Yuvraj Singh - Cricket and beyond...
My first memory of seeing Yuvraj Singh bat dates back to the year 2000 at the ICC Champions Trophy in Nairobi. It was probably his second ODI against the then world champions Australia. India was in a spot of bother having lost the top order quite cheaply. Yuvi, as he is called by his millions of fans, took charge and scored a wonderful 84 against the likes of McGrath and Lee. India went on to win the match and a superstar for the coming days of Indian cricket was born.
It was then that the cricket enthusiasts realized that with the advent of this young talent, India would have to worry a bit less about that middle order. In the 5 day format though, he could not get a look in to the team as it was packed with some of the biggest names of world cricket. He was in and out of the ODI team until Lords 2002 happened. It was the final of the Natwest Trophy being played at the Mecca of cricket, on 13th of July, 2002. India was chasing a huge total of 326 posted by England. The Indian run chase started with a bang with skipper Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag putting up a valiant opening stand. But midway through, the Indian innings lost its course. Then it happened! The partnership between two young guns, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif, steadied the Indian ship and eventually India managed to chase down the mammoth total (a world record then). Kaif stayed unbeaten till the end and although Yuvraj was dismissed for 69, his efforts found him a permanent place in the Indian ODI side.
He went on to play the 2003 World Cup in South Africa and as the years passed by, he went from strength to strength. While his batting prowess continued to mesmerize the world, his ability to take wickets with his left arm off spin made him an indispensable asset for the ODI side. Not to forget his exploits on the field. He turned out to be one of the best fielders in the world and took some impossible catches that turned many heads. In the middle, there was a phase when he struggled for form, but then which batsman doesn’t go through such a phase? Like many others, Yuvi overcame this phase of struggle and was once again batting at his best. He once again started hitting the cricket ball as sweetly as ever and the English fast bowler Stuart Broad got a taste of this quality of Yuvi in the first edition of the T20 World Cup held in South Africa in the year 2007. Yuvraj hit Broad for six sixes in one over and snatched the match away from England.
All this while the only dark spot on his career was his inability to cement his position in the Test team. He did get a few chances, but could not make the best use of them. Though he did score a couple of centuries in trying conditions, especially the one he scored against Pakistan at Lahore, in the long run he was not very successful in Test matches. In the ODI format though, it was a different story altogether. He became one of the best in the shorter versions of the game. The advent of T20 cricket and later the annual Indian cricket saga, the IPL, gave him the opportunity to stamp his authority on world cricket.
Then the 2011 World Cup happened! On the subcontinent wickets, he demonstrated supreme class, both with the bat and the ball. He helped India lift the trophy after a 28 year long wait! Yuvraj was adjudged Player of the Tournament for his all round performance. He had conquered the world at the age of 29. Awards, endorsements, praises were flowing in and he was there, tasting the champagne air atop Mount Everest. Success had taken him to a different level altogether. But who knew then, that destiny had other plans?
Post the success in the World Cup, Yuvraj went to England but failed miserably. His health was also causing him problems and though scratchy news about his ill health were reaching his millions of fans, nobody knew what exactly had happened to their beloved Yuvi. Couple of months later, his mother confirmed that he had been diagnosed with a tumour inside his chest. In the next few days, the entire nation knew that Yuvraj was affected with a rare form of germ cell cancer. Ignorance in the initial stages had made things worse. It was as though the Rajdhani Express was clocking 120 kmph and then suddenly someone had pulled the chain. Yuvraj had been, it seemed, thrown down from the tip of Mount Everest to the barren land at the foot of the Deccan plateau. All the fame, all the brands, all the beautiful girls he dated, all of that boiled down to one thing – survival!
He flew off to the US where he received treatment in the form of chemotherapy. The pictures he posted on the social networks revealed a new-look Yuvraj, one who had lost all his hair thanks to the chemotherapy. The poison (or maybe the antidote) kept on entering his system in cycles. Though it was curing him of his disease, it was making him weaker every time. With only his mother by his side, he had to endure all the pain, all the frustration at a place far off from his home. Just imagine the frustration of the man who, until a few months back, had the world at his feet and now here he was, lying ill, fighting for his health at some hospital thousands of miles away from his homeland. Though many of his colleagues and seniors kept in regular touch with him and extended him mental support, at the end of the day it was his battle. It was Yuvraj Singh who had to fight the lone battle, just as he did each time he went out with his bat to the 22 yards!
After months of treatment, he finally returned to India. It took him quite some time though to return to normal life. He started training at the National Cricket Academy under strict supervision, few months later. Having walked the thorny path, his dream was to put on the India shirt once again, to entertain his millions of fans worldwide with his towering sixes once again. Towards this end, he worked hard and after much speculation he was once again on the Indian team list for the T20 World Cup that was held in Sri Lanka in September, 2012. It was one hell of a journey for Yuvi.
“At one point of time, I could not even walk up the stairs”, he admitted once in an interview. Returning back to normal life was a question then, leave alone playing cricket! In the T20 World Cup, he played a couple of gutsy knocks and started taking wickets. The whole nation prayed for his success and though not at his very best, he did put up a valiant effort. The icing on the cake for Yuvraj in this fight back was when he was selected for the Test team against England. All this while he had dreamt of this day when he would be called back for the Test team. The dream had eventually come true. He admits that he, along with his mother, broke into tears when he came to know about his selection in the test squad. What a proud moment that must have been for his mother, the person who stood by Yuvraj throughout the entire journey and whose shoulders were the only place Yuvi could find comfort in during his stay in the US.
Yuvraj played the first 3 Test matches against England and apart from one innings at Ahmedabad, could not create much magic with the bat. India lost 2 matches on the trot and Yuvi, along with few others, was dropped from the side for the fourth test. Well, Yuvraj was never a great Test match player. He has struggled playing Test matches in the past as well. It’s best to let him play the shorter formats of the game where he is the undisputed champion. To drop him from the team after a couple of failures is not a very good sign. Yuvraj cannot be defined only by cricket any more. His shadow has now extended to cricket and beyond. He is an inspiration for millions. Each time he goes out to bat, he not only bats for his team but also for the millions of people who draw inspiration from his fightback. Those, who like him, have been battling for their lives in some way. He bats for them all. He is naturally not a Test match player so it is obvious that, more often than not, he will fail in the 5 day format. Let us not put him to that test.
If he fails to perform, those millions of people who draw inspiration from him will lose hope. Let us make sure it does not happen. Let Yuvraj play only the shorter versions where he dominates the bowlers. If those towering sixes can bring smiles on a few faces, can inspire a few lives, then so be it. Each time he fails, a lot of tongues start wagging. But will any of us ever know what it takes to be Yuvi? It is easy for Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Mr. Srinivasan to drop him from the side, but will they ever know the distance one has to walk to be one Yuvraj Singh?