Second Semi Final, ICC World T20, South Africa, 2007.
The Indian batting line-up had started crumbling against the Australian bowlers, reduced to 41-2 in 8 overs.
The same time, India.
An eight-year old me was watching the game sadly. As a young cricket fan, I was praying for India to lift the trophy in the Inaugural Edition of the T20 World Cup – but a dismal opening by India against a formidable opposition that had just lifted the 50 over World Cup, was testing my faith.
“We’re fighting for a lost cause, Dad – we aren’t scoring more than 120 today,” I said, as I spoke to him over the phone.
“Is Yuvraj gone?” he asked.
“Ah, then there’s nothing to worry. India will easily manage around 160, and that’s a fairly competitive total,” he said, with absolute nonchalance, telling me that he would come home in a while and we would watch the blitzkrieg together.
I watched the rest of the innings anxiously, and eventually with a wide smile, as an unstoppable juggernaut called Yuvi went berserk, hitting the Aussies for 70 runs in 30 deliveries, with 5 fours and 5 sixes, propelling India to a total of 188, resulting in an easy win.
That was Yuvraj, a player the country believed in. He could hit the ball at will, and he could hit it clean enough to let the spectators know that it was a six the moment it left the bat, and the fielders could stand and stare, as there wasn’t any use chasing it.
Explosive player, not so explosive beginnings…
It was the late nineties, and a young Yuvi had already begun making waves with his performances in the under-16 Punjab side as someone who could bat fearlessly and bowl handy left-arm spin. Soon enough, he caught the attention of the BCCI. Slowly but steadily, the ripples grew bigger.
The world would first get a glimpse of his talent in 2000, during the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup. Under the leadership of future Team India cricketer Mohammad Kaif, India won their first ever U-19 World Cup, and Yuvraj, who was named Man of the Tournament for his brilliance with both the bat and ball, played a crucial role in helping his team secure the title.
It didn’t take long for him to make the climb up to the senior team, as he was named in India’s squad for the 2000 ICC KnockOut Trophy later that year. He wasted no time in making a name for himself on a bigger stage, putting a mighty Australian bowling attack to the sword with a blazing 84 that helped India advance to the semi-finals. It was at a time when the dominant force in world cricket was undoubtedly Australia, and there was no better team to score against than them.
After the tournament, which India finished as runners-up, Yuvraj was in and out of the team for a while; as the runs were flowing and the wickets were coming, albeit not steadily. Yuvraj was already a star of sorts, but the Punjabi powerhouse hadn’t truly sealed a spot in team. Which changed, however during the 2002 NatWest tri-series between Sri Lanka, India, and the hosts, England.
2002: The Natwest Series: Yuvraj Singh is here and how!…
The first set of matches saw Yuvraj at his murderous best, but it was during the finals at Lord’s against the host nation where he truly shined. England batted first and made 325/5 in 50 overs, which was a difficult total to chase at the time-particularly for India, a team that had a reputation of faltering in chases, and one that hadn’t won an ODI tournament in quite some time. 24 overs into the chase, it looked like India would, yet again, wither away in the face of a chase, as they struggled at 146/5, The runs were coming quickly enough but there weren’t enough batsmen left.
What happened next was a partnership that helped India to one of their most famous ODI victories– Mohammad Kaif, who had also started playing for India, joined Yuvraj at the crease, and the two put together a 121-run stand to get India back into the game. Yuvraj fell for a well-made 69, but Kaif batted longer, eventually ushering India to a two-wicket win, with just three balls left in the game. The spectacle of Sourav Ganguly, the Indian captain at that time, waving his shirt around on the Lord’s balcony as India scored the final run is perhaps the most lasting image of that victory, but Yuvraj and Kaif became heroes back home for securing the win– and with that, Chandigarh’s champion truly began to take the world by storm.
2003 saw Yuvi spread his ever-growing wings further, as consistency slowly started to come, and he was named in the Indian squad for the World Cup that year. His performances, while not exemplary, were certainly handy, and he played his part in helping India reach the finals, where they met Australia. This time, however, unlike the 2000 KnockOut quarterfinals, Yuvraj succumbed to the Aussie bowling line-up, as he was dismissed for just 24 and India crashed to a huge loss.
After the World Cup, he was more or less a permanent fixture in the Indian side, despite his occasional dip in form, and post mid-2005, he truly began to soar. With the bat, he was lethal; with the ball, he was a more-than-decent threat– and his performances in many different series against various teams were proof of that. The 2007 World Cup didn’t go according to plan for India, as they were knocked out in the group stages, but they made up for it in the inaugural World Twenty20 in South Africa later that year. It was here that Yuvraj would see his already soaring stocks skyrocket further.
Yuvi The Ballistic-Part 1: The 2007 ICC World T20…
Twenty20 was a very new format 12 years ago, and the question on everyone’s mind ahead of the first every T20 tournament was simple: how would the current stars of Test and ODI cricket adapt to the newest, shortest, and most fast-paced cricket format yet? Over the course of the tournament, some stars shone, and others flattered to deceive, but Yuvraj showed that he was well equipped to handle the intensity. Under MS Dhoni’s leadership, India won the event, and Yuvi hit two of the most astonishing knocks of the tournament.
During India’s match with England, Yuvraj showed no mercy against a young Stuart Broad, bludgeoning him for six sixes in an over, en-route a 12-ball 50, the fastest in T20s even today. His stroke-play exuded such quality and grandeur, that even today his six sixes are fondly remembered by many around the world – including Stuart Broad!
Yuvi The Ballistic-Part 2: The ICC 2011 Cricket World Cup…
By now, Yuvraj was a superstar– one who would help India script grand victories by taking crucial wickets or nailing tough run-chases. However, despite all of his success, there was still one thing he hadn’t won: the ODI World Cup. He was present when India lost to Australia in the 2003 finals, and he witnessed his team go down early in 2007. In the year leading up to the 2011 World Cup, it looked like Yuvraj’s bad form would be detrimental to India’s campaign… and then, it happened.
Yuvi bounced back in the tournament that mattered the most, all the while putting his health on the line, something that was unknown to the public then. It is this fact that always makes Yuvi command a different kind of respect in my heart.
He scored 362 runs, picked up 15 scalps (including a career-best 5 for 31), four Man of the Match awards; and the Player of the Series award, a record that speaks volumes of the kind of a player Yuvraj was in the limited overs format.
One particularly spectacular performance was against Australia, again, in the crucial quarterfinal game at Ahmedabad.
Yuvraj had proved handy with the ball on yet another day as was the case with the entire World Cup, by claiming respectable figures of 2-44. However, chasing 261 for victory, India found themselves stuttering in the middle at 143-3. That was when a clinical Yuvraj, ably assisted by Suresh Raina, took the reigns of the chase in his hands by staying unbeaten on 57 despite wickets falling at regular intervals at the other end, guiding India to victory with 14 balls to spare.
From battling on the field to the battling for life…
But unfortunately as it turns out, the fatal disease cancer doesn’t seem to discriminate among the young or old, fit or unfit, skilled or average. It was during the World Cup when the Nation was making way for an exceptional victory after 28 years that Yuvraj would wake up in the middle of the night only to find it difficult to breathe and would cough immensely. After the tournament, a scan for chest cavity revealed a tumour that he had conveniently ignored, since cancer would mean abandoning cricket. Therefore, he continued playing matches. It was only in January 2012, that the tumour was detected to be malignant- a germ cell cancer called a mediastinal seminoma located in between his heart and his (left) lung and it grew about 14 centimetres like a ball over his chest. This condition occurs due to genetic pre-disposition developed during fetal development phase and is relatively rare.
Yuvraj undertook chemotherapy for his condition in the Cancer Research Institute, Boston from 26th January, 2012. Doctors claimed that the delayed diagnosis was due to unforeseen circumstances like the misplacement of the initial biopsy report and then the wrong diagnosis by an Indian hospital. Along with this treatment, he also embraced Ayurveda and went for rehabilitation in May, the same year.
The victorious but battle-worn warrior returns…
He bounced back from the deepest pits of cancer and among the many new faces being blooded in the Indican Cricket team, he made a well-deserved comeback on September, 2012 in the 2nd T20 match against New Zealand, and scored 34 at Chepauk.
However, the long hiatus from cricket did affect the form of our beloved warrior.
The biggest disappointment of his career came in the 2014 World T20, when he could manage just 11 off 21 balls, as India struggled to put up a competitive total, causing a major upset as it lost to Sri Lanka despite being favourites at the start of the match. In the years that followed, it became more and more evident that Yuvraj was no longer the smasher we once knew him to be. However, Yuvraj did remind us of his immense capabilities of turning a lost match around during his 127 ball 150 against England at Cuttack.
Still, mediocre scores followed which more or less pulled the curtains over on an illustrious career, even though he did command huge sums at IPL auctions.
Now that Yuvraj Singh sets off to script larger heights of excellence in his retirement journey, fans like us do wish he were allowed to entertain us one last time in a much-deserved farewell game. And as the stunner bids adieu to the sport which is no less than a religion in this country, we just want him to know that we love him 666666 times!