You learn more from adversity goes the saying and the latest example of this adage had to be Yuvraj Singh. Till last year everything was coming up roses for the popular Indian cricketer and the peak of his achievements during a decade long career came when he was adjudged player of the tournament at the end of the 2011 World Cup. His all round exploits paved the way for India's victorious campaign.
Life could not have been rosier for Yuvraj despite a Test career did not quite match his achievements in limited overs cricket. Experts from all over the cricketing world wondered why he did not shine in the game's traditional format as outstandingly as he had performed in ODIs and T20 internationals and could not come up with a satisfactory answer. Clearly the charismatic left-hander remained a bit of an enigma for he had received ample opportunities to cement his place in the Test side following the retirement of Sourav Ganguly in 2008.
But soon there were much more important things to occupy his mind. The news that Yuvraj had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer sent shock waves round the cricketing world. This would now constitute the biggest challenge of his life for Yuvraj had always given the impression of being a fun loving, party going young man who loved the good life. How would he and his family take the tragic news? How would the young man at the peak of his career respond? Could he be mature enough to tackle it head on?
This was when Yuvraj showed that he was more just a charismatic cricketer. He accepted the fact calmly, embarked on the required treatment which took him for 2-1/2 months to the USA. Cancer treatment as the whole world knows can be painful but displaying patience, perseverance and a stoic acceptance of what had happened helped and after completing his chemotherapy Yuvraj was back in India in April this year. Now there were further questions.
Could he stage a comeback? And if so could he be as good as he was before undergoing the treatment? Would he risk a quick return or bide his time? Yuvraj himself was confident that he would be back on the cricket field reasonably quickly. But he had his critics who warned against rushing him into big cricket. After all he had not gone through a minor ailment but cancer treatment which they argued would have drained him physically and mentally.
The selection committee led by Krish Srikkanth however was convinced that the ambitious Yuvraj, eager for a return to the Indian team at the earliest, should be included at the earliest possible opportunity. And in what was largely seen as an emotional decision he was included in the Indian team to play two T20 internationals against the visiting New Zealand team much to the joy of his supporters and to the consternation of the detractors. Now the cricketing world waited with bated breath. Was he strong physically and mentally? Could he come up with something straight out of the fiction books? Or would he crumble against the weight of expectations and be a failure?
Rain in the first match meant that he made his comeback at Chennai last month. Cheered all the way to the wicket he stroked his way to a 26-ball 34 batting like the Yuvraj of old only to fall in the last over as India were beaten by one run. The next test would be the T20 World Cup and while there was no storybook touch he did make his presence felt more with the ball than with the bat. Overall though he had done no damage to his record in limited overs cricket and came out with his reputation unscathed.
Now followed the bigger test. Could he come good in the longer version of the game? After all performing well in Test cricket had always been Yuvraj's goal and he himself was a bit disappointed at not gaining a permanent place in the side. With the retirement of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman there was a place for him in the team but now he had to prove himself all over again. In the new-look Indian team against New Zealand following the retirement of the two stalwarts Cheteswar Pujara and Suresh Raina were given the break.
Pujara had made the No 3 slot his by getting 159 in the first Test but Raina had failed and so the No 6 slot for which Yuvraj had always been the front runner after the retirement of Ganguly was still open. And it now appears that he has clinched the slot following his double hundred for North Zone against Central Zone in the Duleep Trophy semifinal at Hyderabad. There should not be any more reservations about his fitness since recovering from his ailment. As Shikar Dhawan, the North zone captain put it succinctly "if someone is scoring a double century, he has to be fit."
The stats associated with his 208 tell a vital tale. Yuvraj batted for 333 minutes and hit 33 fours and three sixes. He came in when the second wicket fell at 110 in the 53rd over midway through the first day and was ninth out at 441 in the 119th over midway through the second day. In the process he shared a third wicket stand of 160 runs in 20 overs with Dhawan who scored 121. But it was not just hitting fours and sixes. He also sprinted across for quick singles so all told his skill, stamina and concentration could not be questioned. This has to be good news for Indian cricket. Yuvraj is back with a bang and before the season is over should improve on his modest Test figures of 1775 runs from 37 matches at an average of 34.80 with just three hundreds. Of course he is bound to improve substantially on his already imposing performance in limited overs cricket.