In this Idea Exchange moderated by Resident Editor (Chandigarh) Vipin Pubby, Yuvraj Singh speaks about cricket and fighting cancer
Rakesh Rocky : How agonising was your fight with cancer after the high of the 2011 World Cup triumph? When did you feel something was wrong with your body?
Since I started to play for India, I had less time on hands to enjoy things other than cricket in life. And maybe I was taking lot of things for granted before being diagnosed with lung cancer and going through chemotherapy. It was a totally different experience. I would vomit a lot during chemotherapy sessions. I was not able to digest food and was losing hair. That pain made me stronger and I started to see life from a different, appreciative angle. After my recovery, I started to relish food, began to even enjoy the fresh air and was thankful to relatives and friends more than ever before. During the World Cup, I was really struggling with my breathing. I remember I had gone to meet Zaheer Khan in his room. I started to cough and vomited in the washroom, and I spit half a glass of blood. It occurred to me then, maybe something was really wrong.
Virender Kumar : When did the first symptoms surface?
I first started to cough and vomit while on tour with the Indian cricket team in South Africa, a couple of months before the 2011 World Cup began. The team physiotherapist suggested that I go for tests. And when I took the tests, a patchy problem appeared in my lungs. But I ignored the problem thinking that the World Cup was around the corner, for me playing in the mega-event was foremost. But symptoms worsened during the World Cup. I had neck pain, indigestion and insomnia.
Rakesh Rocky : Till few years back, you along with Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, were seen as the next choice for the post of the Indian team captain after Sourav Ganguly. Do you regret missing out? Do you think that Mahendra Singh Dhoni has a coterie in the team that helps him dictate terms?
I am a cricketer and my job is to deliver the goods on the field. When it comes to the selection process, that is left to the selectors. I do not think about selection or anything related to it. My job is to do well and work towards excellence.
Vipin Pubby : Would you recommend different captains for different formats of the game? Also, do you think too much cricket hampers the performance of the players?
Countries like England, Australia and South Africa do have different captains for different formats. Having said that, it is not a compulsion. If the selectors feel that there is a need to do it, it can be done or they think it is not required, it is upto them. I think Dhoni is doing the job quite well at the moment. He has been instrumental in many India wins. He is fit enough to do the job in all three formats, then why make the change. He has done a commendable job when it comes to captaining India. As regards the impact of a hectic schedule, I think its very tough for the fast bowlers to cope with the demands in the present scenario. They should be protected and so that injuries don’t affect them.
My favourite captain was Sourav Ganguly. I learnt a lot from him and my career flourished under him the most. He infused the feeling in us that we could win a series abroad. Gary Kirsten was a great coach. I excelled while he was the coach.
Shalini Gupta: What has been your equation with Sachin Tendulkar? How do you stay in touch with him now that you guys do not share the same dressing room? How is he influencing you while you are trying to make a comeback to the Indian team ?
Sachin has been my mentor and a guide. He has been by my side always. Since I was a kid, I used to follow Sachin Paaji. I looked upto him and still do. I make sure I keep in touch with him. A fortnight back, I was in Mumbai at the MCA ground training with him. He is helping me out with my form. He has been telling me to stick to my original game and look for big knocks.
Jaskiran Kapoor: Do the Wives and Girlfriends (WAGS) play a part in hampering the cricketers’ performances ? Virat Kohli and his Bollywood-actress girlfriend were in the news for the wrong reasons during the Indian team’s tour of England.
There is nothing like that. The Australians, South Africans, English or other teams all travel with WAGS, then why should India be singled out. And if you see other sports, be it football or tennis, WAGS accompany respective players during the matches or tours. Where were the critics when Virat was shining and doing everything right. A year back, Virat was all over the news for his cricket success, the same critics were praising him that time. I do not think much about it. A player knows what he is doing and he would always keep his form and game a priority.
Chitleen Sethi: Have you considered acting or doing commentary?
Well, I have tried my hand at acting when I was a kid. I remember I flunked in exams once in school, my father took me to his film set for a role. I managed to do roles in two Punjabi movies as a child artist. One was Putt Sardaran de and the other one was Mehandi Shagna Di. Lets see what happens in the future. But I don’t think I can do cricket commentary.
Chitleen Sethi: Why is it bad for a sportsperson to raise a protest against the biased officials, like it happened in Indian boxer Sarita Devi’s Asian Games case ?
I saw Sarita’s bout. Clearly, Sarita was the winner. The whole world saw it and everyone knows she is a winner. She might have been given the bronze medal but everyone knows the gold is hers. For me she is a winner. But such things happen in a sportsperson’s life, only he knows what he is going through at that time. As a sportsperson, I would feel bad in a situation like that.
I think the young crop of cricketers are very good and focused. All three — Rahane, Jadeja and Kohli — are the future of Indian cricket. I think I was born in an era when Test cricket was very limited. Moreover, VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly were the main players of the Test team. It was very difficult to break into the team when they were around. I had very few chances. Then injuries kept me out of action for almost six months. After the 2011 World Cup, due to cancer, I did not play for almost one year.
Tanbir Dhaliwal: You run a cancer awareness charity by the name of YouWeCan. What work has this
charity done till now and how did the idea come about ?
I was inspired by Lance Armstrong. I read about his life and his fight with cancer. He had been doing great charity work for cancer patients and also spreading awareness. Then friends and family, both in India and the US, suggested to me to come up with such a thing. It was then that YouWeCan came into being. We have been organising seminars and generating funds for cancer patients in India. We have been associated with the Indian Cancer Society and have been doing awareness work. We want to reach out to small cities and tell people to get themselves medically checked regularly. We did a fund raising event in England few months back.
Mukesh Bhardwaj : There was a news report that said that you will be joining a political party as you had a meeting with that party’s leader.
There is no truth in this. I went to meet the HRD minister regarding cancer awareness. I went to seek the HRD Ministry’s help in spreading awareness about cancer, its early detection and reaching out to millions. YouWeCan wants to highlight that cancer might attack the body but it cannot attack the soul and there is life after cancer. With assistance from the government, we would be conducting seminars, lectures etc in every part of India and spread cancer awareness and educate people.
Jaskiran Kapoor: How do you see India doing in sports other than cricket ? Do you think the state and Centre are doing enough?
It was one of my happiest days when the Indian hockey team beat Pakistan in the final to lift the Asiad gold. Then Sania Mirza winning the US Open title, Mary Kom doing our country proud by winning the gold in Incheon. Our sportspersons have been doing well in the CWG and Asian Games. It is so good for India that sportspersons are excelling and raising the bar. Respective governments are pitching in for the betterment of deserving sportspersons. Sportspersons are paid well and have jobs too. Football, kabbaddi and athletics are also picking up well.
Kartik Kumar : Virat Kohli has been doing quite well for the past two years for India and is seen as the next big thing in cricket. What are your views on him ?
He is an angry young man. He is more aggressive when he is the captain and the team is losing. I see great potential in Kohli. He is outstanding when it comes to work ethic and focus.
Virender Kumar : The Indian cricket team seems to do well in the ODIs and T20s, but not in Test cricket. Why is that so ?
I think there has been a shift in Test cricket. Big guns like Ganguly, Laxman, Dravid and Tendulkar retired and left space to fill. It will take some more time for the Indian team to fill that space. I have always maintained that Test cricket is tougher.
Varinder Bhatia: Why is that BCCI prefers foreign coaches over Indian coaches?
I think Gary Kirsten did a commendable job as a coach. As long as the team is doing well, it doesn’t matter who the coach is or from where he is. And now the BCCI has roped in Ravi Shashtri and Sanjay Bangar for the Indian team.
Shalini Gupta : Do you think people’s perception changed towards Yuvraj Singh the match-winner after India lost to Sri Lanka in the World T20 final earlier this year ? How did you deal with the criticism ?
People came down heavily on me after the final. But they did not give credit to the Sri Lankan bowlers for performing well. The conditions were tough to bat, the ball was not coming onto the bat so well. I know this that I tried hard.
Gagandeep Dhillion: What made you hit six sixes in an over during the World T20 in South Africa back in 2007?
Yes, there was something going on between me and Andrew Flintoff on the field. I was hitting the ball well and he instigated me. It happens when you are in an aggressive frame of mind. In such a scenario, your performance either goes up or you lose your wicket.
Shalini Gupta: How actively do you participate in the cricket academies you have opened in National Capital Region? How do you want to expand your coaching centres ?
I am quite active with my team that handles the academies. I wish to convert them into centres of excellence and not just be random cricket academies. It would be wonderful when the Punjab government allots me land near Chandigarh, where I can build a sports school.
Varinder Bhatia: Who was the toughest bowler to face ?
It has to be Muttiah Muralitharan. Thank God he has retired from international cricket.
Srishti Chaudhary : Are you content or does the fear of losing health still affect you ?
I think I am quite content with myself. The doctors say that there is risk in the first five years of the cancer coming back. I am very regular with my check ups and maintain my fitness regime.
(Transcribed by Shalini Gupta)