Monday, March 31, 2014

Hunger to play for India never died, says Yuvraj Walmiki

This piece was published in Stick2hockey.com

Comebacks are part and parcel of a sportsman’s life. Every comeback opportunity injects a dose of hope in a player to really make it count. And it hasn’t been any different for Indian hockey striker Yuvraj Walmiki, who has acquitted himself quite well ever since staging a return to the national fold in the Hockey World League Final in January this year. And the 2nd Hero Hockey India League gave him a platform to build on that. “I was out of the national side for close to a year. Even when I was out of the side, the hunger in me to play for the country never died. I never let negative things creep into my system as positive energy was running through my body. I kept my chin up, kept working hard and it paid off,” Yuvraj says in an exclusive interview.

The 24-year-old Mumbai lad last played for India in the 2012 FIH Champions Trophy in Melbourne, where India put up an eye-catching performance after the London Olympics blues, reaching the semifinals where they narrowly lost to arch-rivals Pakistan in the bronze medal play-off tie. Yuvraj had a decent tournament, even scoring a goal in India’s 3-1 opening game win over England.

A lot of water has flown under the bridge and the nippy striker was as determined as before, giving his best shot in the domestic tournaments while turning out for Indian Oil on contract in a bid to reclaim his national berth. “I owe a lot to Indian Oil for giving me an opportunity to play for them for a few months. I featured in the Beighton Cup, Lal Bahadur Shastri hockey tourney, Nehru tournament as well as the Mumbai Gold Cup. In fact, I was the top goal-scorer in the Nehru tournament,” he quips.

Yuvraj has since joined Indian Railways. “I’m happy to have joined the Indian Railways as a Junior Ticket Collector – I joined them just before the start of the 2nd HIL. I really look forward to delivering for them whenever I’m free from national duty. Of course, my primary focus is to fare well for the national side.”

The Walmiki mĂ©nage must be ‘extra’ elated as his younger brother Devinder also made it to the Indian World Cup probables. Yuvraj doesn’t mind the ‘family’ competition. “I’m happy for him. Although we will be competing for places in the national team, I wish him all luck,” he puts forth his thoughts.

Yuvraj was catapulted into limelight when he put up a dazzling performance in India’s 2011 Asian Champions Trophy glory. For someone, who surmounted numerous hurdles including his economically disadvantaged background, en route to doing what he loves the most – his performance triggered a heap of cash awards and even a promise of a flat promised by the Maharashtra government. “I was promised a flat in September 2011 and I’m yet to get it. I still live in my modest house, which I have renovated a bit opposite to Marine line station. I’m trying my best to contact the concerned government authorities, and keeping my fingers crossed,” he exudes hope.

The youngster, who scored a fine opportunistic goal against Australia during the Hockey World League Final in New Delhi, helping India take a 2-0 lead in the first twenty-odd minutes of play, gushes about playing alongside somebody as talented as Sardar Singh. “I’m really honoured to be playing alongside somebody like Sardar Singh. He is a great player and importantly, a fabulous human being. You keep learning so many things playing with him.”

Yuvraj sees the 2014 World Cup as a huge opportunity for India to show the world that they are surely going up the ladder. “We have got a great coach in Terry Walsh, who knows how to get the best out of the boys. Of course, it all boils down to how a team plays on any given day, we will look to put our best foot forward and make our country proud,” he signs off.
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