by Disha Pawar
With Hockey World Cup just days away from taking shape, FistoSports got in touch with the talented Olympian, Devindar Walmiki who will be a part of the spectacle but only as a supporter this time around. With the changing paradigm of Hockey India and the new crop of emerging players coming in, making it to the top 16 never seemed tougher.
Last week FistoSports published an interview with Hockey India sweetheart Yuvraj Walmiki, and in a tete-a-tete with his younger brother this week, Devindar gave us an insight into the realm of hockey and mind you, with quite a contrasting perspective to his brother’s. Devindar bared his heart out right from his debut to Olympics and Hockey India League. While many veterans frown upon the mismanagement and politics in Hockey, we were quite taken with Devindar’s positive approach to most situations and when quipped about the same he rightly pointed out that he is an Olympian for a reason and not everyone can be one.
You made your debut for the senior team in 2015 and rose up the ranks in no time to represent India at the 2016 Rio Olympics. How does it feel to be called an Olympian in such a short span of time?
It is the absolute pinnacle in the career of any athlete. Olympics is quite simply the biggest stage. The feeling, when the team is declared and you are in it cannot be described in words. Success cannot be achieved without old school values like dedication, hard work and sacrifice. More importantly for me, it was perseverance.
Today, when I am not a part of the team, the fact that I made it to the best 16 that left for the Olympics is what keeps me going. A lot of people also ask me about my sudden rise through the ranks. To be honest I was part of the Junior Programme for a while and was already battle hardened and ready to take to the senior stage. It was a rather smooth transition, yes. But talent spotting is an issue in our country. What I mean by that is, there is a goal scorer bias that runs through the viewers. Everybody notices someone who has a 30 goal season. Someone who makes 10 midfield interceptions a game or 8 successful tackles a match or has the highest sprinting numbers game after game is not noticed easily. So I am thankful for my coaches for recognizing my ability and giving me a chance.
Are you looking forward to HIL scheduled to be held in 2019? What positive effects does the league bring to hockey, both from the game’s development perspective and monetary benefits to the players?
So the HIL has been slotted for 2019 and it seems there will be a change in the format. It is most likely to be a 5 a side game. The advantage for me is, in Mumbai during the off season we play 5 a side tournaments by the dozen. As soon as summer is here, we play 5 a side. So adjusting won’t be a problem. However, International Hockey is still 11 a side. So I am not sure how HIL will benefit us in the International Arena. Having said that, the rise of the Indian Team as World no.5 is directly related to the coming of the HIL. It got International Hockey to our doorstep. World class coaching became available to all. Our domestic structure changed overnight. Suddenly, players who weren’t getting into the camp found themselves sharing the dressing room with the likes of Teun De Nooijer and Jamie Dwyer. That just changes everything. They demand more than a 100% for every pass attempted. Also, we are defending Champions as Kalinga were the winners of the last edition. So we can hardly wait for HIL to commence again. The monetary benefit had a huge stabilizing effect on World Hockey, not just Indian Hockey. Players globally, bought houses, paid college fees, started businesses and did all sorts of things with the HIL income. Remember, Hockey around the world is not a professional sport. So HIL coming to a halt was a huge setback to the Hockey World in general.
Who is the one person in Hockey you reach out to in times of crisis, except your brother Yuvraj Walmiki, of course?
I am blessed to have had exceptional guidance all through my life. There are, however, three people who help and guide me whenever I need it. My childhood guru, Marzban ‘Bawa’ Patel has always been there for me. When it comes to my game, preparation and how to tackle challenges, the great Dhanraj Pillai has been the best guide anyone can ever have and I am blessed to have him in my life. Apart from these two and my brother, I would like to mention Fabian Rozwadowski, an Elite Coach from Germany who opened the door for many hockey players from India to play in that country and has been a constant help and guide and has kept me up to date with modern hockey..
Does hockey help pay your bills comfortably along with giving your family a secured future? Or even after playing for so many years, there is still no sense of stability in terms of earning a livelihood? Given how easy it is to get injured or suffer from a career-threatening injury.
The sport has given me everything. I say that with all the seriousness I can muster. I have a job, a name, achievements, awards and every single thing you can think of because of hockey. Even my closest friends are those that I made while playing the sport. To be more specific, yes, hockey pays more than just my bills. The very life I lead I owe to the sport. There is amazing stability as I have a secure job. Lastly and more importantly, I did not play the sport for any of these. I started out just because I loved the sport and would spend days playing it thinking about nothing else.
What is the next tournament we’ll see you play in?
The prestigious Nehru Cup in Delhi is the next tournament I will be playing in. It is the highlight of the Domestic Season and after a while I will be representing Mumbai. These are my team mates since I started playing Hockey and it is always great to be playing with them.
Is there any dream related to your career/ hockey that you wish you achieve soon?
A medal at Tokyo 2020 would be out of this world. We fell short in Rio by one game. We haven’t medalled at the Olympics since Moscow 1980. That’s just not good enough for a country with a history and talent like India. Tokyo would be a great opportunity to break the jinx and bring back the medal for every hockey fan who stood by Indian Hockey all these years. We’ve got to do it for them. They deserve nothing less.
How do you keep in touch with top-notch hockey while not touring with the Indian squad?
I just got back from playing the German League. When I am not playing for India that is what I do to play top notch hockey. My team, Großflottbekker THGC won the league and I am really looking forward to going back and playing in Hamburg again. The only thing on my mind day and night is how to play for India again. That is life. I would like to finish by wishing my team mates and the Indian Team all the very best for the upcoming World Cup. For sure they can go far in the tournament and I really hope and pray, they win it!
The super-cool midfielder will surely be missed from all the action scheduled to kick start in Bhubaneswar at the World Cup, but FistoSports would like to give a big shout-out to the Indian team to come back victorious.
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