Bravely fighting his way back

Bravely fighting his way back

After warding off a rare disorder, Sunil looks to strike on the field

At the peak of his powers and a sure pick for the hockey World Cup at home, the Karnataka-born Services player’s childhood dreams were rudely dashed when he was diagnosed with a rare disorder -- avascular necrosis of lower end of femur -- during the preparatory camp in Pune in January.

Such was the rarity of his disorder that it took nearly six months for it to be diagnosed. An extensive surgery in September put him out of action for 15 months, as a result of which he missed the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi and the Asian Games in Guangzhou.

“It was very disappointing to miss those three events,” said Sunil during a training session at the KSHA stadium on Saturday. “I was playing really well then and looking forward to these tournaments. I worked extremely hard to get there, and having come so close to realising my dreams, it was very heart-breaking to miss them due to injury.”

A fighter throughout his life -- Sunil earned widespread praise after he continued to play the 2009 Azlan Shah Cup despite learning about his father’s demise -- the 21-year-old has not only made a much-welcome recovery but has regained his spot in the national team since his comeback this May.

The striker has made some adjustments to his game that has seen him score more goals, set up more opportunities for his fellow strikers and catch the eye of coach Michael Nobbs and the selectors with his scorching speed and beautiful stick-work. He played a huge role in India winning the gold medal in the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy and a silver in the just-concluded Champions Challenge tournament.

“Despite not holding a stick for over a year, I was very confident of making an impression on my comeback. The most important thing was to make myself familiar again. People remember you only when you are playing and easily forget if you are not.  Hopefully, the bad times are behind me. I’ve regained my confidence and my fitness also seems fine. My main focus now is to play the Olympic Qualifiers and make sure we qualify for the London trip. In fact, that’s the only thing on all of our minds and we are completely focussed.”

Nobbs, who has played a vital role in the re-emergence of Sunil, said the forward’s attitude has paid dividends.

“There’s no doubt he is one of the best strikers in the country. Earlier, he used to play a lot of European-style hockey which didn’t suit him. I just asked him to play the normal Indian attacking style and he has adjusted tremendously. He played really well in Australia and South Africa. He is a very hard-working guy and a determined one too.”

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