Perhaps this is what dreams are made of. A starry-eyed boy from the Mumbai slums with nothing but bucket-loads of self-confidence and a stick to wield his magic, hoping to don the national colours and score in a final.
Yuvraj Walmiki was nine then. And now, 12 years later, his dream has come true.
“It’s scary,” he says sheepishly. “I always dreamt of something like this…you know, scoring in the final, against Pakistan and a welcome such as this. Today, when it has come true, it gives me goose bumps.”
Walmiki’s story is the kind that could inspire Danny Boyle to direct yet another blockbuster. Much like the protagonist in the Slumdog Millionaire, Walmiki grew up, with his brothers and sisters, in a 200sq feet shanty without electricity or a permanent roof. His ‘house’, at a corner of a residential building, was a few kilometres away from the Mahindra hockey stadium.
However, all that seems to be a thing of past now as Walmiki, on Wednesday, hit the jackpot. He was rewarded Rs10 lakh by the state government for his spectacular debut in the national side apart from loads of other incentives announced by other political parties.
“It doesn’t surprise me. Yuvraj was born to be a star. This is just the beginning,” says his first coach Merzaban Patel, affectionately called Bawa.
“His main strength is his mental toughness and the self-confidence he exudes. You could see that when he took the penalty stroke against Pakistan. He didn’t panic, and what’s impressive is that he took the hit reverse. You need courage to do that,” Bawa adds.
Walmiki first came to Bawa when he was nine but got his big break when domestic giants Air India’s manager Vernon Lobo and Peter Saldhana offered him a contract when he was 17. Since then, he has been mentored by the likes of Dhanraj Pillay, Joaquim Carvalho and Gavin Ferreira.
“I got to play along side quite a few big names and it helped improve my game. Signing for Air India was the turning point of my career,” he says.
Walmiki is the first player from the city to represent the country since Adrian D’Souza in 2004. Having scored three goals, including the crucial third strike in the tie-break against Pakistan in the final, his debut series has been quite memorable.
“He is a very intelligent player. He has played in the domestic leagues of Germany for the last two years and that experience has helped him,” Bawa says.
Walmiki, though, is cautious. After a enjoying his first day in the public glare, Walmiki knows he has to ensure that he doesn’t lose focus. “There’s a lot more to achieve. But this gives me further motivation to work hard. This is just the beginning of a long journey,” he says.