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Why the 2014 World Cup was a cocktail of emotions for Yuvraj Walmiki

Known as the 'prince of Indian hockey' then, Yuvraj Walmiki had been a late addition to the 2014 WC squad.

Why the 2014 World Cup was a cocktail of emotions for Yuvraj Walmiki

Yuvraj Walmiki scored 14 goals in 52 matches for India (File Photo)


Give Me Hockey

Updated: 6 Jan 2023 3:33 AM GMT

The 2014 World Cup in The Netherlands was a tale of multiple heartbreaks for the Indian team, but Yuvraj Walmiki remembers it as the biggest honour of his life.

Then christened as the 'prince of Indian hockey', Yuvraj ran his heart out on the pitch as India conceded last-minute winners to Belgium and England in consecutive matches to begin their campaign on a disappointing note.

"It hurt then, and it hurts today as well, thinking about those two games," the 33-year-old told The Bridge as he took a walk down memory lane.

With 20 minutes left on the clock vs England, Yuvraj tried a reverse flick which went just off target. With five minutes left, Yuvraj and Manpreet Singh kept trying to pry open the English defence. But in the 70th minute, for the second time running, India conceded a late deciding goal.

"The seniors and coaches motivated us young players (after the defeat). They spoke about the effort we were putting in. We were fighting for every ball on the field, not giving up for the entire 70 minutes," he said.

Sardar Singh was the captain of the 2014 Indian team. (File Photo)

But for Yuvraj Walmiki, the boy from the six-member family living in a 10x10 feet shanty on Mumbai's Marine Lines, just the opportunity of getting to push towards goal alongside the likes of Sardar Singh, had seemed out of reach days before that World Cup.

"I dropped my coffee when Terry Walsh called me and told me to pack my bags for the World Cup," he recalled the moment when he got to know he had been called up.

The highest honour in Walmiki's career

Despite his meteoric rise into the senior team with the winning goal against Pakistan in the Asian Champions Trophy and his fairytale story of his house being provided with electricity, water supply by the late Bal Thackeray as a reward for his heroics, Yuvraj had not initially made it to the Indian squad for the 2014 WC.

"I was one of the best players in the training camp. I was always among the top three players in the fitness sprint. Not finding my name when the team was announced was disheartening. But I always had a feeling I would somehow make it," he said.

Yuvraj had missed the 2012 Olympics two years before that due to a hamstring injury, but as fate would have it, a hamstring injury to key player Nikkin Thimmiah meant he would get a very late call-up two years later.

"I jumped and dropped my coffee (when I got the call). I always had three dreams - the Olympics, World Cup, and the Champions Trophy. The Olympic dream could not fulfilled due to injury, but one of my dreams was getting fulfilled that day," he said.

Despite his fame, Yuvraj felt he had hit a wall in his career when initially not picked. He had spent a lot of time in bed due to the injury picked up in the 2012 Olympic qualifiers, and started to wonder if he would find his way back.

"I had spent all my life on the hockey field. Being confined to a bed was devastating for me," he said.

It was hard to break into new coach Terry Walsh's system as well. In his quest to find the best combination, Walsh had brought in new players and started a new and more stricter fitness regime.

"Terry Walsh had very high fitness standards. In the World Cup training camp, we were supposed to sprint 6.5 km daily," Yuvraj recalled.

India eventually finished 9th in the 2014 WC. As luck would have it, Yuvraj missed the 2016 Olympics with an injury too. When the 2020 Olympics was postponed by a year, the then 32-year-old realised the Olympic boat had passed him by.

The highest honour in his career, therefore, remains fighting to the death under Sardar Singh's leadership in 2014.

"We played as one team. Despite the results, we were backing each other up all the time," he said about the campaign.

'India will finish in the top 3'

Still active in the domestic circuit, Yuvraj has not played for India in the last seven years. Last year, he was appointed to the Indian selection committee.

Speaking about the upcoming World Cup, being hosted in Odisha from next week, Yuvraj expressed confidence that India would ride on home support to manage a podium finish for the first time since 1975.

"I had said this before the Olympics too and I am saying it again, India will finish among the top three teams," he said.

"We have a great team who have been together for the last 3-4 years. Our mentality has changed completely. Earlier we would just play with josh (energy) but now we also play with hosh (awareness)," he added.

"Apart from India, I see Netherlands, Belgium and Australia making it to the semis," he signed off.

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