That sports is a great leveler has once again come to the fore as Valmiki Yuvraj became poster boy of Indian hockey after his stunning performance against arch-rival Pakistan in the final match of Asian Champions Trophy.
Thus, he joined the likes of South African great fast bowler Makhaya Ntini, Pakistan’s Mohammad Yousuf (whose family belonged to Valmiki caste before they embraced Christianity). Yousuf, who was Yousuf Youhana when he was Christian,later he embraced Islam), football great IM Vijayn and many more. They all achieved laurels after facing very hard-times in life.
As it is said that there is no substitute to hard-work and the likes of Valmiki Yuvraj has proved time and again. And if he has consigned all other well-known stars to back waters, it is due to his superb show in a very prestigious championship.
Valmiki is the Yuvraj of Indian hockey but unlike his much more well known cricketing counterpart, Yuvraj Valmiki's life wasn't exactly a bed of roses before Asian Champions Trophy happened. From living in a shanty in Marine Lines without electricity all his life to becoming the next big thing in Indian hockey, it has been an tough and arduous journey for the Yuvraj.
Yuvraj’s home in Mumbai, wore a festive look with several welcome back placards and was flooded with a throng of visitors -- relatives, friends, media persons, well-wishers and curious onlookers. Yuvraj,whose roots lie in Aligarh district of Uttar Pradesh, was felicitated by the two estranged Thackeray cousins Uddhav and Raj, who champion the cause of 'Marathi Manoos'.
"Everyone has problems. But it is how you handle them that is important. I have never let these affect me when I stepped on the hockey ground. Many people have helped me at various stages," he told reporters. He was quick to recall the contributions of his friend Boon D'Souza, who introduced him to hockey, 'Bawa sir', who coached him since his early days, and former India skipper Dhanraj Pillay, who after discovering his potential got him a contract with Air India in 2007.
Yuvraj was also thankful to Chief coach Michael Nobbs for trusting his ability and allowing him to take the penalty shootout strike, which gave India the all-important lead over Pakistan. "It was a crucial match and I could not sleep the day before. To play in an India-Pakistan hockey match was a dream come true.
"I told the coach that I wanted to take the strike. He trusted me and gave me the chance. When my turn came India were in a dicey situation. Had I missed India could have lost the match, so I was a little nervous but was also confident....by the grace of God I was able to score. "Prior to the tournament, there were 110 hockey players in the camp. I felt that to be among the 18 out of 110 players was itself a great achievement. But the day of the final was the most memorable one in my life," he added. However, Yuvraj is not satisfied with the laurels, and is targeting Olympic glory for the country.
"It's a new team, new coaching staff. First tournament and first gold for me and the coach. It has been a good beginning for both of us. But we are just the Asian champions. It goes without saying that the success of Valmiki Yuvraj would inspire many more in future to make big in life despite facing heavy odds.