By Karthik Parimal
We each cope differently with the spectre of our deaths. Some people deny it. Some pray. Some numb themselves with tequila. I was tempted to do a little of each of those things. But I think we are supposed to try to face it straightforwardly, armed with nothing but courage – Lance Armstrong
In his autobiography, It’s not about the bike, Lance Armstrong starts off by saying that he wanted to die at a hundred years old with an American flag on his back and the star of Texas on his helmet, after screaming down an Alpine descent on a bicycle at 75 miles per hour. But little did he know that in the year of 1996, he’d be diagnosed with cancer. He was just 25 then. All his hopes came crashing down that very instant and people understandably expected an abrupt end to a promising career. But two years later, not only did Armstrong successfully fight the biggest battle of his life, but his existence became an inspiration to millions of people worldwide as he staged a comeback and won one of the most grueling cycling events in the form of Tour de France.
It’s no surprise then that Yuvraj Singh’s return to international cricket, after successfully fighting a rare germ cell cancer, is reminiscent of Armstrong’s return to the international arena. In fact, Yuvraj received tremendous support from Armstrong, when the former was recuperating after undergoing three strenuous cycles of chemotherapy. That inspiration, provided by Armstrong, certainly seems to have helped, as the man who last donned the national colours 15 months ago during that epic night at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium, is back on the centrestage, quicker than anyone would’ve expected.
Yuvraj, by his own admission, drew inspiration from Armstrong’s autobiography. The hardships Armstrong had to endure during his fight against cancer were unparalleled, and being a sportsman, things became all the more complicated for him. The money that was riding on him was gone, and there was a danger of the sponsors pulling out sooner than later. To live through all such constrictions, especially when you’re fighting cancer on one hand, is a bloodcurdling experience. Yuvraj is fortunate to have received a constant dose of motivation by none other than another sportsman who’s been in a similar position before.
The road to comeback wasn’t an easy one for Armstrong. There was a lot of effort, pain and grimacing behind the scenes. For one, he lost a lot of weight due to the intense chemotherapy sessions. Nevertheless, he did enough to participate in a Tour. According to his book, he did computer calculations that balanced his body weight and his equipment weight, and kept careful computer graphs of his training rides, marking the distances, wattages and thresholds. The 1999 cycling season turned out to be a nightmare for him. During the Tour of Valencia, he crashed off the bike and almost broke his shoulder. Two weeks later, he got back on the bike and crashed again. In the next race, he spun out in the rain, after his tires went out from under him in a dusky oil slick.
But he trained, and he trained hard. “I went back to training. I rode, and I rode, and I rode. I rode like I had never ridden, punishing my body up and down every hill I could find,” Armstrong wrote in his book.
While it remains to be seen whether enough preparation has gone into Yuvraj’s comeback, the fact remains that there is no better format than T20 to get moving. Sensibly, he has opted to make a return in the shortest version of the game before making a call regarding the One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and Tests. But whether the selectors were right in accommodating him in the squad for the T20 World Cup beginning in 10 days still remains a big question. Nonetheless, the two upcoming T20s against New Zealand should provide many answers, if not all.
But rather than contemplating about whether the selectors’ decision was emotional or thoughtful, it’d augur well if we all revel in human spirit for the moment. A man who found it difficult to climb four steps a few months ago, has fought back, and is now ready to don the national colours once again. When Yuvraj takes field on Saturday, he’d have already inspired a million people – irrespective of nation, religion, caste or creed. There are very few things more heartening and encouraging than watching people like Armstrong and Yuvraj. They’re standing undaunted even after life has handed them a raw deal, and there’s a lesson in it for all of us. Whether Yuvraj delivers with the bat or not is secondary, at least for the moment. Whatever the outcome, he has already made his nation and the cricketing world proud.
Like Armstrong emphatically said in one of his inspirational messages to the southpaw a few months ago – “Go, Yuvi!”
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)