Yuvraj Singh, born on December 12, 1981 has been India’s talisman in their rise during the 2000s. Coming into the team as an 18-year old in the year 2000, Yuvraj’s talent was evident and he was earmarked for greater things. The southpaw had commenced a journey during which time India touched dizzying heights on the world stage. While cricket was in focus, his successful battle against cancer won hearts of millions. As he turns 31 today, Yuvraj is more than a cricketer; he is an inspirational icon the sporting world looks up to.
In the 1990s, the Indian batting heavily depended on Sachin Tendulkar – to the point that it would often collapse on his dismissal. The emergence of Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid lightened the load on Tendulkar’s shoulders, but India still looked for someone to hold fort in the middle-order. They needed that consistent finisher – who would walk into pressure situations and stamp his authority. That is when Yuvraj came in to perfectly fit the bill.
The thing that sets Yuvraj apart from the others is his unparalleled ability to handle pressure. Time and again, he has handled adversity with ease. The same character was evident in his very first innings at the highest level where he smashed 84 against a formidable attack comprising Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie. There is always pressure when you walk out the first time and it magnifies when you see some of the finest bowlers on the other side.
In his first 18 months at the highest level, Yuvraj took time to establish himself. There were the good knocks, but he was left out a few times. In March 2002, he was handed a lifeline in a One-Day International (ODI) against Zimbabwe and he responded with a match-winning fifty. It was a crucial knock as India were trailing 1-2 in the series and had they lost that game at Hyderabad, Zimbabwe would have walked way with the trophy.
Perhaps the most memorable moment of his young career came in the NatWest series final. In partnership with Mohammad Kaif, Yuvraj did the unthinkable by pulling India out of a hole and setting up a successful run-chase over 300. It was that knock that assured the fans that the Indian lie-up was something more than Ganguly, Tendulkar and Dravid. Here were two men who presented hope even when the stalwarts failed.
Fast forward to 2007, a young Indian side under the leadership of Mahendra Singh Dhoni were thrown into a new arena. T20 cricket was still finding its feet and was an unknown commodity for the Indians. What does Yuvraj do? He simply decides to smash everything in sight and become the catalyst of India’s unforgettable victory. His feats were simply super-human. The six sixes off an over and the fantastic knock against the dominating Australians in the semi-finals were the highlights that paved the way for India’s success.
The defining moment of Yuvraj’s career came during the 2011 World Cup. He had a tough time in the year leading up to the tournament and as a result the pressure on him personally was immense. India were playing at home – in front of boisterous crowds. While such an atmosphere can pump players, it can more often than not back fire as well.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Yuvraj’s finest hour came when India needed the most. Not only did he perform with the bat, but also bowled brilliantly to fill the void left by the ever absent Indian all-rounder. The World Cup was won after 28 years and Yuvraj was named the Man of the Tournament. Through all that, little did anyone know that Yuvraj was fighting another battle – the battle for life. As it turned out later, it was the dreaded disease that was to haunt him a few months down the line.
These instances provide ample evidence of Yuvraj’s rare fighting spirit and unshakable spirit. However, the battle against cancer was bigger than the one on the field of play. It was writ large in the game of life and there was no second innings there. The whole scenario showed that cricket is nothing but a game and life has its own “tests.” Yuvraj fought the disease and recovered fully. The disease has the potential of draining ones mind and body. But, he was back on the field in a matter of months – surprising all and sundry.
Considering what he has seen in the last year, his 31st birthday is truly a special occasion. The whole trauma and suffering is over and he can look forward to a brighter tomorrow. He may be a gutted at being dropped from the Test side, but within him burns the fire to return. Yuvraj is yet to live up to his potential in the longest format and that is something he desires. There have been a few flashes of brilliance, but it hasn’t been sustained. Test cricket awaits his arrival and it would be a mistake to write him off, knowing his grit to fight the odds.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)