Yuvraj Walmiki was pretty much an unknown entity in Indian hockey before he embarked for the 2011 Asian Champions Trophy at Ordos, China. But he transformed into a household name by the time the tournament got over. As a 21-year-old youngster bubbling with enthusiasm and excitement, Yuvraj had to do the hard yards before he could make it to the national team for the 2011 Asian Champions Trophy. “The 2011 Asian Champions Trophy was the turning point of my life. I still remember I was called up for the national camp held at Bengaluru, where 110 probables was called up by newly-joined Indian coach Michael Nobbs. Subsequently, the probables were shortlisted first to 50, then to 30 and finally 18 and I was fortunate to find a place in the side. I never thought I could play alongside the likes of Rajpal Singh, Shivendra Singh, Prabhjot Singh, Deepak Thakur and Tushar Khanker,” gushes Yuvraj strolling down memory lane.
The Mumbai lad explains how he beat off competition from 110 probables and make it to the side. “110 probables were divided into four teams and I was in the fourth team. At the camp, I was regularly using my 3D skills and dodging players, which attracted the notice of Nobbs. He walked to me one day and asked me where I learned these skills. I told him that I honed these skills while playing in the German league for TGF Frankenthal. Nobbs was impressed with what he saw of me and picked me in the side for the Asian Champions Trophy,” he points out.
Yuvraj did full justice to his inclusion in the side, scoring against China and South Korea and showed nerves of steel as he scored in the shootout as India nosed out Pakistan 4-2 after being locked goalless in normal time. “Any win against Pakistan is always special and I was feeling on top of the world after I was able to score in the shootout. My younger brother Devinder Walmiki called me up from India that evening and told him that we should be prepared for a massive reception on arrival in India,” he recalls with a glint of pride.
The rousing reception Yuvraj received at the Mumbai airport is something he won’t forget for the rest of his life. “The current Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and his son Aditya Thackeray received us at the airport and from then I straight headed to Matoshree to meet Bal Saheb Thackeray. He asked him what I want and I categorically told him that my house did not have power or water connection nor a toilet for the last forty years. The distance from Matoshree to my house was about 35-40 minutes and when I reached home power connection at our house was installed. I will remain ever grateful to Bala Saheb Thackeray for his gesture,” he recounts fondly.
The Indian forward also revealed how the Maharashtra government hiked my cash award on request from hockey legend Dhanraj Pillay. “The then Maharashtra CM Prithiviraj Chauhan and Deputy CM Ajit Pawar invited me to the Mantralaya next day and gave me a cash award of Rs 3 lakh and politely asked if this is okay with me. Dhanraj Pillay Anna, who was with me at that time, told Chauhan and Pawar Sir about my bad financial state and requested them to increase the prize money. I still remember Pawar Dada on the spot hiked the cash award from Rs 3 lakh to Rs 11 lakh. I will be always thankful to the Maharashtra government as well as Shiv Sena for recognising my achievements,” he quips.
Yuvraj, who had play for India from 2011 to 2015, is happy with the way his hockey career shaped up. “It has been a wonderful journey and I’m happy that I could play in the 2014 World Cup. Of course, missing two Olympics (2012 and 2016) still hurts but my younger brother Devinder atoned for that by playing in the Rio Olympics,” he concludes.