Strike force gets fresh legs

India HockeyAffan Yousuf, Yuvraj Walmiki wait to enter the field during India’s practice game against Holland at the National Stadium, New Delhi, on Wednesday. India lost the warm-up game 4-0 (IE Photo Praveen Khanna)

Five minutes had passed in the practice game between India and The Netherlands before jersey numbers 13 and 22 got substituted into play. But neither Affan Yousuf (13) nor Yuvraj Walmiki (22) would have been complaining much about not starting the game.

The two would rather have been glad simply to get a chance.

The two strikers were the surprise inclusions in the 18-member Indian squad for the Hero Hockey World League named on Wednesday. Only a couple of weeks back observers wouldn't have been faulted for presuming they weren't in the scheme of things. Walmiki, 22, hadn't played for the India team since April last year and wasn't even included in a 48-member camp ahead of the Asia Cup in August. Yousuf, meanwhile, hadn't even been selected for the Junior World Cup in December last year.

Speaking of the two's selection, national coach Terry Walsh says "Sometimes opportunity comes to you at the most unexpected of times." That could hardly be more appropriate than in the case of Yousuf. The 19-year-old had won the player of the tournament at the hockey nationals last year, then was named vice captain of the junior team which won gold at the Sultan Johor Cup. Yousuf was expected to be a shoo-in for the Junior World Cup before his unexpected axing.

"I was very upset when I wasn't selected for the Junior World Cup," says Yousuf. However he says the dismay quickly turned to motivation. "There wasn't any point staying depressed about it. My father told me that I would get my opportunity at the right time and in some time and I too felt that whether it was the World League or the HIL, I would work to prove myself once again," he says. So when Yousuf got the call for the 28-man preparatory squad for the World League, he was determined to give it his best shot.

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