Stage obscured by curtains

Yuvraj Singh was a treat to watch when he was going, but have we seen the last of him?

Written by Harsha Bhogle | Updated: April 9, 2014 11:37:02 am
Yuvraj Singh exits Mumbai’s airport on Tuesday. (PTI) Yuvraj Singh exits Mumbai’s airport on Tuesday. (PTI)

I very greatly fear I have seen the last of Yuvraj Singh as an India cricketer and it is a thought that fills me with much sadness. He has often stopped me in my tracks, taken my breath away, made me drop whatever I was doing. He wasn’t in the business of scoring runs, that was mundane, he was in the profession of joy. When he batted well, he struck the ball more cleanly than anyone else, his bat swing and the arc it created were a sight to behold. There was an elegance about him, breaking through from time to time from the swagger that defined him. He made you want to watch cricket.

He struggled too, frequently in fact. It was as if there was a bug in the software that ran his batting. Like with everyone else in the game, the bat sometimes resembled an implement, it was like a friend he didn’t really get along with but had to walk alongside nonetheless. Most often those moments appeared in test cricket; a slightly distant friend he wooed desperately, occasionally got a date with but was largely kept at arm’s length.

If test cricket was the sole parameter of accomplishment, Yuvraj Singh might go down as a decent cricketer. But it isn’t and it needn’t be. True, it demands great skill from you, and over an extended period, but there are other skills that lovers of test cricket, in their snobbishness, sometimes look down upon. Limited overs cricket demands different skills and Yuvraj had those in plenty. His treasury was full.

It was in Nairobi in 2000 that, as a slightly gawky youngster, he grabbed our eyeballs and imprisoned them. His eighty against a powerful Australian team was fresh and invigorating. He was one of two that day, Zaheer Khan was the other, who told us a new generation was on its way. In a couple of years Harbhajan Singh and Virender Sehwag would join them. They thought differently and they backed themselves. Many years later Yuvraj and Zaheer, now good friends, would embark on a journey of survival, put their complaining bodies to the most daunting test and live humbly like they often had to when they started out. It would have been the most dramatic screenplay but the clock only moves one way. There is nothing more uncompromising.

Roller-coaster journey

Between Nairobi and Dhaka, Yuvraj’s journey was a roller-coaster. Cricket made him rich beyond imagination but he had to endure much pain. He is a prankster and seemingly in love with life but beneath it is a deeply sensitive young man. I have met people who are not what they seem to be. Yuvraj, I suspect, is one of those, a flashy lifestyle, glamorous friends, society headlines but a simple, sensitive person just beneath. I don’t know him beyond conversations in travel and the odd interview but I always suspected there was someone else within him, a fact that emerged from the book he wrote after his traumatic experience with cancer.

Of the many comebacks he made that was the most emotional and the most glorious. From a purely cricketing point of view the comeback post cancer hasn’t been very successful but that comeback had nothing to do with cricket at all.

That a person could go through the ravages of chemotherapy, come face to face with the finiteness of life itself, dream of enjoying a simply cooked mother’s meal and then walk out to bat for India again makes everything else seem irrelevant.

Winning the World Cup of 2011 was his crowning glory as a cricketer but coming back to play for India was every bit as stirring. Winning the World Cup was proof to the world that he was a fine cricketer, returning post cancer was proof to himself that he was a fighter.

At his best he was a genuine match winner as he showed when he lit up the first World T20 in South Africa. And then he returned in 2011, his finest hour, to allow Dhoni a higher throne to ascend. The overs he gave Dhoni were exactly what the captain needed and he gave India the balance without which the World Cup couldn’t have been won. And he did it battling an enemy growing within him that enfeebled him.

Joy and sadness

Yuvraj has given me so much joy and it has been an effort to write about him as an India cricketer in the past tense. Once again there will be thoughts swirling in that sensitive mind and he has a right to be upset with people who do crude things in anger. There is joy and there is struggle and sadness but it is only a sport and Yuvraj embellished it.

If he reads this, he will walk past me at the IPL and say, like he has in the past, “You are harsh on me”. And I will tell him, like I always have, “Yuvi, I loved watching you bat”. I did, I wish him well.

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