Teams: Bombay Republicans, Bank of India, Air India, Mumbai
Playing position: Centre forward, striker
Highlights: Was part of the Air India team that won tournaments at Singapore and Hong Kong 2008. Played for Mahindra at the Dubai Invitational 2007
COACH: Murzaban Patel
“I've been earning Rs 10,000 per month since I was 17,” he says proudly.
Such pride would be understandable in any youngster, but for Yuvraj Walmiki, who has seen his father, a driver, struggle to make ends meet bringing up a family of six, it is doubly satisfying.
“My parents' initial reluctance disappeared when I started earning money for playing the game that I love,” says the young man.
It was Murzaban ‘Bawa’ Patel, the talent scout and coach of Bombay Republicans, who nurtured Walmiki and gave him a chance to play for the Bombay Republicans. Walmiki then played for Bank of India in the Mumbai league for two years before his big break came when Air India picked him. “I was the youngest player in the Air India ranks and had the chance to play with star players like Dhanraj Pillay,” recalls Walmiki.
The 20-year-old, an SYBA student of Rizvi College, recently attended the Junior India camp at Bhopal but missed making the team for the Junior World Cup in Singapore and Malaysia by a whisker.
“It was a big disappointment because I had done really well at the camp. How will I gain experience if I don't get a chance to play?” he argues. “It is a disappointing decision,” echoes Bawa. The setback has not disheartened Walmiki however. He continues to dream of playing for India.
The explosive middle-order batsman is not shy of taking charge, be it with the bat or captain's hat
Teams: Mumbai U-15, U-17, U-19, Air India
Playing style: Left-handed batsman, right-arm off-spin
Highlights: Finished second highest run-scorer in the U-19 category last season. Played a crucial knock in the Cooch Behar Trophy final. Is under the Rajasthan Royals’ scanner for next IPL
COACH: Suresh Tigdi
Pankaj Jaiswal (19) is a young man in a hurry. “I don't believe in wasting too many deliveries, as there is little time to get settled in modern-day cricket,” he declares. Not surprisingly, he adds, “I adore Yuvraj Singh.”
However, his idol remains his father. “He played in the Kanga League and is a great inspiration for me,” says Jaiswal.
This explosive middle-order batsman was the second highest run-scorer in the 2008/09 U-19 category with 490 runs from six matches at an average of 81.66. He was also part of the Mumbai team that won the 2008/09 Cooch Behar Trophy and slammed a 40 in the final.
But he also has the ability to slow down — like when he scored an unbeaten 80 to bail Mumbai out when chasing 240-odd runs against Bengal in their second match in the same tournament. “We were 100 for 5. So I really slowed down my game to stitch together a partnership and snatch a victory,” he recalls.
Jaiswal already has his eye on captaincy. “I enjoyed captaining my junior college team and as a skipper, I always led my team from the front,” he says.
What keeps this young man, who is pursuing his B.Com degree at Rizvi College, busy, besides cricket and studies? Movies, Iqbal being his all-time favourite. “I keep watching it; it is so inspiring,” he says.
Articulate midfielder who can fire long rangers to score goals and is also a dead ball specialist
Teams: Madanpura, Mumbai FC U-19
Playing position: Midfield
Highlights: Scored 11 goals to help Mumbai FC Under-19 team to win Super Division title in 2008-09 season. Represented Maharashtra in the Junior National Football Championship 2008 in Goa. Helped Rizvi College, Bandra win the senior inter-collegiate title 2008
Coach: Peter D’Silva
John Coutinho was seven when he saw his elder brother Mathias play an inter-school football match. “I was fascinated. Immediately, I asked my dad if I too could play the game,” he recalls.
At Holy Family High School, Andheri,
Coutinho became a regular member of the school team and, under coach Peter D'Silva's guidance, was instrumental in winning many laurels for the school. He did the same in Rizvi College, Bandra and was part of the team which recently won the senior inter-collegiate title.
An articulate midfielder, Coutinho (18) possesses the knack of opening up rival defences with his accurate through passes. His other strengths are his ability to fire long rangers to score goals. He is also a dead ball specialist as he is lethal with free-kicks and has even scored from corner kicks.
The youngster works hard at his game. “I train diligently and practise ball control and shooting for long hours. I want to keeping improving,” he says.
Coutinho was only 15 when, immediately after passing out from school, he got a major break when he was selected to represent Madanpura Sports Club in the 2005-06 Senior Division league conducted by the MDFA. He’s climbed steadily ever since.
The last season was particularly rewarding. Playing for the newly formed Mumbai FC Under-19 team he scored 11 goals as they went on to claim the Super Division title. And had an assist in their 2-1 win against Mahindra United U-19 in the concluding league match. Last month he represented Maharashtra in the Junior National Football championship in Goa.
“He has the right attitude to play the game at the top level,” states former Mumbai FC assistant coach Arshad Hussain. “The boy is very ambitious, hard-working and always wants to raise his game to a higher level. He will certainly go a long way in Indian football.”
Sure enough, like any other promising youngster, John Coutinho dreams of wearing the national colours one day.