At 30, Vikas Kumar is as agile and fit as any youngster playing in the inaugural Premier Handball League (PHL), which commences on Thursday at the Sawai Mansingh Indoor Stadium in Jaipur.
Vikas, who will be playing for Golden Eagles Uttar Pradesh as its centre-back, has an important role in the team as the captain and one of the most experienced players: ensuring the balance between attack and defense.
Having played the sport for over 15 years, Vikas first discovered the joy of playing handball at a summer camp conducted at the Arjun Stadium in Haryana’s Jind district in 2007. The eighth-grade student was eager to try the sport and soon became deeply invested. Handball has been a part of Vikas’ journey since he joined his school team before graduating to his college team. And now he plays for the Indian Air Force team in Chandigarh.
All was not rosy for Vikas, whose parents did not know what sport their son wanted to pursue. “Handball isn’t popular in India, so when I told my parents that I wanted to pursue handball as a career, they asked me, ‘yeh konsa game hain?’ Very few people knew what handball meant at that time,” Vikas tells Sportstar.
The challenge did not end there for the 30-year-old center-back, as the people around him did not seem to recognise the sport. “It was challenging to convince people around me, as whomever I used to tell that I play handball, they used to think it was basketball or volleyball. No one knew what handball was.”
However, his parents’ perception of the sport changed after he developed as a player, joined the Indian Air Force, and became a sergeant. It was then that his rise to success began. He has played for Rajasthan and the Services and has won four senior national medals: one silver, two bronze, and the recent gold he won playing for Rajasthan.
Ironically, Rajasthan beat Vikas’ former team, Services, in the finals, 37-34. Despite this, the centre-back from Haryana reminisces about his pre-quarter match against Telangana; he says, “We went extra time after being a few goals behind in the beginning; the extra time also ended in a draw. We had a second extra time in which we won by one goal. Rajasthan won gold after 24–25 years.”
Vikas was also a huge asset for the Services at the 2015 National Games, in which the Services triumphed over Delhi 46-35. ‘A relatively young team that did not expect any medals” is how Vikas described the team that went on to win gold.
Through his performance in the domestic circuit, Vikas made his name, and the UP team managed to steal him for just Rs 2.60 lakh in the auctions. His parents were unaware of the auction, and his selection came as a shock to them.
He and his teammates trained in the city before heading to Jaipur for the tournament, where Uttar Pradesh will take on Telugu Talons on Friday. Assuring the Golden Eagles will have a mix of experience and young talent in the team, with two players in each position, the captain lauds 21-year-old Sahil Rana, who also plays as centre-back. Vikas says, “He has good variations, is good at feinting, and has impressed me.”
Though he is older than most of his teammates, he is unwilling to use that as an excuse for falling behind. “We must keep up; it is a matter of age, especially when there are youngsters, but with experience and working out, one can keep oneself fit and play with agility,” he says.
Apart from gunning for the trophy, Vikas is also keeping track of the Asian Games selection. He also finds positives in the sport despite the lack of facilities. “The sport has changed tremendously from when I started playing to now. Then, I didn’t have the experience or get the opportunity to play with other competitive teams; now it’s different with the PHL.”
“Nevertheless, I have no regrets,” he says after much deliberation.
- Neeraj Chopra becomes world champion in javelin throw
- Parul Chaudhary sets National Record in 3000m steeplechase at World Athletics Championships, goes past Paris Olympics entry standard
- World Athletics Championships, Live Updates: Neeraj Chopra wins gold in Men’s Javelin Throw, Manu and Jena in Top Six; 4x400m relay team finishes fifth, Parul breaks National Record in women’s steeplechase, qualifies for Paris Olympics
- Premier League: Super-sub Nunez grabs 2-1 win for 10-man Liverpool against Newcastle
- NUFC 1-2 LIV highlights, Premier League: Nunez brace guides 10-man Liverpool to comeback win against Newcastle