If Yuvraj Singh had his way, he would never have been a cricketer. The world would have seen none of those luscious drives laced with timings or the effortless clean hits that carried the ball out of the park. Cricket, too, would not have witnessed one of its most remarkable fighters — inside and outside the field. But Yuvraj was the chosen one. Cricket chose him.
A gifted athlete, a young Yuvraj was drawn towards tennis and roller skating. Cricket didn’t figure prominently, till he was packed off to a boarding school in Patiala. There his father and former cricketer Yograj Sigh took him to Maharani Club, where Navjot Singh Sidhu used to practice. Yograj wanted Sidhu’s opinion about young Yuvraj. After observing him for a couple of minutes, Sidhu declared he was not made for cricket. It proved to be the turning point for Yuvraj.
“As dad took me back to hostel that day, he muttered: ‘Pack your stuff, we are going home. I will see how you don’t play cricket.’ With these words he sealed my fate,” Yuvraj fondly recalls the incident in his autobiography, ‘The Test of My life’.
Thus began Yuvraj’s ‘love-hate relationship with cricket’. He was withdrawn from the boarding school. His cricket grooming began under the iron-clad disciplined regime of his father who wanted his son to wear the India colours. It made him a tough cookie.
As he accepted his fate, and even appreciated it in the years to come, Yuvraj made waves on the domestic circuit. Breakthrough performance in the under-19 Cooch Behar Trophy and under-19 World Cup in 1999, where he clinched “Player of the tournament” catapulted him into the national reckoning, and with the 2000 ICC Knock Out Trophy (later became Champions’ Trophy) in Nairobi, Yuvraj made an impressive India debut. By then, Sidhu, too, was forced to eat his words on Yuvraj.
The left-hander became a vital cog in the Indian middle-order. He made stroke-making such a visual delight; the high backlift, the fluent batswing and the final flourish; the ball connecting the sweetest spot of the bat and soaring into the sky. He was one of the cleanest hitter of the cricket ball. Who can forget his record smashing six sixes in an over against Stuart Broad in the inaugural World Twenty20! Yuvraj was also a handy left-arm spinner.
Along with Mohammad Kaif, Yuvraj spearheaded a new age of Indian cricketers who were exceptional fielders too. The two also provided India one of its finest moment in the ODI cricket when they combined to beat England in a thrilling two-wicket victory in 2002 NatWest Series at Lord’s. It sealed Yuvraj’s place in ODI — a format he would go on to dominate.
However, as good as he was in the ODI, Yuvraj couldn’t recreate the same magic in Test cricket. In his sporadic 40 Tests, he hit only three centuries, all three coming against Pakistan. But Yuvraj played during the era of Test greats like VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Saurav Ganguly.
After Ganguly retired he finally got a permanent spot in Tests, but then a bigger evil in cancer derailed his progress. It was confirmed after Yuvraj lived his dream of winning 2011 World Cup at home. He was simply irrepressible — scoring 362 runs through a century and four fifties, besides taking 15 wickets. He grabbed four Man-of-the-Match awards, and also Player of the tournament.
His fight with cancer led him to launch YouWeCan, the foundation established to fight cancer and spread awareness about the disease. After battling cancer, he made a heroic comeback to cricket in 2012, but he could stretch it to only to 30 more ODIs. He played his last ODI in June 2017 in West Indies but continued to be a part of the Indian Premier League and for Punjab in the domestic circuit.
On Monday, Yuvraj finally bid adieu to cricket whom he learned to love, from whom he learned never to quit. He was emotional, and so were his followers who watched him evolve both as a cricketer and human being.