Yuvraj Singh is a glowing example of an individual’s fight to survive. He battled dreaded cancer, which showed early - undetected at the stage - symptoms when he was engaged in helping India win the 2011 World Cup. He overcame fatigue and sustained bouts of cough to play a motivating role for the team which emerged champion on a wonderful night at the Wankhede Stadium. The nation did not sleep and celebrated in unison on the streets and inside homes. Yuvraj was declared `Player of the Tournament’ and he breathed freely for some time before heading into a torturous phase of treatment.
As the world strives to cope with the COVID-19 virus, Yuvraj, having been through spells of fear and dreadful solitude, shares with Sportstar readers his views on how to stay positive and the need to be extremely disciplined.
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Your views on the current situation in the world following a lockdown...
I think this has its advantages and disadvantages. It’s heartbreaking to see so many people dying all over the world. It is spreading so fast. People, rather than panicking, should visit the official health sites (WHO and Union Health Ministry) to really understand what the disease is. In my case of cancer, I was also very scared in the beginning but then I got the right information, went to the right doctor and hospital. Please understand that these government and official health sites will guide you accurately because there is rampant misinformation about the virus on social media. First of all, people need to stop reading (social media) and look for correct information.
How much have you understood from various official campaigns?
Kids and middle-aged people can pass it on to elderly persons. They should avoid hugging their parents (over 60 age) and grandparents. Don’t keep any physical contact. It is your responsibility not to spread the virus. My heart bleeds for the migrant workers because they are very susceptible to catch the virus. We have to guide and protect them. We have to educate people in rural areas and it is our responsibility to send them the right information – maintain social distancing and wash hands regularly.
Don’t you think each individual matters in this fight?
Yes. People often remark 'How much will my one vote matter.' If everyone begins to have this attitude then what if five lakh people say how would an individual vote matter. In effect, it would mean five lakh people will miss sending the right information to others. We have to save lives.
How are you coping with it?
Everybody has to find a routine to follow. Can’t keep brooding. If you do that eventually you will get tied down. I begin with gym training (in the house). If you don’t have a gym, start doing exercises at home. Do a lot of reading. Increase your general knowledge. Obviously, you get to spend time with the family. You can do yoga, meditation rather than mourn about the situation. It’s (something) not in your control and this (lockdown) movement is for the betterment of everyone.
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Your experience of the lockdown?
I have seen stars for the first time since I started living in Delhi. No air pollution and no noise pollution. A great thing for the earth. We must take a pledge now that when things improve, we won’t take our car out for a day, spend a day with the family, respect Mother Earth, plant trees and flowers. Cut down on creating pollution of any kind.
Why is that some find the transition from domestic to international cricket so tough?
I came (in 2000) when there was no IPL. I used to watch my heroes on screen and suddenly I was sitting next to them. I had such respect for them and learnt from them how to behave, how to talk to the media. There was a lot of learning. Today, there are hardly any seniors to guide the players who are mostly the same age.
Do you see anything amiss from your time?
Today, the youngsters get such (lucrative) IPL contracts even before playing for India that they don’t want to play four-day cricket. The attitude towards four-day cricket and Test cricket is very poor. I was a guy who was desperate to play Test cricket. In my 17 years of career, I played 40 Tests. Seven years I was in and out of the team because there was competition in the middle order.
Where then is the problem?
IPL offers big money and it takes away the focus (from the youngsters). Not the current lot. They want to play Tests but the younger lot, who play one-day cricket mostly, their focus is to play IPL and not four-day cricket for the states. From the interaction with the youngsters, you realize that they can do with more respect for the seniors. It is not the same that we gave to our seniors. There has to be a certain amount of respect towards the seniors, who have taught you so much.
Who was the best captain for you?
I have played under Sourav (Ganguly) and had a lot of support from him. Then Mahi (MS Dhoni) took over. It’s a difficult choice to make between Sourav and Mahi. I have more memories of time under Sourav because of the support he gave me. I didn’t have that kind of support from Mahi and Virat (Kohli).
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Any bowler you admired?
I really struggled against (Muttiah) Muralitharan. Had no clue against him. Glenn (McGrath) would trouble me a lot with the away-going delivery. Luckily I didn’t play much against McGrath because Test matches I was sitting out and cheering for the seniors. Then Sachin (Tendulkar) told me to start sweeping (against Muralitharan) and I was at ease.
Your memorable knocks?
The 169 at Bangalore (in 2007 when India was 61 for four) and the 57 not out against Australia in the 2011 World Cup quarterfinal. The knocks came under tremendous pressure. The six sixes (in an over) were very memorable. The last three overs I had to swing every ball. The sixth ball I was expected a yorker. He (Stuart Broad) was under pressure and I was prepared. I just hit it straight.
How do you view the recent struggles witnessed by Rishabh Pant and Prithvi Shaw?
They play under a lot of pressure. I keep speaking to Rishabh. Prithvi is a great talent. But there are too many expectations from them. A lot of noise when they fail. Too much of scrutiny. I think we need to give them some time because they are the future.
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How to deal with Pant and Shaw then?
Coaches and seniors have to be in touch with them constantly and tell them there are certain things they can’t do on and off the field. Work harder on their fitness. They really need guidance because they are at a fragile stage. They can either become great players or their careers could break. If they make a mistake they should be told it is not acceptable. I have gone through that stage.
How did you tackle the problem?
I was quick to learn. My seniors, especially Rahul Dravid, would bat an extra hour after a session, go and train, and sleep early. He was so disciplined. So was (Anil) Kumble. So was (VVS) Laxman. So was Sachin. Sachin would go back to the nets if he got out cheaply. Their discipline was of the highest order.
You have a soft corner for Shaw because of the No 12 Jersey passed on from you to him...
The No 12 jersey was made into a big issue. People wanted the BCCI to retire the No 12 jersey. It is good because Prithvi is wearing the No 12 jersey. He has the potential to take the No 12 legacy to the next level. We should appreciate every time he comes out to represent India in the park.
Did you have the `fortune’ to be scolded by your seniors?
I was scolded a lot. From Rahul (Dravid). From Venky (Prasad). I and Kaif were scolded so much on the field by Kumble but we accepted it, learnt and improved. This Indian team needs a good guy who can talk to them on matters off the field. Their off-the-field issues reflect on their on-field performances. What they need is a psychologist of authority who can guide them in personal issues. Make them better persons. We had Paddy Upton who would discuss other issues of life, like fear of failure, and it helped us so much. The team probably needs someone like him.