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Yuvraj Singh, A Survivor Like No Other

As Yuvraj Singh gets ready to play his 300th ODI vs Bangladesh on Thursday, Nishant Arora looks back on his career.

Updated
Cricket
4 min read
File photo of Yuvraj Singh.
i

Way back in 2000, an 18-year-old was playing his second ODI in the ICC KnockOut tournament (he made his debut in the same tournament against Kenya but didn’t get a chance to bat) in front of giants like Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee.

Playing at Nairobi Gymkhana in the quarter-finals, he walked into bat with India at 131/4 in 24.5 overs. Riding with the reputation of ‘lefty Viv Richards of junior cricket’ and man of the tournament in the ICC Under 19 World Cup in Sri Lanka in 1999, neither did he look in awe of the big stage, nor he was intimidated by the mighty Aussies.

Yuvraj Singh didn’t play the big names or the reputations of the opposition – he played the ball. He was at ease with whatever international cricket threw at him. He has seen it all.

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Short balls, yorkers and all kinds of deliveries had been hurled at him on a marble floor and makeshift nets in the backdoor garden of his house with lights in sector 11 Chandigarh.

His father used to throw wet tennis balls at him or special heavy weight plastic balls: all to get his son ready to face international cricket. In my teenage years, I witnessed his upbringing and the challenges Yuvraj Singh faced while growing up.

Because of his father and his extreme discipline, Yuvraj didn’t have a childhood – he had cricket. Every minute, every hour, every day and every week of his life at that point was an unending sequence of fitness sessions, net sessions, matches, followed by late night sessions with his dad at his home.

Yuvraj Singh plays a shot during the 2002 Champions Trophy match against Sri Lanka. (Photo: Reuters)
Yuvraj Singh plays a shot during the 2002 Champions Trophy match against Sri Lanka. (Photo: Reuters)

From a young boy who was possessed with God’s gift to hit the cricket ball into orbit with sheer timing and effortless back lift, it took no time for Yuvraj to have his name etched in Indian cricket.

He was the finisher of Sourav Ganguly’s Indian Cricket Team. Someone who had the ability to transform his game in every situation. Whether it was 30/4 or 250/4, Yuvraj always showed the maturity to handle any situation, either with defiance or an attack.

And to add to that, he was electric on field.  We had India’s very own Jonty Rhodes, diving at point or rattling stumps from any corner of the 30-yard circle.

It’s hard to believe that Yuvraj Singh has come this far and survived. Most of the players he started playing cricket with are either in commentary boxes or on road to be cricket experts.

In Jan 2017, when he scored a remarkable hundred against England in Cuttack, Virender Sehwag said “Maine ye kabhi nahi socha tha ki Yuvraj kehl rahe honge aur main commentary kar raha haunga. Yeh bada khas pal hai.” (I never thought that Yuvraj would be playing and I would be commentating. This is a very special moment)

It’s a remarkable story of survival, tenacity, courage and inspiration. It’s a story of someone continuously defying the odds and emerging stronger. 19 years of international cricket and today, he bids farewell to it all.

Yuvraj Singh celebrates a series win with Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Ramesh Powar against Pakistan in 2006. (Photo: Reuters)
Yuvraj Singh celebrates a series win with Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Ramesh Powar against Pakistan in 2006. (Photo: Reuters)

Yuvraj signs off his international career with 305 ODIs, only Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammed Azharuddin, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid have touched these heights in One Day cricket. It is as good as playing a 100 Tests.

He may not have been able to touch the same level of greatness in the five-day format, but his limited-overs record is phenomenal. Pick any big victory, any major tournament won by India in last 2 decades, and you can see his deep imprints.

From the NatWest series in 2002 to World T20 in 2007 to World Cup in 2011, no wonder Sanjay Manjrekar calls him ‘all-time one-day great of India’.

It’s even more special when one sees what he has gone through in his life. In all these years, Yuvraj has seen everything. Stardom, success, failure, limelight, achievement, dejections, depression, rejection, non-selection, ignorance, criticism, constant scrutiny, written-off by experts and, of course, cancer.

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Yuvraj Singh meets fans during the time he was receiving treatment for cancer. (Photo: Nishant Arora)
Yuvraj Singh meets fans during the time he was receiving treatment for cancer. (Photo: Nishant Arora)

But nothing can deter his spirit and his ability to bounce back.  Despite losing some of the best years of his life due to cancer, he got back on his feet and returned to play cricket- hitting mighty sixes and winning games for India. His comeback from the illness has been a great one to watch for all the people who have seen this journey from very close quarters. And I was lucky to be one of them.

I have seen him vomiting fifty times in a day and fainting from dehydration during his chemo. I have seen him in acute pain and fighting shivers while in treatment. And then I have seen him committed to going right back where he belonged, as if there was some unfinished business he had to attend to.

Going back to the nets and training, punishing his body, but never short of commitment and effort. And now I seen him hitting in India’s colours again and doing his bit for the country.

It’s very rare that your friend is your hero. I am fortunate to experience that. I can proudly say Yurvaj is my friend and my hero at the same time.

(Nishant Arora is an award-winning cricket journalist, and most recently, the media manager of the Indian Cricket Team. He also co-authored the best-selling book on Yuvraj Singh’s battle with cancer.)

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