by writing a long post on his Facebook page. The retirement of both of them reminded the retirement of former Indian captain Dhoni and Suresh Raina. Both had announced their retirement on the same day.

Reliable sources revealed that both the players were told that they would not get a place in the national camp starting next week in Bengaluru. Ranked among the best drag-flickers in the country, the 30-year-old has represented India in 223 matches. Rupinder, popularly known as ‘Bob’, scored four goals during India’s bronze medal-winning campaign at the Tokyo Olympics. The third-place play-off also included a penalty stroke goal against Germany.

Rupinder’s decision came as a surprise as he could have easily played for a few more years considering his fitness and form. Rupinder wrote in a statement on his official Twitter handle, ‘There is no doubt that the last few months have been the best days of my life. Standing on the podium in Tokyo with my team mates with whom I shared some wonderful experiences of my life was a feeling that I will always cherish.

“I believe the time has come when young and talented players are given the opportunity to experience the joy that I have been experiencing for the last 13 years while playing for India,” he said. On the other hand, Hockey India tweeted about Lakra, “A strong defender and one of the most influential players of the Indian Hockey team, Odisha star Lakra has decided to say goodbye to international hockey.” Happy Retirement Birendra Lakra.

Lakra later wrote a long post on Facebook saying, “For the past few weeks, I have been introspecting on my journey so far in hockey. Nothing brings me more joy and pride than playing for India and wearing the Indian team jersey. Now is the time for the next generation of young players to live the feeling of playing for India.

He further said, ‘After playing 201 international matches for the country in the last 11 years, I have decided to bid farewell to the Indian hockey team. I can’t even imagine the feeling of not being able to share the dressing room again with so many great players but I wish them all the best for taking Indian hockey forward as the next Olympics are only after three years.

The veteran Odisha player said, “I have seen many ups and downs in my career playing for the Indian team but nothing is more important than winning an Olympic bronze medal. I think now is the right time to leave and take a new path. This game has given me so much and changed my life. I will continue to serve hockey in some form or the other.

Star drag flicker Rupinder Pal Singh says goodbye to international hockey
Born in Odisha’s Sundargarh district, Lakra, 31, was part of the team that won gold at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games and bronze in Jakarta in 2018. Known for his calmness in the face of pressure, Lakra played his first international match against South Africa in 2012. On the other hand, Rupinder worked hard and came back several times during his journey from Faridkot in Punjab to the podium in Tokyo.

Since making his international debut at the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh in May 2010, Rupinder has been a key member of India’s defense and combined with VR Raghunath to create a dangerous drag-flick combination. Apart from the fearless defense, Rupinder was also heavily relied upon by his captain to score goals on penalty corners and penalty strokes.

Rupinder’s strong stature and length were enough to trouble any team’s defense at penalty corners. He was also known for his clever variations. Rupinder was made the vice-captain of the Indian team in the 2014 World Cup and was also part of the Indian team that won the silver medal at the Commonwealth Games the same year.

Rupinder was also part of the Indian team that won gold at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games and bronze at the 2018 Jakarta Asian Games. Rupinder was also made a scapegoat after his disappointment in the Asian Games and was subsequently overlooked during the team changes. He was also troubled by injuries. His career almost came to an end in 2017 due to a problem with his leg muscles. He described this time as the most difficult time of his career.

Harmanpreet benefited the most from his six months out due to injury, but after his successful return, both of them became India’s trump cards at short corners and their pair remained till Tokyo. Rupinder achieved the biggest success of his career this year at the Tokyo Games. “I had the honor of wearing the India jersey in 223 matches and each match was special. I am happily leaving the team and satisfied as we have realized the biggest dream which was to win a medal in Olympics for India.

“I am taking with me memories of playing some of the most talented players in world hockey and I have great respect for each and every one of them,” he said.

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