Weight and watch for Walmiki
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Ordos, September 2011. India and Pakistan have played 85 minutes of hard-fought hockey (including 15 minutes of extra time) but have failed to score the decisive goal that will help either of the two clinch the Asian Champions Trophy title. The match eventually goes to penalties and India win 4-2.
The encounters between India and Pakistan have often thrown up new, unforgettable heroes. That afternoon in Ordos, the performance of one man stood out. Yuvraj Walmiki, a young, promising striker from the city set the turf on fire with some scintillating performances in the tournament. But a calmly taken penalty, which eventually helped India clinch the title, announced his arrival on the big stage.
"It was a big break for me. I was a part of the national camp 13 times before but wasn't picked. The coach (Michael Nobbs) showed a lot of faith in me. That match has played a crucial role in shaping up my career," he recalls. "I wasn't able to sleep the night before, I was so nervous. But I learnt a lot about handling pressure, delivering in crunch situations and more than anything else, got the feel of playing in a high-voltage match."
A year on, it's likely that India and Pakistan will battle it out in the final of the same competition yet again on Thursday. Unfortunately for him, Walmiki won't be a part of the tie this time round. Instead, he will working out at a gym in Mumbai while his mates go head to head against their opponents in the final in Doha. The 23-year-old has been asked by chief coach Michael Nobbs to bulk up a bit so as to match his opponents physically. "So my routine now involves a lot of weight training. I spend a lot of time in the gym," he says. "Getting into the team is very easy. Holding on to your place is difficult. The coach has told me to improve my muscle weight so I am working on it."
The journey hasn't been all that smooth for Walmiki since that match against Pakistan. He first injured his hip during a test series against South Africa early this year and even as he was recovering from that, he pulled his hamstring during the Olympic qualifiers in February. The two injuries put him out of contention for a major part of the year. Consequently, he was left out of the London bound squad for the Olympics. He watched his teammates getting humiliated from home, frustrated that he wasn't there to help them. "It wasn't easy to watch that from home. Playing the Olympics is a dream for any sportsperson. Unfortunately, I missed it this time," he says.
Soon after regaining full fitness, Walmiki took off to Germany, where he played in the second division league for TGF Frankenthal. "I have been playing there for three years now and finished as the top scorer in the last two. Playing in Germany has been a huge learning experience for me. It's very different from what we play in Asia; the level is very high," the striker says.
He made a comeback to the national team in the Champions Trophy, where he announced his return to the national side by scoring India's opening goal in the tournament (against England). "Returning to the side felt good and the goal gave me a lot of confidence. I hope to carry on the same way when I take field for Delhi in the Hockey India League next month," Walmiki says.
For now, his heart and mind is in Doha where his teammates will be hoping to win the Asian Champions Trophy title for the second consecutive time. "They are the best among all the teams at the moment. If they carry on playing the same way, I think we will win the title again," he predicts.