Yuvraj Singh battled cancer to come back to the international arena. In the past few days Martin Crowe and Tony Greig have been diagnosed of the dreaded ailment. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at cricketers who have been victims of cancer at various points of time in their lives.
Yuvraj Singh, Martin Crowe and Tony Greig
India went on to lose the T20 InternationaI at Chennai by a run. It was just another T20 defeat for the former world champions. The result got drowned in the vastness of the occasion. It was, after all, Yuvraj Singh’s comeback match. It was not a return from the depths of being axed; it was a victory after a year’s battle against lung cancer. This was the story of a hero – not a victor on a lush green oval, but the triumph of Man against harsh Nature trying to hold Him down.
Yuvraj Singh fought - and won. Everything in the match became redundant after that. The comeback was more phenomenal than his staggering performance in the 2011 World Cup, where he had emerged as the Man of the Series for scoring 362 runs and taking 15 wickets.
A month later, he bludgeoned his way to 208 off 241 balls against Central Zone in a Duleep Trophy match that would have otherwise gone unnoticed. He was back. Whether the selectors pick him for the long home season ahead is another story, but there is no doubt that he is back to his prime.
When Yuvraj was busy murdering the Central Zone bowlers, Martin Crowe was diagnosed with lymphoma – a cancer of the lymphocytes. Crowe, arguably the best New Zealand batsman ever and one of the finest batsmen and shrewdest captains of his era, had announced last year that he was contemplating a return to First-class cricket at an unbelievable age of 48, stunning the world by his immense mental strength, which would undoubtedly play a part in his speedy recovery.
Later that week, news broke out that Tony Greig, one of the finest all-rounders and the brain behind Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket was diagnosed with lung cancer. Greig has vowed to “put the boxing gloves on and fight this”; he would undoubtedly recover from his ailment as well.
Let us go back in time and have a look at those who were diagnosed with cancer in the history of the sport.
Simon O’Donnell was possibly the first example of a cricketer making a successful comeback after a mid-career diagnosis of cancer. He was one of the regular members of the Australian ODI squad till end-1987, and played a significant role in their successful World Cup campaign of 1987.
He already had found two lumps in his ribs during the tournament. However, he told coach Bob Simpson about the lump only on the eve of the final. As he returned as a World Cup victor; as he got off the flight, he felt ill and visited the Warringal Private Hospital in Heidelberg. The doctors performed an operation that afternoon and told him that he had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He came back – but after battling the illness for a year.
A year later he took 5 for 13 – still the least runs conceded by an Australian taking five wickets in an innings – to demolish New Zealand for 94. Two months after that O’Donnell scored the fastest ODI fifty – against Sri Lanka at Sharjah – off only 18 balls. The record stood for six years until Sanath Jayasuriya scored a 17-ball 50 at Singapore.
Not only had he returned, he had also proved himself at the highest level. In 87 ODIs, O’Donnell scored 1,242 runs at 25.34 and took 108 wickets at 28.72. He had also played six Tests.
Dave Callaghan was diagnosed with testicular cancer in September 1991. He kept on playing, and made his debut a year later. After an indifferent career spanning 18 ODIs in over a year, Callaghan had to undergo serious treatment. When he came back almost a year later, he was asked to open the innings in his first outing.
Callaghan launched a furious assault on the New Zealand bowlers. He became the first South African to go past 150, and his unbeaten 169 from 143 balls sealed the match for South Africa. He hit 19 fours and four sixes, and the Kiwis looked helpless as he hit them all over the ground, helping his side reach 314 for seven. Not content, he went on to take his career-best three for 32 to bowl out New Zealand for 233.
He made another comeback later in 2000. As proof of his undying spirit and love for the game, he won back-to-back Man of the Match awards against West Indies (69 off 42 balls) and England (three for 37 and 62-ball 92 not out) in the Cricket Legends of Barbados Cup, 2009.
By 2006 Michael Clarke was already hailed as one of the biggest upcoming stars in international cricket. However, it was then that he noticed “two unusual spots” on his face and got them checked. He was diagnosed with skin cancer.
A veteran of 83 Tests and 221 ODIs, Clarke leads Australia in both formats now. In September 2010 he was the Australian Cancer Council’s Ambassador for Awareness and Early Detection of Skin Cancer. He typically adorns a floppy hat instead of his Baggy Green cap since his comeback.
Jai Prakash Yadav
JP Yadav’s career could have been over before it had taken off. At 21, he suddenly realised that there was something wrong with his digestive system. He travelled from Bhopal to Mumbai for treatment, and a malignant tumour was found. He was prescribed seven rounds of chemotherapy and was asked to stay away from competitive cricket for 18 months.
After three rounds, Yadav got to know that the Madhya Pradesh team was having a camp at Indore. He decided to put his foot down and defied doctor, family and friends to attend the camp. He hid the exact ailment, and hence got picked to tour Bangalore.
He went on to play 12 ODIs for India, including a 69 – the world record for a No 9 batsman at that point of time. He was the highest wicket-taker in the domestic season of 2004-05 as he played a pivotal role in Railways’ Ranji Trophy and Central Zone’s Duleep Trophy triumph.
Ken Wadsworth marked his arrival during the 1971-72 tour of West Indies. His 78 – including a 220-run partnership with Glenn Turner, a New Zealand sixth wicket that stood till 1986-87 – followed by a match-saving 36 at Kingston launched his arrival. He played a crucial role in the last Test as well, helping the unfancied New Zealand to draw the series 0-0.
In 1973-74, chasing 266 in 35 (eight-ball) overs in an ODI, Wadsworth decided to counterattack furiously. He scored 104 from 98 balls. He could not snatch victory for his side – but etched his name in the history of the game permanently, becoming the first designated wicket-keeper to score an ODI hundred.
Wadsworth continued with his form in 1975-76 as well and reached 1,000 Test runs. He scored 117 in a Shell Trophy match for Canterbury against Otago. When the New Zealand team to tour Pakistan was announced in a month’s time, Wadsworth was an automatic choice. However, he withdrew from the tour without citing a valid reason soon after the team was announced, thus creating a slot for Warren Lees.
Just before the tour commenced, Wadsworth died of melanoma. No one in the cricket world had been informed of the ailment and about his silent months of agony. And the news of death came suddenly, on August 19, 1976, stunning the world. He was only 29 years and 263 days at the time of his dignified demise.
Norman Bertram Fleetwood “Tufty” Mann, along with Athol Rowan, formed South Africa’s greatest post-war spin-duo – in an era when South Africa was relatively inferior Test team. Mann was not a great spinner of the ball. Instead, he bowled with supreme, miserly accuracy and used to strangle the batsmen to submission.
A war veteran, he came into prominence during his first match for Eastern Provinces after war. Mann’s bowling analysis read 67.6-38-69-6 – a total of 542 balls, these being eight-ball overs – a world record at that point of time. On his Test debut at Lord’s, Mann bowled a spell of 20-13-10-0. He followed this with 50-20-68-4 at Headingley and 64-28-93-4 at The Oval. He ended the series with an economy rate of 1.82.
Mann was the quintessential workhorse; in 33 innings he bowled an average of 175 balls per innings. He bowled over 50 overs seven times, and conceded over 100 runs in just one of them – that too in an eight-ball-over match. On a wet pitch in Trent Bridge, Mann bowled a spell of 24-16-24-4 to bowl England out to help South Africa to their first-post war victory and their first victory in 16 years.
In the fourth Test at Headingley, Mann bowled a marathon spell of 60.5-23-96-3 as Len Hutton and Peter May made merry. Mann followed this with a 4/30 to bowl out Somerset for 86 as the hosts chased 111. Just ahead of the last Test at The Oval, Mann declared himself unfit.
He stayed back in England for abdominal surgery. He returned to Johannesburg and was diagnosed with cancer. He had another surgery the next year. Six weeks later, Mann, a spinner still approaching the best days of his career and a soft, gentle personality loved by even his adversaries, passed away at the age of 31 years and 216 days.
Diagnosed in later years
Several cricketers, some of them legends of the game, have been diagnosed with cancer in their later years. Some of them could survive; some could not.
Sir Frank Worrell
He was a graceful yet efficient batsman (he averaged 49.48) and a more than effective left-arm bowler, bowling both pace and spin; he was one of the greatest captains and one of the finest ambassadors of the sport – to an extent that the West Indies-Australia Test series was named after him during a series where he led West Indies to a series defeat. Worrell himself presented the Australian captain Richie Benaud with the trophy. He was the first appointed black man to lead West Indies, and remains the only batsman to have taken part in two First-class 500-run partnerships. Above everything, he was probably the first man who managed to unite the typically diverse West Indians.
He managed West Indian sides on overseas tours after he quit cricket. He was all set to begin a political career with a mission to bring the Caribbean Islands together; however, within a month of his return from the Indian tour of 1966-67, he died, without a warning, of leukemia in Jamaica. He was only 42.
He was one of the greatest fast bowlers of all time. He still holds the record for having the best average (20.94) for any bowler with 200 or more Test wickets. His height of less than six feet did not deter him from generating extreme pace. He terrorized batsmen all over the world with his pace, bounce and accuracy, and ended several careers – both by dismissing them or injuring them severely.
Malcolm Marshall was diagnosed, at the age of 41, with colon cancer in 1999. The doctors were not able to save him. He married his partner Connie Earle on September 25, and died 40 days later. At the time of death he weighed slightly over 25 kilograms.
He was a fine batsman who had a dignified career with Kent. He scored over a thousand runs in a season 14 times (including over 2,000 in 1969), and after retirement, went on to become the President of the county cricket club. He played 21 Tests and three ODIs for England. He was a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1971 and became the first cricketer to score a Test hundred at the WACA in Perth.
He died of oesophageal cancer at the age of 66.
Fred Trueman and Brian Statham
Cancer also claimed the lives of the two great English fast bowlers who, between them, formed one of the potent new ball attacks the world has seen. In overlapping careers (the cavalier Trueman took 307 wickets from 67 Tests at 21.57 from 1952 to 1965, and was the first bowler to take 300 Test wickets; the dour, accurate Statham took 252 wickets from 70 Tests at 24.84 from 1951 to 1965).
Statham died of leukemia in 2000 at an age of 69. Six years later, Trueman succumbed to lung cancer at an age of 75.
He was picked to play Tests after playing two First-class matches. He made his Ranji Trophy debut after playing three Tests, and scored 205 on his Ranji debut. His 192 with 31 boundaries (of which 170 were scored on the first day) against England at Madras is a part of Indian cricket folklore. Not content, he scored another 100 later that series. He died of lung cancer at the age of 66.
Famous for his 71-ball 100 (which later became a 145-ball 169) against Australia at the WACA – an innings that resulted in West Indies’ only victory in their humiliating 1-5 defeat against Australia in 1975-76. Before Desmond Haynes appeared on the scene, Fredericks and Gordon Greenidge formed West Indies’ primary opening pair in Tests. He earned the nickname “Cement” after a ball hit his head and raced to the boundary, but he remained unperturbed. He famously hooked Dennis Lillee for a six in the final of World Cup 1975, but in process fell on the stumps. He was, according to many, the greatest exponent of the hook shot. Throat cancer took him away at the age of 57.
One of the fastest bowlers of his era, took 138 wickets from 41 Tests at 29.78 (including five for 55 and four for 73 in a lone cause against West Indies at Lord’s in 1988). However, his most famous hour came at Headingley in 1981, when he scored 56 from 75 balls and helped Ian Botham put on 117 in 80 minutes for the ninth wicket to pull off one of the most unbelievable victories in the history of the sport. A victim of oesophageal cancer, he passed away last year at the age of 52.
He was a chinaman bowler who ran in with vigour, like a fast bowler. He played 12 Tests for West Indies from 1971 to 1977. Making his First-class debut at 16, he took 328 wickets at 28.93, but as Clive Lloyd switched to a four-pronged fast attack, he faded into oblivion. The Inshan Ali Oval in his birthplace Perysal was named after him. He died from throat cancer at 45.
A dogged accumulator on the cricket field and a controversial character off it, erstwhile record-holder for most Test runs (8,114) and one of the most popular commentators, Geoff Boycott suffered from a sore throat in 2002 while commentating. He also found a lump while shaving. In August 2002 he was tested at Leeds General Infirmary, and by September he got to know of four extremely painful malignant tumours in his throat. The size and closeness to the throat meant that a surgery could not be performed. He underwent 35 radiotherapy sessions, and was declared completely cured in early 2003.
He played 282 First-class matches for Gloucestershire and scored 12 hundreds and went on to become one of the most popular umpires in world cricket. He stood in three consecutive World Cup finals. He was a member of the ICC’s original panel of neutral umpires and retained that slot till his retirement 2005. His superstitious act of raising a leg whenever a team score reached a multiple of 111 has amused fans and spectators all over the world for decades. Shepherd died of lung cancer at 68.
He scored 5,138 runs from 77 Tests, including a 310 not out including 52 fours and five sixes (77% runs were scored in boundaries), and top-scored in the first ever ODI, was told by the doctors in 2000 that he was suffering from leukemia, and had a maximum of seven years to live. He still battles on at the age of 75, refusing to give in – the same way he did not flinch when Andy Roberts and Michael Holding bowled him and Brian Close a barrage of bouncers at Old Trafford; Edrich was 39 then.
Though he was the best batsman in a crop of menacing fast bowlers – he averaged 30.92 and scored two centuries – he was probably born a few years too late. His career was truncated by the advent of the likes of Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Colin Croft, and he could manage to play only 24 Tests and 12 ODIs, including the World CupfFinal of 1975. Julien is currently fighting throat cancer.