Yuvraj Singh will forever be etched in cricket folklore and our memories for those towering six sixes, being the record holder of the fastest T20 fifty, first all-rounder to score 300-plus runs and take 15 wickets in a single World Cup, the Man of the Tournament in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, a cancer fighter. For all this and more: Thank you, Yuvi!
September 19, 2007: India v England at Kingsmead, Durban. India batting first, penultimate over with Yuvraj Singh on strike. Ball 1: “That’s huge! That is a biggie. It’s out of here! Into orbit. Even bringing smoke in the clouds this. I think those few words with Flintoff just charged him up a bit.” Ball 2: “Six more! Just a flick of the wrist, and away she goes into the crowd. Consecutive sixes here for the left hander. Just a flick, nothing more. Look out in the crowd, it’s coming again!” Ball 3: “This is in the air again, clears long off, three in a row! Yuvraj doing to Broad what Dimitri Mascarenhas did to him at the Oval. It’s raining sixes here at the Kingsmead. Look at the technique. Right foot out of the way, full swing of the bat. Yuvraj 32 from nine deliveries. 6,6,6 and its balle balle in the crowd.”
Ball 4: “It’s four in a row! 24 off the first four balls. England are having a conference meeting! They’re in bits!” Ball 5: “Five! Yes! Thirty with one ball to go. Could he make it six out of six?” Ball 6: “And he’s put it away!!! Or has he? Yes! Into the crowd! Six sixes in an over!” Yuvraj Singh finishes things off in style. The first time it’s happened in Twenty20; 50 off 12 deliveries. Are you kidding me?
Cut to June 10, 2019: Yuvraj has announced his retirement from all forms of international cricket. It’s the end of an era. For millennials like me, who grew up watching Yuvraj Singh ever since that NatWest series final (2002). For millennials like me growing up in the noughties, Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni were the pin-up boys, not Virat Kohli or even Rahul Dravid (largely speaking). Sachin Tendulkar was God, of course, but if anyone came close to being the most gifted mortal it was the curly haired king from Punjab called Yuvraj Singh.
He could flick Brett Lee effortlessly over deep fine leg for a six. He could square cut Stuart Broad over deep backward point for a six and make it look like child’s play. He could take diving catches like Jonty Rhodes at point and explode like Adam Gilchrist in PowerPlay. He could deceive you with his lazy left arm orthodox spin or catch you leg before wicket with a faster one. He could break partnerships, he could certainly make partnerships. He could win you matches single-handedly. He could win you tournaments, performing outstandingly. He could leave you speechless with the catches he took. He could leave you delirious with the records he broke. He gave you memories for a lifetime. He gave you six sixes to cherish, he made Team India’s trophy cabinet more embellished. There was nothing he couldn’t do. There was nothing he didn’t do. There was nothing he didn’t achieve. There was nothing he couldn’t achieve after winning Man of the Tournament in both the Under 19 and adult versions of the World Cup (2000 and 2011).
But right there, right then, fate played a cruel hand and brought him back to his knees. Literally. Puking blood in the midst of an innings and still carrying on. Still carrying the nation on his shoulders. Emerging victorious. But the cancer had started to show its signs and symptoms. It was during the time of the World Cup when he would wake up in the middle of the night and find it difficult to breathe and used to cough immensely. After the World Cup, a scan of his chest cavity revealed a tumor but he couldn’t believe it and went into denial. He ignored it as it meant leaving cricket, so he kept playing matches.
After the tumor grew, he went to various doctors and tried different treatments. He was misdiagnosed and that worsened the extragonadal mediastinal seminoma, with the tumor located between his heart and left lung, and it grew about 14 centimetres like a ball over his chest. But he hit that too right out of the ball park. He underwent chemotherapy for his germ cell cancer that was benign and 100 per cent curable. But even so, being inflicted with a disease just when you’re at the top of the world and at the peak of your abilities would leave anyone with a sense of injustice and questioning God and his mysterious ways. But he came out of it stronger and more resilient. He even scored the highest score of his one-day international career after this phase — 150 off 127 balls against England in 2017, a knock that included 21 fours and three sixes. He put on 256 runs for the fourth wicket along with Dhoni and was named the Man of the Match.
Following the match, Yuvraj revealed he had thought of quitting after having been dropped from the team. He said, “When I came back from cancer, it was hard work. I was not performing after being dropped; I thought whether I want to continue or not.” He was selected to play in the Champions Trophy 2017. He played a scintillating knock of 53 against Pakistan and won Man of the Match. However, owing to the failure in clearing the infamous ‘Yo Yo Test’, he was dropped from the squad before the tour of Sri Lanka in August 2017, which ended his international career.
He may not have set the world alight again or performed outstandingly after recovering from cancer, but he made a fairly reasonable comeback throwing back the years with some of his vintage knocks. Right after winning his battle with cancer, he made his comeback in the Indian team in a Twenty20 match against New Zealand shortly before the 2012 World T20. He ended up being the highest wicket taker for India in the T20 World Cup 2012. He was later selected for the India-Pakistan series in which he scored a blistering 72 off just 36 balls in the second T20.
In 2013, he established a cancer foundation called ‘YouWeCan’ through which he strives to create awareness about cancer and fight the stigma attached to it. He stresses the need for early detection of cancer which paves the way for better prognosis, recovery or even cure. As per the World Health Organization (WHO), early detection of cancer significantly increases the chances for successful treatment, improving the survival chances of patients. Increased awareness of possible warning signs of cancer is imperative. In his words, “Cancer does not mean death. Don’t be scared. Be positive. Please don’t think that your life is about to end. Take the right advice and act as soon as you can. If there’s an issue in your system, don’t ignore it. Look at me, I never thought I’d get the chance to play for India again, but I’ve beaten cancer. God has given me this opportunity and my love for cricket has brought me back. I see this alone as a huge achievement. The experience has made me stronger (in the mind). If you’re strong, then you automatically become a positive person. Cancer doesn’t mean that you’re going to die.”
Talking about his love for cricket, another less talked about dynamic in the making of Yuvraj, the phenomenon, is his love-hate relationship with the sport and his relationship with his father, Yograj Singh, a Ranji player, who played one Test match and six ODI matches for India. Yograj Singh wanted his unfulfilled dreams to be fulfilled through the hands of his son. Like a typical Indian ambitious parent, he unduly forced cricket upon Yuvraj who derived happiness from skating and won medals in that. But his father, after learning that, took his medals and skates and threw them in the dustbin.
From then on, Yuvraj’s path was etched out. But unlike most people who are forced into a career not of their choice, he worked hard, excelled in it and made it big, making innumerable sacrifices along the way as his father told him to. He followed a strict regimen and stuck to his aim of becoming a cricketer. While having an authoritarian father from the same field has its disadvantages, it also has its advantages as you evolve quicker and learn to do things the right way at an early age. Yuvraj was subjected to rigorous practice and specific training in his backyard, targeting his weakness of bouncers. He said, “I love cricket because it has given me everything. But at the same time, I also hate it because it has been very tough on me mentally.”
The name Yuvraj Singh will forever remain synonymous with six sixes. His jersey number might be 12 but he will forever be remembered for number 36. The six sixes against probably one of the best bowlers at that time were significant in more ways than one. Consider the translation of the phrase, “Hitting someone for a six” or chakke chhudaana. “Angrezon ke chakke chhudaana” takes on a whole new meaning if you consider it from a historical perspective. Literally, it meant the world to us Indians even if most of us didn’t realise what it meant symbolically. To do that against the inventors of the game and the oppressors of our motherland was beautiful to watch and cathartic in many ways. This was Lagaan happening in real life (which was itself loosely based on real life events).
Yuvraj has no regrets regarding his cricket career, though Test cricket will always be a frontier he wished he had crossed more often. He counts his first Test 100 among the top three moments of his career alongside the six sixes and 2011 World Cup, which goes to show how much he valued Test cricket. “Looking back, starting my first innings in 2000 against Australia in the Champions Trophy, that’s 17 years of international cricket, and on and off, 25 years of playing cricket,” he said. “I don’t think you can ask for more than that. In time, you have to decide what’s the best time to move on. Looking back at my career, it’s been amazing.”
And amazing it sure has been. Etched in cricket folklore for those towering six sixes, record holder of the fastest T20 fifty, first all-rounder to score 300-plus runs and take 15 wickets in a single World Cup, Man of the Tournament in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, Arjuna awardee, Padma Shri awardee, and many more. I’m sure he must sit back and reminisce about his roller-coaster journey and come to the conclusion, which everyone comes to after a certain point of time in their lives. C’est la vie. Such is life. You cannot be saved from the bad times. You must not be proud during the good times. You cannot give up in the worst times. You must make the most of your best times. You must do something that people remember you for even when you’re long gone. You must tell them how to not give up when the trying period is long drawn.
You must show them how you went in as a charcoal and came out a diamond. You must show them the cards you were dealt and how you played the hand. You must tell them all you can. You must tell them everything as it is. Because only then will they be your true fan. Only then will they follow you outside the sport you played. When you’ve stopped playing for what was not even one-third of your lifespan. Only then will they tell their children to look up to you as a true role model — both on and off the field. To never give up when life throws you a curveball, a yorker, and a bouncer all at the same time. To keep you in mind and say to themselves, “If You Can. We Can.”
The writer is a doctor by profession and an amateur cricketer