For almost 20 years, the Walmiki brothers have played together, probably over 100 times, for either club, state or country. It looked like their last outing for Mumbai in the Senior Nehru Cup club competition in New Delhi, could be the end of that mesmerising partnership. But that was not to be.
The staging of the 36th National Games in Gujarat at such short notice will see the former India players playing together again, for Maharashtra, in the hockey competition beginning in Rajkot on October 2.
“It’s an absolute honor, privilege, and pride to play for Maharashtra. I won the bronze medal at the 2011 event in Ranchi when Vikram Pillay was the captain (he is now one of the coaches),” said Yuvraj Walmiki over the phone from Pune, where the team is preparing for the tournament. Devindar Walmiki, 30, echoed the same sentiments, adding that it’s a “great feeling” to represent the state.
Over the course of the last two decades, the ‘brothers in arms’ have trooped out together for Mumbai Republicans, Central Railway, a German league side, Mumbai, and the national team. Thirty-two-year-old Yuvraj, a 2014 World Cupper, missed out on the Olympics in 2012 due to injury, but Devindar earned the distinction four years later. Not bad for boys who did not represent their school since it did not have a hockey team, and were reared in a South Mumbai shanty in arduous circumstances.
Striker Yuvraj gained national acclaim by scoring the winning tie-break goal against Pakistan in the 2011 Asian Champions Trophy final in China. “The entire country remembers me for that, but the best moment of my entire career was to wear the India jersey for the first time at the 2010 South Asian Games in Dhaka,” he pointed out.
Midfielder Devindar’s prime moments were reflected in silver India won at the 2016 Champions Trophy in London, the gold in the World Hockey Series in Bhubaneshwar 2019, and by securing Olympian status in 2016. “I worked hard night and day to make that possible, didn’t even look at my phone for days,” he recalled.
Incidentally, the brothers generated catchy headlines by notching a goal each when India beat Poland 3-0 in a World Hockey League semi-final pool match in 2015.
Although they get along well, their natures are said to be different, with Devindar claiming he is more grounded and hardworking, while Yuvraj is more talented. Their familiarity with each other’s game helps them jell well on the pitch too. “We’ve been playing together for years now, he knows my game and I know his,” Yuvraj quipped.
Though they are still wielding their magical wands, the Walmiki brothers have reinvented themselves as social media stars with modest followings.
Now a national hockey selector, Yuvraj participated in television show ‘Khatron ke Khiladi’ in 2016 and plunged into the world of reality shows, acting, events etc. He says his policy is not to say no to anything. “If given a chance to try something new, I’ll go for it, and why not? “I took up Khatron ke Khiladi because I wanted to show that if a cricketer and others can do something like that, why not a hockey player?”
Devindar too is on a roll, on social media. “I have some 80,000 followers on Instagram. They tell me they are my fans, but I tell them they’re my family.” Devindar considers himself a warrior and has a tattoo on his leg that says ‘I am hard to beat’. In a battle, he doesn’t like to lose. Come October 2, he will have to motivate his troops to fight hard and return with gold from Gujarat.