How can he do this? This too shall pass. It’s not that Yuvraj Singh was the familiar face in the Indian dressing room anymore. Of late, people were slowly and gradually forgetting his innumerable statements of defiance on the field against the oddest of the circumstance. The swagger, the elegance, the royal gait and the infectious mischief in the eyes were slowly fading away from the public memory. But when Yuvraj Singh finally announced his retirement, the entire eco system in a way was unwilling to accept the inevitable. The fact that Yuvraj was the true ‘maharaj’ in the hearts of his peers, gets clear when we dissect and decode the reactions from amongst those who shared the dressing room with him for years.
One of India’s most explosive batsman ever Sehwag tweets-“Players will come and go but players like @YUVSTRONG12 are very rare to find. Gone through many difficult times but thrashed disease trashed bowlers and won hearts. Inspired so many people with his fight and will power. Wish you best in life Yuvi #Yuvraj Singh. India’s another dynamic opener and newly elected parliamentarian Gautam Gambhir took this a step ahead when he tweets-‘Congratulations Prince @ YUVSTRONG12 on a wonderful career. You were the best ever white ball cricketer India had. @BCCI should retire Number 12 jersey in the tribute to your career. Wish I could bat like you Champion.
There are some characters you get attached to in course of your journalistic journey. Yuvraj Singh was one such character. He got etched in our memories when he started his international journey in Nairobi along with another debutant Zaheer Khan. This boy is something special- was the instant reaction of the entire media. As one of the fans Balaji Rao tweets-‘ Yuvraj Singh retires. His knock of 84 at Nairobi against Australia signalled arrival of the new generation of Indian cricketers along with Zaheer Khan. He represented the next Indian generation who were ruthless, fearless and confident and painted the town red’.
We were all witness to the audacity of the generation when Yuvraj Singh along with Mohammad Kaif in one of the most defiant knocks scripted victory for their team in the NatWest Trophy finals at Lords in England. Remembering that innings, Kaif says, ‘I could still remember when after Sachin got out and we were taking guard, some of the Indian public started leaving the stands. During those days, when Sachin got out, it was construed as Indian being out of the game. But along with Yuvraj Singh, we were able to change the perception’. The confidence brought in by the young breed of cricketers led by Yuvraj Singh was subsequently followed by a seminal act of defiance. The skipper of the Indian team, Sourav Ganguly took off his T-shirt in the balcony of Lords and waived it hysterically amongst the crowd. In one of the interviews with yours truly subsequently, he said that had it happened today, he would not have done this. But then it was the spontaneous statement of defiance triggered by the presence of Yuvraj other young Turks in the Indian dressing room.
How often does it happen in life that you start getting closer to the character you had started admiring? Some of Yuvraj’s closest friends happened to be my friends. There was a swagger in his act when he dealt with the opponents. This rubbed on when he came across with strangers outside the dressing room. I got an opportunity to interview Yuvraj Singh when he hit six sixes of six balls in Durban in South Africa. Though more than a decade has passed since then, but one can still feel the electric atmosphere in the stands on that day. With every six, the ambience all around was getting deafening. A section of Indian media including yours truly started cheering hysterically. When warned by the ICC officials, in our own token of defiance we jumped on to the stands and started cheering with the crowd. This was India of 2007. Four years down the line, when India led by a small town boy MS Dhoni was scripting plot for its victory in the world cup, we hardly had an inkling that Yuvraj Singh, was fighting with himself. What was evident to us was the manner in which he was fighting his opponents, innings after innings and bringing in victories for his teams. In fact, when MS Dhoni stepped in to bat in the finals against Sri Lanka in Wankhede stadium, Mumbai, we were all expecting Yuvraj Singh to step in. While our crew was busy interviewing Yuvraj Singh after 2011 World Cup victory in the Taj Hotel, Mumbai, one could feel the satisfaction in his eyes. This satisfaction was partly on account of the fact that likes 2007; his crucial innings has played a pivotal role in team India becoming the world cup champion. Importantly, he felt contented, as he has been able to fulfill the dream of his idol- the man whom he perhaps admires the most in his life- Sachin Tendulkar. Sachin in his tweet after Yuvraj’s retirement says-‘what a fantastic career you had Yuvi. You have come out as a true champ every time the team needed you. The fight you put up through all the ups and downs on and off the field is just amazing. Best of luck for your 2nd innings and thanks for all you have done for cricket’.
The hangover of the world cup victory had hardly calmed down; when we got to know that Yuvraj Singh was suffering from cancer. Personally, it was one of the most challenging times as the journalist. Whereas on one hand, through common friends we were getting regular updates about the way he was struggling with the cancer, on the other hand it was equally important to respect his privacy. Finally, when as the sports editor of the private news channel, when this story was broken, after the due consent of his family, the entire sports fraternity was crestfallen. The number s of calls and messages we were receiving in our news room was simply astounding. Yuvraj Singh set another trend- this time off the field.
Cancer did not dampen his determination to recover and return to play his favorite game
Before Yuvraj, most of the celebrities were inhibitive while battling cancer. They used to put onerous pressure on them with their constant and conscious efforts to hide the disease. But once Yuvraj Singh, decided to go public with his battle with cancer- right from the Max Hospital in Delhi to USA, he engaged with his fans consistently. He updated them about every important developments related to the disease. The man of many comebacks made astounding comeback in the real life. He fought the disease. He fought with the demon in his mind. He fought with fitness and made his comeback on the field. While on the way to his comeback, in one of the interviews to yours truly he said,‘The disease has calmed me down. In fact, while fighting the disease, I saw death so closely so many times, that I have started loving my life. The mundane battles like playing more test cricket and other stuff looks smaller in comparison to the larger battle which I had just fought in my life’. Yuvraj Singh, one of the country’s finest cricketers, started serious cancer awareness campaign through his foundation. This had become his passion now. I still do remember a small boy who was fighting cancer. He wanted to talk to Yuvraj. I was able to pass on the message to him through a common friend of mine. Yuvraj called him from his personal numbers, talked to him and helped him to calm down. There are numerous such incidents stories.
Yuvraj has lived his entire life burdened with expectations. The expectations started when his father wanted to realize his cricketing dreams through his son. The burden started soaring when he started making his own mark in the age category cricket. The burden started peaking with his dream debut in Nairobi. From his journey from Lords in England to Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai- innings after innings of defiance and comebacks meant that he established himself as one of the best all time batsman of the white ball cricket. However, when it came to the red ball and white dress, his performance failed to meet the high standards. But then, this unpredictability is the ultimate romance of life. This romance of life is symbolized in the journey of Yuvraj Singh. The announcement of retirement has given a fresh turn to the journey. Those who are closer to the character are taken aback by the announcement. But, this too shall pass. There is a transcendent beauty in realizing this. Perhaps, now unburdened by the chain of expectation, his second innings will be better than his first one. Yuvraj generation has left a template to be believed. Yuvraj Singh was offered a farewell match by the selectors in lieu of the retirement, more than a year back. He refused. He strongly felt that if he has in him, he will make the comeback. If he doesn’t have anything left in him, he will like to retire without the farewell match’. Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Gautam Gambhir, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh were all greats of the game. The fact that they all went without the farewell don’t dilute their greatness. The gesture is best exemplified by the tweets shared between Yuvraj Singh the former legend and Rohit Sharma the contemporary legend.
Reacting to Yuvraj’s retirement Rohit Sharma tweets, ‘You don’t know that you got till it is gone. Love you brother man. You deserved a better send off’. To this Yuvraj Singh replied, ‘You know how I feel inside. Love you Brother -man. You go be a legend.