When the news broke out on Sunday morning that Yuvraj Singh has been diagnosed with lung cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy in the Cancer Research Institute in Boston, US, it rattled millions of cricket fans around the world, judging by the outpour of emotions on the social media. Yuvraj is one of the most popular cricketers in India, and has been the bulwark of India’s batting in ODIs for the last 12 years. His consistent performances with both bat and ball masterminded India 2011 World Cup triumph, after a hiatus of 28 years. Yuvraj chalked up 362 runs and claimed 15 wickets to bag four man of the match four awards and, most importantly, the Player of the 2011 World Cup award.
In November 2011, his mother revealed that Yuvraj had been suffering non-malignant tumour. She said, even during the World Cup, Yuvraj used to cough and vomit, but they ignored and thought it was due to excessive stress. Only later, they realised, after few tests, that there’s a golf-size tumour over his left lung. But, they said that it’s non-malignant, and Yuvraj would be fit to play for India in a month or two.
The revelation on Sunday that the tumour is malignant was numbing. That the cancer was detected at the first stage and is entirely curable left his fans to hope for the best. Yuvraj is feeling a lot better than before, according to his physiotherapist Dr Jatin Chaudhary, and will be back to play cricket in May 2012.
Yuvraj is the latest in a long list of cricketers who have suffered the most dreaded disease. Some cricketers were lucky that the disease was detected in the earlier stage or was mild, as in case with Yuvraj, and were cured. Sadly, quite a few succumbed to disease.
Cricketers who suffered from cancer during their cricketing career are current Australian skipper Michael Clarke (skin cancer), Ken Wadsworth, Dave Callaghan, Tufty Mann and Simon O’ Donnell. Out of these cricketers, Clarke, Callaghan and O’ Donnell overcame the deadly disease and resumed their cricketing career while Wadsworth and Mann battled cancer with creditable courage but tragically, their life came to a poignant end.
Wadsworth was the first wicket-keeper to score an ODI century, and his cricket career looked set to go places, when the tragedy struck. He was diagnosed with skin cancer and died at a young age of 29.
Clarke was diagnosed with a low-grade spot on his nose in early 2006. It was mild and Clarke soon recovered to play cricket for Australia. He later became the brand ambassador for the skin cancer awareness programme.
O’Donnell was a regular member of Australian squad in 1980s and excelled with both bat and ball. It was following Australia’s 1987 World Cup triumph that he discovered he had cancer. He took treatment for a year and won his place back in the formidable Australian team. In 1990, he scored the then fastest fifty in ODI cricket - off 18 balls -against Sri Lanka.
Cancer robbed cricket of many big players at an early age. Most notable were Sir Frank Worrell, one of the most revered and inspirational captains, and Malcolm Marshall, one of the greatest-ever fast bowler in the history of the game. Worrell died at age 42 from leukemia while Marshall was 41 when he succumbed to cancer of the colon.
Worrell’s influence went beyond the cricket field and he left an indelible impact on the social atmosphere of Caribbean islands. Marshall was the most complete fast bowler of his time. Bowlers like Shaun Pollock and Wasim Akram credit him highly for their success. Just two months before he passed away, Marshall tied the knot with his long-time girl-friend Connie.
The lives of Fred Trueman and Brian Statham, England’s legendary fast bowling duo in the 1950s, were extinguished by the savage affliction. Trueman died of lung cancer at 75 while Statham died of leukemia at 69. Trueman was the first bowler in history to take 300 wickets. Statham’s forte was precision and accuracy which fetched him 252 wickets.
Other renowned cricketers who were diagnosed with cancer in their later years were Roy Fredericks, Budhi Kunderan, Graham Dilley, Brian Luckhurst, and Inshan Ali.
Fredericks was an explosive West Indian batsman, remembered for his whirlwind 169 against Australia at WACA, Perth, in 1975-79. He died of throat cancer at the age of 57.
Kunderan was a swashbuckling Indian wicket-keeper batsman who was the first wicket-keeper to score over 500 runs in a Test series - a feat he attained against England in 1963-64. He died of lung cancer when he was 66.
Dilley was a former England fast bowler who was instrumental in orchestrating one of the most famous victories in the annals of Test cricket. He added 118 runs with Ian Botham for the eight wicket against Australia at Headingly in 1981 Ashes series which turned the tide in England’s favour and won them the Test after following-on. He was later diagnosed for esophageal cancer and died at the age of 52.
Luckhurst played 21 Tests for England, and later became the president of the Kent County. He passed away at 66 after the long battle with cancer.
David Shepherd, one of the finest umpires in the history of cricket who officiated in three World Cup finals, passed away due to lung cancer at the age of 68.
Former England opener, Geoff Boycott, developed cancer tissues over his neck in 2002 but, thankfully, they were detected in the nascent stage and were nipped in the bud. Boycott revealed that he used to cry in exasperation due to pain, quite unusual for a man who never winced against the most ferocious bowlers of his time.
Former England Test batsman, John Edrich and former West Indian all-rounder Bernard Julian are battling leukemia and throat cancer respectively.
One of the most astonishing examples of indomitable spirit and undying fortitude in the history of sports is exemplified by Lance Armstrong, who was diagnosed as having testicular cancer, with a tumour that had metastasized to his brain and lungs in October 1996. The chances of his survival were as minuscule as 40%. He went through the extensive chemotherapy and rehabilitation. But his never-say-die attitude defied all the medical norms. He started training the following year and went on to win the Tour de France, the most competitive championship in sports, for an unprecedented seven times in a row. He is the shining example of the fact that human spirit and self-belief are more potent than the prescribed and conventional mores.
His autobiography, ‘It's Not About The Bike: My Journey Back to Life’ ranks prominently among the most motivational books of all-time. It explores his travails after he was diagnosed, and how he thwarted the inevitable to emerge as one of the greatest sportsmen of all-time. Yuvraj is reading this very book and seeking inspiration from Armstrong’s life.
Yuvraj is no stranger to tough times. His career has seen dizzying height and extreme lows. He had been dropped from the team many times but always made remarkable comebacks as an improved performer. He transformed into one of the finest finishers in ODI cricket helping India win heaps of matches. Even before the World Cup last year, questions were raised about his from and fitness, and some critics even questioned his place in the team, but he responded in the best way possible and silenced his detractors by his superlative show in the tournament.
Yuvraj is known as a fighter to the core and it should come as no surprise if he emerges from the biggest crisis of his life a stronger man and an improved cricketer. Yuvraj is just 30 and has lots of good cricket to offer Indian cricket.
(Navneet Mundhra is a dreamer who has no delusion of grandeur about himself. He is an eternal learner brimming with passion and compassion, a maverick who swears by perfection and integrity and an avid reader, devout philharmonic, die hard movie buff and a passionate writer)