|victory at asian 5 nations rugby meet
|Akash Valmiki (left) and Sumit Singh with Paul Walsh, the coach of Calcutta rugby team Jungle Crows. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta
Two Calcutta teenagers in a depleted national rugby team after half of its players failed to get visa helped India trounce Pakistan in their backyard when the rest of world was glued to the Fifa World Cup.
Alipore schoolboys Akash Valmiki, 18, and Sumit Singh, 19, were among 14 players — one short of the regulation 15 — in the Indian squad that beat arch-rivals Pakistan 25-7 in Lahore in the Asian Rugby Football Union’s Asian 5 Nations division-3 tournament on June 22.
In fact, only 12 players got visa to travel to Pakistan, forcing the manager and assistant coach to put on the India jersey.
Still they were one man short and without the luxury of substitutions.
It was akin to playing with 10 men from the start in a soccer match against the opposition’s 11.
They went down fighting to Uzbekistan but beat the hosts convincingly.
Greenhorns Akash and Sumit had to play two gruelling games of 80 minutes when the most they would have perhaps got was a few minutes as substitutes if all the players were around.
“Any India-Pakistan match is a high-voltage affair. They were very physical but we had the skills,” said Sumit who plays alongside Akash for Jungle Crows, a Calcutta rugby team.
Seven Services players couldn’t make the trip across the border because the army didn’t clear their names on time for processing the visa applications, sources said.
Akash, whose father is a constable with Calcutta police, said Pakistani officials congratulated the Indian team for its sporting spirit.
“Most teams wouldn’t have played in your situation. You guys came here to play and you played bravely,” Akash, a full-back who doubled as a fly-half during both matches, quoted a member of the Pakistani coaching staff.
“The circumstances were trying… but we were clearly not going to throw in the towel. Our players had to work doubly hard and play in unfamiliar positions to make up for the entire forward line that had to stay back because of visa issues. The opposition could substitute eight players. Our bench was empty,” said Sumit, a scrum-half who had to don other caps during the trip.
Paul Walsh, the coach at Jungle Crows, said he was happy that the boys went through the grind in their very first tour for the country. “They have been with us (Jungle Crows) for years and both have enough positives. Akash has grown strong physically, which will stand him in good stead in this sport. Sumit has a mind that races in match situations just as it ought to be for a scrum-half,” Walsh said.
The victory was sweet revenge for the two boys since they had lost in an under-19 match to Pakistan in Lahore last October.
Sumit, a student of Class X at Delhi Public School Megacity, couldn’t stop recollecting what he told Shoaib, a young Pakistani player, at the after-match party: “How did the Indians win from such a disadvantaged position?”
“He was part of the under-19 team that beat us in October. When the fortunes turned, I just had to say something. He was stunned… I winked and we both shared a laugh,” said Sumit, who also plays soccer for his school.
Back home after the triumph, Sumit is currently helping his father, who was Russi Mody’s housekeeper, set up a business after the Tata Steel legend’s death in May this year.