Yuvraj Singh, a fighter on and off the field

Yuvraj Singh excelled in junior cricket, before extending his artistry to the international arena where he came to clobber the best of bowlers with rare flamboyance.

Yuvraj Singh with his mother Shabnam and wife Hazel Keech at the event ‘In Conversation With Yuvraj Singh’ in Mumbai, on June 10, where he announced his retirement from international cricket.   -  PTI

He needn’t be as busy as before. For Yuvraj Singh, time away from cricket was “unthinkable” but sometimes life can dictate the course you need to take. By announcing his retirement from active cricket, Yuvraj, perhaps, took the harshest decision of his life, which was rocked by the medical condition that left him, in his own words, “staring at death.” Like the many tough battles that he waged on the cricket field, he won this “off the field” confrontation too with the determination of a man who never accepted defeat.

Yuvraj should have been a roller-skater. He just loved it. But his father, Yograj Singh, was a cricketer. And Yuvraj could not have been anything else. His father, a one-Test wonder, took to films and rose to become a star in the Punjabi film industry. Yuvraj, too, found himself playing a few roles as a child. But cricket beckoned him through his father’s resolve to live his dreams by preparing his son to play big time.

Yograj was the reason why Yuvraj played the game. He spent endless hours, most of them under the harsh sun, teaching his son to conquer the world. Yuvraj did that many years later, with his exploits in junior cricket and extending his artistry to the international arena where he came to clobber the best of bowlers with rare flamboyance. Yuvraj, the prince of Yograj and Shabnam Singh's dreams, grew into a handsome performer on the cricket field, creating a legion of fans who came to love his explosive batsmanship. One can never forget a practice session in Nairobi in 2000. Yuvraj was striking the ball with divine timing. Tendulkar, keeping an eye on the young left-hander from Chandigarh, gasped, “what awesome talent. Watch out for him.” I did. I had been watching Yuvraj since Bishan Singh Bedi worked on his game at his camps in Delhi. Tendulkar was only confirming what Bedi had spotted early and Yograj much earlier, making him toil in hostile conditions.

Yuvraj will always remain an under-achiever. “Why do you say so?,” he asked once. His record with the red ball fades in comparison with his fabulous performance with the white-ball. “Not my fault,” he would defend. He was justified to some extent, since he did not get the support from the powers that be. He did not hold it against anyone and gave his best once he stepped on to the field. He was born to give his best and Yuvraj strove to achieve just that.

There were many moments in his career when Yuvraj wondered what lay ahead. There was not a fixed slot for him. So he was game to bat anywhere. The No. 6 position was a challenging one and he grabbed that knowing well the competition within the team was stiff. He grew with every match, every tour, every series. The challenges too grew and that made him a fighter with the bat.

“I am extremely lucky to play 400+ games for India, I for one, would have not imagined doing this when I started my career as a cricketer. Through this journey, some matches that remain etched in my memory were the 2002 NatWest final, my first Test hundred in Lahore in 2004, the 2007 ODI series in England, six sixes at the 2007 T20 World Cup, that match when we realised to have not gone beyond at the 2007 50-over World Cup and then the most memorable was the 2011 World Cup finals,” an emotional Yuvraj said in Mumbai as he announced his retirement.

Yuvraj’s career can make for a study on how a gifted cricketer can make his presence felt amidst a galaxy of stars. He began by sharing the dressing room with Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and carried on to earn a place in a team that included Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and Ishant Sharma. His longevity resulted from his fitness, which, ironically was held against him by the National selectors. His friends in cricket turned their backs on Yuvraj and it became increasingly difficult for him to concentrate on the game.

That he mulled over his retirement for two years was an indication of his desire to have another go. He worked on his fitness, fought his way back into the team and then lost way. Among the many splendid moments was the 2011 World Cup triumph when he emerged the Man of the Series. “The adrenaline rush playing for India, singing the national anthem before each game, touching the Indian flag, stopping every run for the team or scoring every run for the team was a completely different high. To be a part of history that was made after 28 years, I mean honestly what more could I ask for,” he remembered on the day of his retirement. He signed off, “I think it’s a perfect day to move on.” He may think so but not his fans.