To say that the Walmikis’ standard of living has been embellished greatly of late would certainly be a rather brazen understatement. Where once stood a dilapidated and decrepit shanty,now rests a luxury-laden one-room-kitchen residence. The dishevelled house that the family inhabited for more than four decades is now finally a home. And one which is adorned with an assortement of modern amenities.
The latest indulgence arrived just a couple of months ago. A 32″ inch flat-screen television. And it was bought,Yuvraj Walmiki reveals,with a specific purpose in mind. To help his family revel in the nuances of their famous ward’s maiden outing on the grandest stage of them all. A high-definition access to Yuvrajtheir eldest son,the one responsible for the turnaround in their fortunesas he graces his first-ever Olympic Games.
Unfortunately though it wasn’t to be. A recurring grade II tear in his hamstring and a below-par performance in the build-up to the Olympic trials meant that the 21-year-old star striker was left out of the final 15-member Indian hockey squad. The London dream had failed to materialize. And Yuvraj too has had to be content with catching the proceedings from London 2012 on his wide-screen at home. He makes no bones about the fact that missing the bus to the Olympics has easily been the most disappointing period of his young life.
“I cried throughout the opening ceremony. I wanted to be there so bad,parading along with India’s greatest athletes with the tricolour flying high. I couldn’t hold back my sorrow. My mother also broke down,” recalls Yuvraj. And the emotional scenes at the Walmiki household were repeated as the Indian team queued up for the national anthem prior to their opening match against the Netherlands.
“Having played with the same boys and under the same coach for 30-40 matches just prior to the Olympics,it really hurt not to be there. But I did feel better when my family and everyone in my area kept telling that I should have been there. Especially when they said that I could have made a big difference to our performance in London,” he says.
A BIG LET-DOWN
Like all other hockey fanatics,and just the general patriots,around the country,the talented Air-India striker too has been glued to the television. He’s hardly missed a second of the five matches that Bharat Chetri & Co played during the league stage.
And just like everyone else,Yuvraj too is utterly disappointed with the dismal exploitsfive massive defeats in five gamesby his colleagues. Not so much that Team India will be returning home without a medal but more as a result of the lacklustre showing by those of his offensive ilk.
“We missed far too many chances. One advice that coach (Michael) Nobbs always gave all eight of us (strikers) was to produce at least a short-corner if not a goal,each time we entered the scoring circle. More so because in Sandeep Singh,we have the best drag-flicker in the world,” explains Yuvraj. The expectations regarding the Indian team’s medal hopes got a tad unrealistically burgeoned after their impressive showing in the Olympics qualifiers,especially the 8-1 thrashing of France. And that has made India’s performance look graver,according to Yuvraj.
“We have to realize that France aren’t even ranked in the top-25 whereas the teams here were among the top 12 outfits in the world. We have suffered some horrible defeats against the Dutch,and I thought we did amazingly well to come back from 2-0 down against them here. You know how poor our record has been against Germany so that defeat didn’t rankle much either,” he says. The losses to South Korea and New Zealand though were shattering. And not being there with his boys,egging them on in person or picking up his stick and trying to get India that much-needed respite hurt even more,says Yuvraj.
While the rest of the hockey fraternity in India looks to pick the bones out of the Olympics disaster,Yuvraj believes the electric-blue turf at the Riverbank Arena in London might have had a bearing on the team’s struggle. “The surface was blue even in Malaysia where we played the Azlan Shah tournament and won bronze.
But that was a much lighter shade,and the ball wasn’t getting lost in the brightness,nor was it hurting the eyes. Even Ric Charlesworth had issues with the turf in London. So if a team like Australia is not comfortable,then you can imagine why we struggled,” he says.
Not being in London,however,still hurts,adds Yuvraj. He had just returned from his first injury break in Malaysia for the Azlan Shah Cup. But he failed to impress the team management. His speed and stamina,both major traits of his game,were found wanting,and the youngster remained mainly a substitute.
“The feel of the stick,the natural speed,they just weren’t there. I could feel the injury still bothering me. Whereas I generally would play 50-60 minutes of each match,there I got only 20 minutes on an average. So I did have this gut-feeling that things weren’t going my way,” says Yuvraj. The Olympics trails arrived just four days after the team had returned from Malaysia. And it was that drive to make it to London that kept Yuvraj going. “I tried giving it my 1000 per cent. Pushed myself to the core,but in turn it hampered me more,and worsened my injury,” he says.
Yuvraj at least takes solace from the fact that it was injury rather than poor performance that led to him being sidelined. That fact,he says,eased the pain considerably. It’s also strengthened his resolve to work harder on his fitness and win back his rightful place in the squad. And while skeptics and some realists too beleive this to be the gravest hour ever for Indian hockey,Yuvraj believes the light is still shining bright at the end of the tunnel. And he in fact appeals to hockey fans to stick with the team,and not abandon them. “We reached seven finals in eight tournaments prior to the tournament. We have made such positive strides with regards to our hockey. We cannot become a bad side overnight. I hope the fans don’t give up on the team so soon,” says Yuvraj.
More importantly he doesn’t throwing his weight behind beleagured coach Michael Nobbs either. Yuvraj insists that the Australian still remains the best man to lead Indian hockey to new and unprecedented heights.
“I hope we stick with him. Look at the progress we’ve made under him. And he’s promised to get the Indian team on the podium come 2016,and he deserves a go at achieving that. I am sure he will deliver,” he adds.
And Yuvraj aims to do everything he can to ensure that he is a part of the Olympics carnival in Rio de Janerio in four years’ time. “Being there at 21 would have been something extra special. But well there is always Rio in 2016,and I would like to be the captain of the Indian team there,” he says. Cheering him on will be mother Meena and the rest of the Walmiki family. Possibly while watching their son win glory for India on a slightly wider screen at home.