There is a section of a people that don’t believe in climate change. And there are people that don’t believe in ghosts. But if you watch sport, you are forced to believe in ghosts. And climate change doesn’t have any bearing on the seasons of life. Winter can turn into summer in an instant and ghosts of the past can return to haunt you when you least expect it.
A little less than two years ago, it was a Sunday to forget. This was a Sunday to exalt. The person who strung both the Sundays together was Yuvraj Singh. In one Sunday, he slayed ghosts of the past. And even changed the seasons.
Remember Mirpur 2014, when Yuvraj Singh became the most hated man in India? When a bad day at the office in a World Cup final beamed its way into our television screens and a few anti-social elements in the garb of fans took all of the emptiness in their lives and hurled stones at his home? For the 21 deliveries that he faced, Yuvraj Singh seemed to be in a daze, unable to send the ball into the gaps or rotate the strike. 21 deliveries that would later take the form of ghosts.
Sport isn’t a matter of life and death and like any cricketer worth his salt, Yuvraj Singh has drunk deep from the cup of ecstasy as well as agony; he has brought an entire country to life in one moment and lay in a bed in a foreign land doing battle with death the next. Sportspersons do battle with self-doubt, age, circumstances and hard luck, but very few are called upon to fight death.
Our lives are a series of seasons. So are careers. For a while now, Yuvraj Singh has been battling with autumn – the autumn of his career, the autumn of his magic, the autumn of his prowess and the autumn of his ability to step up at the big moments.
At 34, it maybe a little too late to make amends for his test career that never really reached the towering heights that his limited overs career did. It wasn’t just his batting that lit up scorecards and stadiums. Along with Mohammad Kaif in the early 2000s, he helped raise the bar when it came to fielding in a side not known to put fielding in their list of priorities. Patrolling the point and cover regions like a guard on the Line of Control, Yuvi as he is fondly known, wore the party and bad boy image on his sleeve before passing on the baton to Virat Kohli.
In 2007, Yuvraj Singh drank from the cup of immortality when he smashed six sixes in an over off Stuart Broad in reply to Andrew Flintoff’s taunt. The inaugural t20 World Cup changed the dynamics of the cricket world and that one over had a lot to with it. In 2011, battling indifferent form (a known devil) and cancer (an unknown devil at that point), he won 4 man-of-the-match awards, took 15 wickets and came good in crucial encounters.
What was supposed to be a bright summer suddenly turned into a harsh cold winter. Fighting a rare form of lung cancer, he battled it out and lived to script a comeback.
Then came the night he would like to ban forever from the recesses of his memory. His 11 runs in 21 balls in the 2014 t20 World Cup final undeniably altered the equation in Sri Lanka’s favour and handed them their maiden t20 world cup triumph.
All of which brings us to January 31, 2016 in Sydney when Yuvraj Singh came full circle in a span of a few deliveries. Picked on the back of some great performances in the domestic circuit, he is presumably having a final shot at World cup glory. Shane Watson’s century put Australia in a commanding position and offered them some insurance against a whitewash. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan pressed 4th gear from the word go and chasing 198 meant going to 3rd or 2nd gear wasn’t really much of an option. Dhawan, Sharma and Kohli all played their parts and ensured that the target didn’t breach the gates of possibility.
Then came the 19th over. 22 required off 12. At the crease were Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina, who seems to have made a point to the selectors about being axed from the ODI side with his performances in the t20s.
1st delivery– Shane Watson bowled a slow bouncer which looked like a wide but escaped censure.
2nd delivery – Yuvraj put a yorker away for a single and got Raina on strike. One of the commentators said something to the effect of Dhoni coming to bat if he wanted to seal a victory instead of sending Yuvraj. Before he could even attempt to be hero, he was already being pronounced a zero.
3rd delivery – Raina took a single a brought Yuvraj on strike.
4th delivery – Watson yolked again. Yuvraj prodded and missed. Only 3 runs off the over so far.
5th delivery – Yuvraj took two runs. Sydney transformed into Mirpur. It’s the kind of deja vu that makes you feel like your feet are sinking into imaginary sand.
6th delivery – Yuvraj took a single and retained strike for the next over.
The series was already in the bag. Australia were playing for pride. And Yuvraj was playing for salvation.
India’s great run in the t20s had meant that Yuvraj hadn’t had a go with the bat till this match. But sport doesn’t reserve any sympathy for anyone. Especially someone like Yuvraj Singh who many moons ago preached fire and brimstone against a hapless Stuart Broad.
1st delivery – Tye bowled a length ball and Yuvraj flicked it in the fine leg region. Boundary.
2nd delivery – Tye bowled another length ball and Yuvraj hit it over the midwicket region. Six!
In two deliveries, Yuvraj had transported everyone back from Mirpur to Sydney. Twitter was abuzz. How many tweets did you make people delete, Yuvraj Singh?
3rd delivery – Yuvraj swung and missed but crossed over for a bye to bring Raina on strike.
4th delivery – Raina ran two runs.
5th delivery – Raina flicked the ball cleanly in the square leg area and believed he had struck the winning runs. His premature celebrations were halted when he realised that he had to run another single.
One run to win.
6th delivery – Raina struck a boundary in the point region. Sydney exploded.
After the match was over, Yuvraj Singh would have surely felt a few kilos lighter. The ghosts of Mirpur were laid to rest, at least for the time being.
In the Shawshank Redemption, Morgan Freeman’s character Red describes Andy Dufrense’s escape in the following words – “he crawled through a pile of shit and came out clean on the other side.”
In the 2oth over of the match, Yuvraj Singh did pretty much the same thing.
When he crawled in, it was autumn. When he crawled out, it was summer.