The very fact that Yuvraj Singh has staged a comeback to the Indian team after undergoing extensive chemotherapy for a rare form of germ cell cancer is an inspiration by itself. Despite all the voices that have been raised against his being “an emotional selection,” no one will hold back their restraint for Yuvi as he takes the field again.
But then doubts would remain. Will he still retain the same flamboyance with which he carted Stuart Broad all over the park? Will his chemo-weakened body hold up to the rigour of even twenty overs? Worse, if Lance Armstrong could, then…
The only way to silence the critics would be to put in a power-packed performance in front of an expectedly houseful Vizag crowd. And it is not as if it has not been done before. We take a look at three bravura performances which came close on the heels of a successful fight with cancer.
1) J.P. Yadav, Bulawayo 2005 – After six successful seasons with Madhya Pradesh, Jai Prakash Yadav or J.P. as he is popularly known was all set to be the next all-rounder in the Indian team. Only to be detected with a tumour above his heart.
Three rounds of chemotherapy took its toll on J.P.’s body as he lost 15 kilos in the process. While his third round of treatment was going on, he played a game for Madhya Pradesh only to be told that he wasn’t considered fit enough to represent a Ranji team. Unflustered, he went back to his treatment and after recovering completely, forced his way into the Railways team.
It was 2002 and the Indian team was looking for an all-rounder to be taken to the World Cup in South Africa. Despite having lost quite a bit of his strength, in domestic circles J.P. was considered as somebody who could tonk the ball around a bit and take a few wickets with his middling medium pacers. He was called up for the ODI series against West Indies at home and ended up scoring 0 in the first game and not getting a chance to bat in the second. He was considered good enough to bowl only six overs in the two matches and he was promptly dropped after that. That was the end of J.P.
Or so, everyone thought. After toiling unrelentingly for three years in the domestic circuit, he was given a second chance in a new-look Indian team which toured Zimbabwe for a tri-series in 2005. Against New Zealand at Bulawayo, he completed 10 tidy overs taking 1 for 46 completing the lead pace trio quite effectively to restrict New Zealand to 215.
11.5 overs later, he was striding out to the middle as India were pulverized by an astonishing spell of fast bowling from Shane Bond who would eventually end up with figures of 6 for 19. Seven balls later, Agarkar was dismissed and India were heading for their lowest score ever.
Yadav and his partner Irfan Pathan had other thoughts. With the strike rate not being an issue, they first saw off Bond and then started rebuilding the innings by rotating the strike and hitting calculated boundaries. Yadav was typically severe on Vettori, sweeping him both powerfully and delicately and, on one occasion, swinging him over midwicket for a big six.
However, he lost his calm when Pathan departed to Bond and, three balls later, he mis-hit a length delivery from Oram to McMillan at mid-off and it was curtains for India. In the process, however, Yadav and Pathan had set the record for the highest 9th wicket partnership for India in ODIs.
This was the only time Yadav would cross double figures in international cricket. By the end of 2005 he had drifted out of international cricket and yet another comeback was more or less annulled when he signed up for the Delhi Giants in the ICL.
2) Simon O’Donnell, Sharjah 1990 – His is the story which mirrors Yuvraj’s the most and his performance at Sharjah would be one that Yuvi would look forward to emulate. Simon O’Donnell gave up a promising Aussie Rules football career to become a key member of the Australian ODI side. Like Yuvraj, his Test career ended before it could really take off but he shrugged off the disappointment by putting in valuable performances to ensure a surprise World Cup win from Australia in 1987 – only to be diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after the tournament.
O’Donnell wasn’t one to give up easily and, a little more than a year later, he was back on the field at Perth trying to stave off a middle-order collapse against Pakistan with a well-compiled 46 off 55 balls. Over the next sixteen months, he continued to be effective without being overtly dynamic with both bat and ball. Till that fateful day in Sharjah.
It was the final of the Austral-Asia Cup and Marsh and Jones had taken Australia to a strong position before Marsh was dismissed off the bowling of Ravi Ratnayake with the scoreboard reading 172 for 2. Australia needed quick runs to get closer to 300 and so in walked Simon O’Donnell.
What followed for the next three quarters of an hour was sheer carnage. Out of a partnership of 106 runs, O’Donnell carted 74 off just 29 balls with six sixes and four fours as he put Australia en route to their highest total in ODIs. Along the way, he ended up with the fastest half century in ODIs at that time (off 18 balls) before Sanath Jayasuriya would break it in Singapore in 1996 against Pakistan. Australia crushed Sri Lanka by 114 runs and O’Donnell would come back to take the wicket of Ramanayake who denied him the opportunity to score the fastest century in ODIs at that point of time.
He wasn’t done though and six months later he was clouting the New Zealand attack all over the place in Melbourne with a murderous 66 off 43 after having faced 25 balls for his first 17 runs. O’Donnell would end up with a career strike of 81 which in the 80s was a luxury which few cricketers with a batting average of 29.42 and bowling average of 28.72 could afford.
3) Dave Callaghan, Centurion 1994 – After a successful career with Nottinghamshire while South Africa was serving its term away from the game for apartheid, Dave Callaghan seemed to be the perfect man to take up one of the lower middle order slots for the World Cup in Australia – till he was diagnosed with testicular cancer in September 1991. He fought it successfully and ended up making his debut against India in December 1992. But that seemed to be the only success in his story as he struggled to cope up with international cricket scoring only 207 at an average of 18.81 in his first 15 innings. He was promptly dropped for about a year before being recalled for the quadrangular Mandela Trophy match against New Zealand as a replacement for the misfiring Gary Kirsten.
Callaghan walked out to open for the first time in his international career. His previous highest score had been 45 not out. Three and a half hours later that would change to 169 not out as he walked back to the pavilion after a breath-taking innings which had catapulted South Africa to a total of 314 – the first time they had crossed 300 in ODIs.
It was Callaghan’s day from the onset – he offered a chance in the first over which was not taken. Unperturbed, he decided to launch a sustained assault of 19 fours (out of a career total of 43 boundaries) and four sixes (he hit only more in the rest of his career) as he thundered his way to what would be the fifth highest score in limited-overs internationals at that point of time. Callaghan would never again cross a score of 23 in international cricket.
After a five year hiatus, he was recalled to the South African team against Australia at home in 2000 after Hansie Cronje withdrew in the wake of the match-fixing scandals. This would be his last international series and he would bow out of the game after plying his trade for three more years at the domestic level.
Barring O’Donnell, the other two had relatively short and unfulfilled international careers. Even O’Donnell had played his last ODI at the age of 28 and by 30 he was out of the game. Yuvraj is already 30 and it is hard to stay how many of the hard yards he can put through over the coming years. But as of now, we would all switch on our televisions at 7:00 p.m. today hoping and praying for an encore of Durban 2007. May the human spirit win!