As the sun rises on India’s World Cup campaign, another World Cup hero is walking away into the sunset
The thing with fairytale endings is that they are mostly a myth.
And so are these mythical creatures called dragons.
Yuvraj Singh would have loved to walk into the sunset in front of his home crowd, hoisted on the shoulders of his team-mates, to the chorus of his name being shouted.
By the time he announced his retirement, that day had long since passed.
No longer will he have to try to recapture his youthful self and manufacture another moment of glory. No longer will he face the ignominy of being benched and watching matches from the dugout. No longer will he be hidden in the field, forced to confront his ageing self.
In the 2019 IPL, for the briefest of moments, Yuvraj Singh of 2019 metamorphed into the Yuvraj Singh of 2007. The Mumbai Indians were playing against the Royal Challengers Bangalore and Yuvraj Singh was facing Yuzvendra Chahal, one of the most formidable leg spinners in world cricket today. It what could only be described as a surreal passage of play, he smashed Chahal for three consecutive sixes. Everyone were on the edge of their seats. Would this be a repeat of 2007 when made us finally believe in T20 cricket by hammering Stuart Broad for six sixes in an over? Just as we thought he had struck some elusive elixir that had made him young again, he holed out in the 4th delivery.
The Mumbai Indians reposed a lot of faith in his abilities when they bought him for 1 crore. But unlike MS Dhoni, who is enjoying a career renaissance of sorts in the twilight of his career, Yuvraj Singh didn’t enjoy the same final flourish. Gone was the towering presence at point when he magically converted boundaries into dot balls. After the first few matches in the IPL, he was benched, forced to watch from the dug out.
The 2002 Natwest trophy was when Yuvraj Singh showed us a glimpse of what he was capable of. Chasing an improbable 326 to win, India were 146/5. Most television sets had been switched off after Sachin Tendulkar exposed his stumps to Ashley Giles and was clean bowled.
Slowly and steadily, Yuvi and Kaif reduced the deficit, until an improbable reality slowly became all too real. That innings was a stepping stone for Yuvraj, who only went on to accomplish greater things in the ensuing years. On the other hand, it would prove to be one of Kaif’s most defining moments in his career which slowly faded into oblivion.
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. In the matches against England and Australia, he was like Moses walking on water, a man who connected bat with ball with ridiculous effortlessness and could do no wrong. The inaugural T20 World Cup changed the dynamics of world cricket and that one over where Yuvraj smashed six sixes has a lot do 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. The entire team was united in their efforts to win the cup for Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj’s efforts garnered him the man-of-the-match award in a historic World Cup campaign.
One day he was the toast of the nation.
The next day he was fighting for his life.
What was supposed to be a bright summer suddenly turned into a harsh cold winter. Diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer, he battled it out and lived to tell the tale.
Most players have two phases to their careers. The first is them being carefree, finding their feet and making their name. The second is when they are a little more mature, having seen dips in form, highs and lows, their reflexes slowing and their place being threatened by the next generation.
For Yuvraj Singh, the two phases were before cancer and after cancer.
After his return, he was never the same. There were glimpses of his old self but he just wasn’t the same.
Then came the night he would like to ban forever from the recesses of his memory forever. 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. Hoodlums in the garb of fans hurled stones at his home.
He was a World Cup winner who heroically fought cancer and came back, only to play villain.
If there is one arena that Yuvraj Singh couldn’t put his stamp on, it was test cricket. But he also played in an era where many batman’s test hopes were dashed with VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar gridlocking the middle order. Much like how Pete Sampras could never conquer Roland Garros during his playing career, Yuvraj, for the limited chances he got, never quite found his footing in the test side. Test match prowess is always considered to be the litmus test for all-time greatness. In the same vein, even Dhoni can’t be considered a test match great. But that doesn’t make him less great. The same applies to Yuvraj Singh.
History will remember Yuvraj Singh for many things – his classy batting, sublime fielding, occasional heroics with the ball and one who never shied away from a fight.
The Indian team is on a quest to make it an English summer to remember. 8 summers back, Yuvraj Singh made it an Indian summer to remember.
Dragons are mythical creatures. In his press conference, Yuvraj Singh referred to the tumultuous relationship he has had with his father Yograj Singh, terming him a dragon who imposed himself on his son’s choices and hurled childish allegations against his team mates to the media. He has finally made peace with his father after 20 years he said. Another legend in another sport, Andre Agassi too shared a tumultuous relationship with an overbearing father who would yell at him if he hit the ball into the net. Coincidentally, in his fantastic autobiography ‘Open’, we got to know that Agassi called the ball machine that his father used against him ‘the dragon’.
There will be no more dragons to slay for Yuvraj Singh, at least for the time being. The dragon of age, fading form, life-threatening illness, fading prowess, all have been laid to rest.
We will never know what a dragon looks like.
But Yuvraj Singh showed us what a dragon slayer looks like.