In September of 2018 the Jungle Crows won the rugby championship of Kolkata, the Calcutta Cup. Khelo Rugby Coach Akash tells the story from his perspective as the teams 2018 Coach and Captain.
by Akash Balmiki
“Standing in the hall of fame…
The world’s gonna know your name…
‘cause you burn with the brightest flame…
And the world’s gonna know your name…
And you’ll be on the walls of the hall of fame…”
This is the song I keep playing in my head as I head towards the Calcutta Cricket and Football Club ground for the final. I keep reminding myself that the organisation I belong to and the sport I play has taught me to not only train my body to improve my physical strength but also train my mind to excel, to push my boundaries and to achieve the best of my capabilities.
When I was asked to write down my thoughts on the Calcutta Cup, it took me down memory lane and for a brief moment I re-lived the days which make me the sportsman I am today. I fell in love with the Calcutta Cup when I was a young aspiring player who stood on the sidelines watching my mentors and coaches play during the season. Each match got tougher than the last and with each game the growing passion within the team was an inspiration for me. I often observed Paul sir and my senior coaches train the team not only on the physical aspects but also to strengthen their will to win, passion and respect for the game. And in that moment I knew, that this is what I want to do and be.
My journey from a spectator to the Jungle Crow’s captain is one I want to share as I am 100% certain that there are many young and talented dreamers like me who given a chance and the right guidance can achieve the maximum of their potential. The foundation of my dream was laid when I was given a chance to play the Calcutta Cup for the Jungle Crows Development team the “Maidan Hazards” in 2012. Each year the season brought along a certain kind of thrill and I took it as an opportunity to display my skills and perform better and better for my team and club. I would see my seniors lift the glorious silver cup which is over 100 years old with the heritage and culture of Bengal beautifully crafted on it. A true example of extraordinary silver craftsmanship and something I wanted to lift up.
Fast forwarding to 2017, I was selected as the captain of the Jungle Crows team. We must fall before we rise; we must stumble before we can run said Abraham Lincoln. It however holds true in my situation as well. We lost the Calcutta cup that season and this setback filled me with more zeal and passion to win the coming year. That’s the thing about rugby, it doesn’t matter how you fall or how hard you fall, it’s all about how quick you get back up. Like the arrow needs to be pulled backwards before it is released this set back did the same for me. I knew the coming season was going to be my year to shine and there would be no looking back.
In 2018, I was nominated as the captain once again and this time I was sure that I wouldn’t let my mentor and club down. Right from the start I prepared strategies for our training sessions and would discuss it with my teammates. Even though we have one captain in the team, the thing about team sports is that the captain is only as good as his team. And so, I also consulted and discussed all my strategies with my teammates.
2018 started with a bang for me. There was a lot of travelling including international travels and tournaments where I played for the country as well. With each passing week as the season came closer my practice schedule became more and more intensive. Along with focusing on my own game I was appointed as the coach for the U17 Bengal state team and later the coach for the U19 nationals. This was a lot of pressure all at once for me as I was coaching in the morning and training for my game in the evening almost every day. It seemed like pressure but when I thought of it, it made me extremely happy and confident to know that my club and Paul Sir had placed his trust on me and motivated me to perform to the best of my potential.
Akash makes a long range kick
The prestigious Calcutta Cup was here, and our first match was with CCFC. Jungle Crows and CCFC have always had a kind of love hate relationship when it comes to rugby. Last year we lost the cup to them and this year we were back on the same field to win the glory back. As a captain I always told my team, “for the next 1 hour forget who you are, your name, what you do… everything. Just remember…. WHO ARE WE…CROWS”. It was a delight as we won each and every game re-establishing the fact that Jungle Crows is one of the strongest and finest rugby clubs.
In the past few years I had observed and realised that the teams that often won matches against strong opponents always played a good defence. This year my team and I trained ourselves all round. We wanted a strong scrum and fast backs. The best part was to see that the whole team had come as one. We trained and played as one team with one aim and that was the Calcutta Cup.
As we entered the finals so did the under 19 boys team. I travelled with the team for the tournament and came back on the day of the finals to play with the Crows. I was on cloud 9 when my mentor and all-time favorite player Zaffar came to Kolkata to play the finals with us. Zaffar was my first coach and to play with him was like a dream come true. Whenever anyone asked me what my short term goal in life was I often said to lift the Calcutta cup as the captain of the Jungle Crows team. I owe a lot of my success as a player to all my coaches and mentors and the best gift a student can give his teacher is to excel at what he has been taught. On the day of the final game, I wasn’t nervous I was exhilarated. I just couldn’t wait to change into my jersey, get on the field and get some mud on me. Before entering the field I looked around and saw my family standing on the sideline cheering for me, I also saw children who I train cheering for me and along with this amongst the crowd I could see many young talented boys and girls with dreams of being where I am today. In that moment I knew, I not only had to play for myself and my team but also the dreamers and aspiring Crows players watching me.
The pressure was building specially when our opponents Kolkata Police went into the lead. I had to do justice to my club, to my coach and to all the people who have placed their trust on me and the team. And then the winning moment and with that a wave of happiness and gratitude took over and I knew in my heart we had all done our club proud.
To all the aspiring sportsmen, to all the rugby lovers and to all the dreamers… all it takes is hard work and indestructible passion for dreams to come true. And as always I stand tall and strong and shout at the top of my voice…. WHO ARE WE… CROWS!!