Yuvraj ready to don bigger role

Its a dream come true for me, says young Mumbai forward

Impressed by his brilliant show in the Senior National championship at Bhopal this May and the National probables camp currently underway at the Sports Authority of India campus here, the wise men of Hockey India on Tuesday included the talented Air India striker in the Indian team for the inaugural Asian Champions Trophy.

“It’s a great feeling,” said the 21-year-old of his call-up to the Senior side. “Thanks to coach (Michael) Nobbs, (SS) Grewal sir, all the coaching staff and the selectors for giving me a chance to perform. At the start of the camp (last month) there were nearly 100 probables and I knew it was going to be a tough job to make the cut to the senior side.

“I just kept working hard as for the last 11 years — since I started playing hockey — I’ve been dreaming of earning a call-up to the senior side. Having achieved that now, I want to maintain that. Realising your dream alone is not enough, sustaining it is very important. I want to work hard and wish to play for India as I long as I can.”

Hailing from a very humble background — he grew up in a single-room house in Mumbai along with his three brothers — Walmiki took up the sport on the advice of his school friend at the age of 10. Realising the natural talent he possessed, Walmiki soon started devoting more time for the sport, sharpening his skills first under coach MJ Patil.

He then played for Bank of India before he was spotted by Air India manager Vernon Lobo in 2006. The youngster grabbed the opportunity with both hands, building his base brick by brick in the last five years. Impressive as a substitute for the Air India in the KSHA Super Division League this January, Walmiki has also played for German Second Division team Club Frankenthal in the last two seasons. He was also among the stand-byes for the Junior World Cup in 2009, jointly hosted by Malaysia and Singapore.

“When I started to play hockey, I didn’t even have money to buy a pair of shoes. Viren Rasquinha and Joachim Carvalho helped me a lot during the difficult days. The Air India move changed my life. I never imagined I would earn Rs 10,000 a month at 17. That gave me the confidence I needed,” said Walmiki.

Terming Walmiki as a very confident youngster, Nobbs said such talents could play a pivotal role in bringing India’s glory back. “The other day we were trying out a new pattern of scoring. Most of the seniors were missing. This kid jumps up to me and asks for a chance. Completely stunned, I told him if he misses he needs to do 25 laps around the pitch. The next minute I see him scoring. That’s the kind of confidence that’s there in him.”

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