On the front foot

Last Updated: Fri, Apr 20, 2012 19:30 hrs

Scene 1: India has lost all its super six games, and is out of the T-20 World Cup in the Caribbean in April 2010. As the players start to board the bus the one player who looks completely distraught and frustrated with himself is Yuvraj Singh. A dismal tournament, plagued by injuries, overweight Yuvraj is in the worst ever mental space of his life. So much so he has even contemplated giving it all up.

Scene 2: June 15, 2010. When I meet Yuvraj for lunch at his Gurgaon house he looks a different man. Leaner, fitter and the spark back in his eyes, he looks all focused to make a comeback to where he belongs — playing for India. Not wanting to speak on record because whatever he says gets misconstrued, he declares his intention, calm and determined: “I want to play the World Cup for India. I will do all I can to make this dream come true.”

Scene 3: The night of April 2, 2011. It has been just two hours since India has created history by winning the World Cup on home soil. Yuvraj, man of the tournament, is sitting in his sixth-floor room at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai. The World Cup is in front of him. He looks dazed yet satisfied. Calm yet excited. Philosophical yet overwhelmed. As he keeps fondling the Cup, he asks his teammates in the room, Virat Kohli and Virender Sehwag, to pinch him to see if it is all real or is he dreaming.

Just when he was at his highest he was diagnosed with an illness we all dread. It was a bolt from the blue. When Shabnam Singh (Yuvraj’s mother), who deserves all the accolades that we can possibly think of for standing by and protecting Yuvraj in the way she has, called to say Yuvraj has the illness he has, it was hard to believe she was speaking the truth. Even as some of us, friends of his, were finding it hard to come to terms with the reality, Yuvraj looked unfazed. “Don’t worry. I will come back soon,” was the much repeated retort. Sitting and watching one of his favourite movies in the basement theatre of his Gurgaon home, Yuvraj was yet again getting ready to fight. Only this time it was the battle of his life.

Now this is the Yuvraj that we don’t often see on screen. A man with incredible self-belief and resilience, desperate to wear India colours again. In complete contrast to the public image of the man, Yuvraj, at some level, is an introvert and a loner. He is anything but the cavalier extrovert the media portrays him to be. Rather he is a simple enough 30-year-old who loves to spend a quiet evening at home with friends and family, eating food made by his mother who, by the way, is an exceptional cook. In fact, Shabnam Singh’s food was one of the few things that was a constant companion in the most difficult moments of his life. Yuvraj, many won’t know, has gone out of his way to help friends and family in every way possible. And the Yuvraj Singh Foundation, something he is extremely serious about, is an endeavour to do all he can for society in his own humble way.

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Many maverick champions in the past have proved their talent at the biggest stage of all. From Paolo Rossi to Jimmy Connors to Goran Ivanisevic, the list of these champions can go on and on. While none of them has the discipline to become a Maradona or a Tendulkar, each of them on his day can take apart the best of the best — in terms of talent they are right up there in the highest echelons of sporting greats. Yuvraj is one such.

Bending down on one knee, eyes right on top of the ball as that high backlift comes down on it, Yuvraj can certainly make true C L R James’ description of sport as art. It is art of the highest calibre, shots that remain etched in people’s memories for a long time. However, where he has clearly trumped his other illustrious counterparts is in the fight he has shown in the course of his illness. And that’s where the real Yuvraj Singh has come to light: a man of unlimited courage and determination, unrivaled in his ability to counter depression and with immense passion to make the cricket field his own again. He can do anything to play for the country. During the last test match he played for India against West Indies in Kolkata, Yuvraj was on medication. Yet, not once did he leave the field for he knows that is where he belongs; the greens are his theatre and have made him the man he is.

Yuvraj can inspire millions to win far more difficult battles in life, challenges that go far beyond the cricket field. He is the perfect example to show the world that anything is possible. To quote his mother, “Give him the love and motivation and see what he does. I am confident he will do it again for the country.” He has already proven her right on two occasions: first in 2007 when he won India the T-20 World Cup, and then as the man of the tournament at the Wankhede on April 2, 2011. But this time round he has fulfilled an even bigger dream; he has given a new meaning to life itself.

I am tempted to finish off this piece with a rather personal anecdote. It was a very private moment for the family and Shabnam Singh, understandably, was distraught when she was first told the news of Yuvraj’s illness. While in normal circumstances the man who is suffering is the one shielded from reality and given strength by others surrounding him, in this case it was the other way round. Yuvraj was the one who was holding his mother’s hand. Continuing to smile, he was doing all that was possible to make his mother see light and not lose hope.

That is the biggest lesson that we can all take from the new Yuvraj we now see before us. He was and will always be a champion cricketer. But he is much more than a cricketer at the moment. He is an icon who has won life’s biggest battle, something he did not have the skill to win. He won it by sheer conviction, self-belief and the doggedness we have seen him demonstrate during the World Cup. He is living proof that anything is possible. 

I am grateful to God: Yuvraj Singh

How difficult was it to accept that you had cancer? During treatment what was going through your mind?
It was a shock and was tough to accept at first. But gradually I knew that I had to fight it and come back as a stronger, and, more importantly, a happier person. It has taught me a lot and I now know that good health and happiness are the most valuable things. Money and fame are all temporary and don’t matter much.

After your bout with cancer, have you become more religious?
I always had faith in God and I wouldn’t say I have become more religious. But yes, I do believe that a strong belief in God helps you to keep going. During my chemotherapy I saw elderly patients who were in a worse condition than I was and yet they kept going. God does inspire you but then there are many real life examples that help you to keep going. I am grateful to God for giving me another chance at life.

You said that your mother has been your pillar of support. How did she deal with it?
It must have been harder for her but she never ever shed a tear. She was definitely stronger than me and helped me at every step. She is a remarkable lady with unbelievable strength.

It is too early to talk about a comeback but what are your future plans?
I really don’t know. I am still healing from the treatment and it will take some time to even think about making a comeback. I need to take care of my health first and not think much about cricket or coming back on the field. I will want to play cricket in the future, but when will that happen, I can’t say.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           —Aabhas Sharma

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