Before Yuvraj Singh happened, if you would have told anyone that there would be a cricketer, who would hit 6 sixes off 6 balls, who would help India win both World Cups (T-20 and ODIs), who would beat cancer and make a successful comeback to the Indian team, have a career that span almost 12 years and still will never be the consistent captain of the Indian team, you would probably laugh at him, or believe it to be a fictional story like Lagaan.
Everyone has their heroes. Science has Newton and Einstein. Literature has Shakespeare and Wordsworth (don’t you find it interesting that perhaps the most famous poet has that name, like his every word has a worth). Comic books have Stan Lee and Frank Miller. But nothing throws up more heroes than sports. They write a complete tale of ups and down, of failure, success and redemption, of has-been’s and would-be’s. And none can be more interesting for an Indian cricket fan, than that of Yuvraj Singh.A story or a hero is personified by its moments. When Dhoni swung his bat like a sword after hitting that winning six in 2011. When Saurav swung his T-Shirt at Lords in defiance in 2003. When Sreesanth held on to that all important catch in 2007. Its all but fair that we take a look at Yuvraj Singh’s career through the moments that define him.
1999, India was rattled. Players like Mohd. Azzharuddin, Nayan Mongia, Ajay Jadeja were all implicated in a match-fixing scandal. The integrity of the sports was threatened and the world bodies reacted predictably all of the accused were suspended. That however, left the Indian team in a turmoil, with no one left to lead India turned to Saurav Ganguly. With no one left to keep we turned to Rahul Dravid. With no one left to bat, we turned to this young upstart from Punjab, who had recently won the under-19 World Cup.
This was Yuvraj Singh’s 2nd match, but the first where he got to bat. This was against the legendary Australian bowling attack of which songs are made of. Imagine a 18 year old, facing up to greats like McGrath, Lee, and Gillespie; at a time when Sachin, Saurav and Dravid had fallen. What followed was a scintillating 84 in 80 balls. I still remember the pull off Bret Lee (and the six that Venkatesh Prasad hit off him on the last ball of the innings). India won by 20 runs that day, knocking out the favorite and giving the Indian team its newest star.
Anyone who boasts to know anything about Indian Cricket, know about this fateful day. England had made a daunting 325 (a near impossible to achieve score in those days) and India seemed ready to loose yet another final. Saurav and Sehwag tried to lead a fightback, but all seemed lost at 5-146 when Sachin departed. Enter Yuvraj Singh and Mohd. Kaif, two young lads, infusing the chase with young blood and pulling off a heist. Yuvraj Singh made a memorable 69 in 63 with Kaif finishing the chase in fine style. This is most often regarded as the turning point in Indian cricket, where we turned from a docile 3rd world country to an aggressive winner.
India has chased down targets of 300+ 13 times in ODI(the most by a team) and 11 of them have come after this match. By now Yuvraj had made a name for himself, along with Zaheer, Kaif and Harbhajan. The transition had started. The prince was on his way to become the king.
India had 261 (Yuvraj had scored 62 of them). However at the end of the 3oth over in the South African team, it looked as the match was lost. Only a 100 more were required and Jhonty Rhodes looked well settled. That’s when he played a sweep shot and Yuvraj pulled off a blinder at backward square leg. If there was ever an example of a match changing its course due to a catch, its this (or the India Vs. Pak test in 1999, but we Indians don’t count that). We chocked the chockers out by 10 runs.
Yuvraj Singh and Kaif were considered the best fielders in the team at that time, and are responsible for creating a fitness revolution. They demonstrated that fielding was not a by-product but a skill set in cricket, and having it improved your chances of making it into a team filled with huge but ageing legends. Oh by the way India went on to win the ICC Champions Tropohy albeit sharing it with Sri Lanka because of the final being washed out “twice”.
Flash forwarding a few years, and Yuvraj is now a mainstay of Indian batting. We have skipped over the 2003 World Cup Final and glossed over the 2007 event in West Indies. We have also skipped over those twin centuries in Australia and those power packed fifties against Pakistan.
India stood at cross-roads again. The Ganguly-Chappell-Rahul fiasco had blown up in everyone’s face. The disastrous 2007 World Cup outing was the last straw, people wanted blood, they wanted change. Chappell was fired, so was Rahul, the first ever T-2o was upon us and BCCI wanted a overhaul. Yuvraj Singh was the most experienced in the squad sent to South Africa for the T-20(along with Sehwag and Harbhajan), and he seemed like the obvious choice of captain to at-least 75% of the nation. But it was not be, the reigns were handed to a young upstart known as Mahendra Singh Dhoni (ohh the nerves).
Not only that but ironically, Yuvraj Singh was now fighting for his place with youngsters. For more than 7 years, he had been the rookie, trying to prove himself, suddenly he was the veteran, and the worst part was he still couldn’t breath easy, he still had to perform day in and day out to keep his place. Yup! Indian cricket can be harsh.
So what does he do, well the best way to put it is: “HE HIT SIX CONSECUTIVE SIXES OFF SIX BALLS IN ONE OVER”. You don’t believe me, then you are not the Indian fan you think you are, or else you would have seen this.
The stadium, and some boys in a college canteen in Roorkee went into a frenzy. We beat England that day. We beat South Africa and Australia next. We then beat Pakistan in the finals (remember Misbah going deep shit crazy and then getting a brain freeze), and just like that we were World champions of T-20. And just like always Yuvraj Singh was in the middle of all this.
What followed was a golden period in India’s cricket history. Sachin, Saurav, Kumble, Rahul and VVS produced their swansongs and Zaheer, Harbhajan, Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh cemented their legacy. This culminated in the epic World Cup of 2011.
Led by Dhoni, the Indian team went on a 8 match winning streak, beating West Indies, Australia, Pakistan and finally Sri-Lanka to lift the World Cup and highlight the pinnacle of modern Indian cricket. Yuvraj Singh once again proved the asset that he was scoring 362 runs and picking 15 wickets, claiming the Man Of The Series.
Cancer and Beyond: 2012-2013
Yuvraj Singh was set to become the next big thing. It was time for Yuvraj (prince) to become Maharaja (king). He was the next Sachin (if I dare say), the man with the golden arm. He was a proven war-hero, a veteran who was still young enough to stay around for a while. But just as fantastic as his story sounds yet, it became even more, as a Cancer struck him.
Afflicted with Lung Cancer, Yuvraj Singh was forced to leave that spot, which he had toiled for so long. As Yuvraj fought with cancer (taking inspiration from Lance Armstrong), a nation prayed for him. But, a cricket team moved on. Legends retired, new heroes were found, new frontiers were established and old nemesis returned. India was in flux again, this time natural, trying to get used to a life without Sachin, Rahul, VVS, Kumble, Saurav and Yuvraj.
A lot of stories would end there. But amazing as it sounds, Yuvraj beat cancer. Yes, he actually did recover from that awful disease, losing his hair, gaining a bit of weight, but still remaining that Yuvraj of yore. In a little more than a year, not only was Yuvraj recovering, he was also vying for a place in the Indian team.
He had always wanted a place in the test side. The side at that time was looking for a batsmen with pedigree to fill in the shoes of Rahul, Saurav and Laxman. In his first domestic match after recovery he scored a double century, and finally got the opportunity to play against England in a home test. Things had again fallen into place, in an almost fairy-tale like fashion. All that was left to do was to provide a Yuvraj Singh special. Alas, it never came, he never could score those crucial runs, and India ended up losing a home series to England since 1984.
As is the norm in Indian cricket, a failure causes shouts of change, and this time Yuvraj Singh faced the axe. He was not alone: Sehwag, Gambhir, Harbhajan, Zaheer were others who faced getting replaced by new blood. It didn’t help his case when the new and young Indian team beat Australia 4-0 at home, then went on to win the ICC Champions Trophy in England (beating England in a nail-biter final), followed by a series win in West Indies and most recently a 5-0 ODI win over Zimbawe.
When you look at Yuvraj Singh’s career, you cannot imagine what he would like to accomplish next. He has helped India win all 3 of ICC main trophies, he has started a fielding revolution in India, he has hit 6 sixes off 6 balls in 1 over. But when you are Yuvraj Singh, you can always find new mountains to climb. At the time this article is written he is training in France with his good friend Zaheer to reclaim fitness and ultimately reclaim a spot on that elusive Indian order.
Maybe Yuvraj Singh may not be able to make a comeback this time around. Maybe he does, but its not as impressive. But what if, it is as flamboyant as his backlift and as full of flair as his stroke play. That would indeed be the return of the prodigal prince. And maybe just maybe the crowning of THE YUVRAJ.