NEW DELHI: Drag-flicker Rupinder Pal Singh, who played a starring role in the Indian hockey team's historic bronze-winning Tokyo Olympics campaign, on Thursday announced his international retirement with immediate effect "to make way for youngsters".
The 30-year-old, regarded as one of the best drag-flickers of the country, represented India in 223 matches.
Nicknamed 'Bob', Rupinder scored four crucial goals, including a penalty stroke in the third-place match against Germany, during India's bronze-medal winning campaign in Tokyo.
The decision came as a surprise given that going by his fitness and form, he clearly had some more years left in the game.
"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's journey from Faridkot in Punjab to the podium in Tokyo was full of hardships and several comebacks.
Soon after making his international debut in May 2010 in the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh, Rupinder became a vital cog in India's backline and along with VR Raghunath, formed a lethal dragflick combination.
Apart from his fearless defending, Rupinder was the 'go-to' man for any skipper for penalty corner and spot situations.
Rupinder's well-built physique and tall frame was a dangerous sight for any team's defence in penalty corner situations.
He was also known for his smart variations.
He was named as vice-captain of India's 2014 World Cup campaign besides being a member of the Commonwealth Games silver medal-winning side the same year.
Rupinder has two Asian Games medals in his kitty -- a gold in 2014 Incheon and bronze in 2018 Jakarta.
But he became one of the scapegoats after the Asian Games disappointment as he 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.
Harmanpreet Singh benefitted the most from Rupinder's six-month long injury lay-off but after his successful return, the two became India's trump cards from short corners and their pairing continued till Tokyo.
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."
Rupinder credited his success to his friends and family, especially his parents.
"None of this success I enjoy today would have been possible without the support and encouragement from my friends and family, particularly my mother and father. I walked into every match thinking of them."
He also thanked Hockey India and all those who played a big part in shaping his career.
"I thank Hockey India for having faith in me all these years. I also thank Baba Shershah Wali academy and coaches, Firozpur where my journey in hockey began. I thank my friends and coaches from Faridkot from where I have some good memories as a young player," Rupinder said.
"I also thank coaches late Shri Jasbir Singh Bajwa, Shri OP Ahlawat and my friends from Chandigarh Hockey Academy who played a big role in my formative years as a player."