By Nishad Pai Vaidya
Months of speculation surrounding Yuvraj Singh health has ended with the confirmation of the worst fears: India’s key one-day player is suffering from cancer. The diagnosis caps two tumultuous years for Yuvraj – his heroics in the World Cup triumph being the only solace during this turbulent period.
Yuvraj’s woes started in early 2010 when he injured his wrist during the tour to Bangladesh. He was subsequently ruled out of the South Africa series at home. The Indian Premier League (IPL) season three witnessed an alarming dip in his form as he failed to create an impact in a format of his liking. He became bulky and his relationship with his franchise deteriorated and questions were being asked about his form and fitness. The extra pounds he had put on became the centre of attraction and a butt of many jokes.
To make matters worse he was dropped from the Indian team for the Asia Cup in June 2010. He was picked for the Sri Lankatour that followed and looked hungry for runs. In the first Test at Galle, he scored a gritty 52 and one could see the burning desire to put things right. Lady Luck, however, had other plans as he fell ill before the next Test and his replacement Suresh Raina scored a century, which shut the door on Yuvraj.
Questions on his form, fitness, place in the side were popular topics of discussion and it wouldn’t have been the ideal backdrop going into the World Cup. To add to all that pressure was the phenomenon of playing the all-important tournament in front of a passionate home crowd that expected nothing but the ultimate. What the world didn’t know then was that the illness had started taking its toll on his body during India’s dream run. Having been through all that in the run-up to big event, the World Cup-winning performance signified his character.
Even as the country rejoiced the World Cup win and the IPL season four kicked-off, one could sense a change in Yuvraj’s body language. The normally flamboyant person who exuded confidence in all his actions looked sedate and unusually quiet. The joy of the triumph should have expectedly ended his troubles, but there was something that was clearly bothering him. The early diagnosis revealed a golf-ball sized tumour - a term that is enough to send jitters down anybody’s spine. One can only imagine Yuvraj’s and his family’s nerves as they waited for more clarity on his condition.
Nevertheless, his drive and enthusiasm to return to the Indian team was far greater than the anxiety created by his illness. InEngland, things seemed to improve as he stroked a good half century in the Nottingham Test, but fate struck another blow. He broke his finger while batting in the second innings of that Test, an injury that ruled him out for months. He returned for the home series against the West Indies but didn’t make an impact. There wasn’t any hint of his condition at that point. It was only when his mother spoke out that the world came to know about the private hell in which Yuvraj lived. Even at that point the world was given to understand that the tumour was non-malignant.
Yuvraj has always been a fighter. In the past 12 months, he has handled exceptionally well the World Cup pressure and fears surrounding his health. He has shown remarkable courage in the face of adversity.
Dave Callaghan, the former South African player battled cancer in the middle of his career and returned to work his way through to international cricket. Highlighting his bout with the disease, Callaghan said, “Like cancer, sport plays mind games with you. One minute you’re on a high because you’ve scored a hundred, the next you’ve been dropped because you’re not making runs.”
As an Indian cricketer, Yuvraj has dealt with intense pressures. The face-off with cancer may be a different ball game, but his strong temperament and the will to succeed would help him emerge stronger.
Callaghan isn’t the only cricketer who would inspire Yuvraj. The former Australian all-rounder, Simon O’Donnell was in a similar position after Australia’s triumphant 1987 World Cup winning campaign. His diagnosis came almost immediately after that high. A little more than a year later, he was back in the Australian team.
It is good to know that Yuvraj is looking up to Lance Armstrong for inspiration. The great cyclist’s victory against the dreaded disease and subsequent return to the fold is a part of sporting folklore. In fact his disease was in the third stage when it was detected and had spread to vital organs in the body. It took him almost two years to make a comeback and it was then that he asserted his dominance as all his seven Tour De France titles came after that troublesome phase.
Let’s hope and pray that Yuvraj comes back strongly from the ailment and plays his best cricket ever for India and pen a book that serves as an inspiration to make who feel down and out in life – especially those afflicted with the dreaded cancer.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 21-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.")