Birendra Lakra, part of the Indian men’s team which won bronze at the Tokyo Olympics, retired from international hockey on Thursday, hours after his teammate Rupinder Pal Singh quit.
"A solid defender and one of the most influential Indian Men's Hockey Team figures, the Odisha star has announced his retirement from the Indian national team. Happy Retirement, Birendra Lakra," Hockey India tweeted, announcing the news.
Lakra, who played 201 matches for India, was also part of the 2014 gold medal-winning team at the Incheon Asian Games, and the side that claimed bronze in Jakarta 2018.
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Hours before Lakra's news came out, his teammate, drag-flicker Rupinder, who played a starring role in the historic bronze in the Japanese capital, announced his international retirement "to make way for youngsters".
The 30-year-old represented India in 223 matches. Nicknamed 'Bob', Rupinder scored four crucial goals, including a penalty stroke in the third-place match against Germany, in Tokyo.
The decision came as a surprise given that going by his fitness and form, and age as well, he clearly had some more years left in the game.
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"The past couple of months have undoubtedly been the best days of my life. Standing on the podium in Tokyo along with my teammates with whom I have shared some of the most incredible experiences of my life was a feeling I will cherish forever," Rupinder wrote in a statement on his official Twitter handle.
"I believe it is time for me to make way for young and talented players to experience every great joy that I have felt in these last 13 years of representing India."
Rupinder, just like Lakra, has two Asian Games medals in his kitty -- a gold in Incheon 2014 and bronze in Jakarta 2018. However, he was made one of the scapegoats after the Asian Games disappointment in Jakarta and was mostly ignored in the overhaul of the team.
In between, injuries too didn't help his cause as a hamstring problem almost ended his career in 2017, a time he once described as the "toughest phase" of his life.
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Rupinder's greatest success came in this year's Tokyo Games. "I have had the honour of wearing the India jersey in 223 matches and each of these matches were special.
“I am leaving the team feeling happy and content as we have conquered the greatest dream which was to win an Olympic medal for India," he said.
"I will carry with me nothing but great memories of playing with some of the most talented players in world hockey and I have immense respect for each one of them," he said.
"My teammates have been a great pillar of support all these years and I wish them the best as they surge ahead in taking India to newer heights in hockey."
(With additions from PTI)
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