Khatri battles odds on and off rugby field

Vikas Khatri had felt a dizzying rush of blood to his head when he scored a crucial try in the Indian rugby team’s 18-16 win over Guam in the Asian 5 Nations Division-III Tournament final on held in the first week of June.

Written by Express News Service | Published:June 17, 2012 3:34 am

Vikas Khatri had felt a dizzying rush of blood to his head when he scored a crucial try in the Indian rugby team’s 18-16 win over Guam in the Asian 5 Nations Division-III Tournament final on held in the first week of June. The 25-year-old Haryana lad had just helped India move up 12 places to 65th position in the IRB World Rankings. The right winger had ensured — with his consistent showing — that India could keep their dreams of qualifying for Rugby World Cup 2015 in England,alive,and at the very least an immediate return to Division II in 2013. Back home from that heady success and appreciative back-patting of boisterous team-mates,Khatri was to soon plunge into familiar despair on his return. Nothing had changed since he left — he was still struggling to find a job; he was still grappling with how to put together money needed for his father’s cancer treatment.

When his father was diagnosed in the early stages a few years ago,it meant an immediate end to his earliest sporting outing: he played district-level cricket for Sonipat at the u-15 and u-17 levels. His father had been a small-time driver,and once bed-ridden,Vikas had gone from one odd job to next,never quite settling into an assured income,and always anxious about fulfilling the responsibilities of taking care of his ailing father.

“Treatment’s on,but I’ll need to find a job soon. They don’t put pressure on me to get a job,but I know I need to find something soon,” says the big lad,who has passed Class 12 but twice failed to clear the Delhi Police selections after going past the writtens. Rugby,then,is an escape he seeks out often,when he is bogged down by these worries and finds himself in a stupor.

Though cricket was forgotten in a rapid hurry — the playing kit costs and his limited talent never seemed promising enough to pursue it — Vikas,who went to a government school and played next to nothing as formal sport there,could never leave the playing field with village buddies,and kept busy,and fit,playing volleyball and football. It was while playing the latter against a team of village boys from adjoining Nangal Kalan village that Vikas had gotten accustomed to watching rugby three summers ago. “Deepak and Gautam Dagar who play for the Indian team came from that village,and I’d watch them play often,” he says adding that the oblong ball never seemed strange-shaped as a result.

He joined in,and was soon playing for Delhi Hurricanes,the Vasant Kunj club,travelling 60 kms — always hitching rides — letting loose his sprinter’s limbs as he was immediately cast into the role of a speedy winger,blessed with natural pace.

At 5’10” and weighing 85 kg,Khatri had the bulk to muscle past rival defences,but was unusually fast for a bloke that size,giving India a ready flanker to replace it’s ageing wingers. “He’s a real strong runner,and receptive of the rules in rugby. In only his second year,Vikas has managed to make an impression,” captain Nasser Hussain says of the best player to emerge from the new wave of ruggers after the Commonwealth Games,the finest amongst the 15 who debuted last year.

Khatri has scored three tries in his four Tests in 15s after starting last December with India,and has enjoyed donning national colours. “Some people get into sports for recreation,others for money.

But I get a thrill from representing India,” he says,adding,“I always knew there was no money and no jobs in rugby. But I feel carefree when I’m playing. It’s good to know that my team-mates feel confident of scoring whenever I get the ball in my hand.” Khatri believes he scored his best during India’s 34-5 victory against Pakistan recently. He hopes he can score when India play Thailand (ranked 60) next month for the next stage of qualifiers for the Rugby World Cup. “But I’m not sure how long rugby will continue. I hope I never have to give it up,” he says.

When he returned from his debut tournament in Thailand last year,he’d taken home CDs of the games. His villagers had wondered what joy there was in piling upon one other,and told him in no uncertain terms that his game of ‘raghubir’ as they pronounced it,could hold no future for him. Up against such a torrent of dismissive career advice,his recent challenge of trying to comprehend instructions from India’s Japanese coach Mitsutake Hagimoto,felt like a trifle.

“Jitni English humein aati hai,utni hi unko bhi aati hai!” he quipped,wryly adding,“at least,he encourages my rugby. We understand each other perfectly.”

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