March 22, 2013

The compelling story of Yuvraj Singh

How he fought cancer and came out on top after winning a World Cup is a heartwarming tale for the ages
30

It is a matter of some disappointment that cricketers rarely write good books - when they do write them, that is. It is amazing how interesting careers look infinitely more boring, how exciting events are clothed with terrifyingly dull prose, and how lives become scorecards drearily described in an attempt to fill pages. Then comes Yuvraj Singh's book. And you want to read it.

This is really a book of two stories, closely intertwined, within one narrative. It is the story of the 2011 World Cup win, but played out against the backdrop of a deadly shadow. As India inched closer to a second World Cup victory, a giant tumour, eventually 15cm x 11cm x 13 cm was growing within Yuvraj and pressing against a lung and artery. He couldn't sleep, he was throwing up, he was constantly breathless, and he was winning Man-of-the-Match awards. The doctors told him afterwards that he could have died of a heart attack because the artery was being squeezed - and no one would have known he had cancer.

And so it needs to be read at two levels. One, as a sportsman's account of how the biggest event in his life unfolded, and two, of the fear of fighting something he couldn't see. He didn't know what it would do, whether it would take away from him the only thing he was good at, and, worst of all, whether it would claim him. When we write of others, we use these words easily but Yuvraj's story affected me, had me thinking: what if it was me, what if it was someone in my family? And then I tried remembering the World Cup all over again.

Were there pictures of him desperately trying to get up from under five or six bodies piled on him in celebration because he could no longer breathe? Do I remember that battle cry after the quarter-final against Australia in Ahmedabad? Why was he going on about wanting to do it for Sachin?

And it is an honestly written book. He talks about problems between his parents, the stress, and then the relief, of them living apart, of how it affected his younger brother, and of how cricket became an escape from it all.

There is respect for what his father tried to do, but it doesn't gloss over the uneasy relationship between the two. Yograj Singh once threw a glass of milk at Yuvraj, which he ducked under but saw break a window behind him, because he hadn't scored enough runs. But Yuvraj also remembers his father's advice from when he was growing up, "Play straight, down the ground", at a crucial time in the World Cup quarter-final.

There is, too, the frustration of not really making it in Test cricket, and he is quite open about putting in the book a comment from VVS Laxman, about how he knew two Yuvrajs: one who believed he could win every one-day game, and the other who was a bundle of nerves in a Test match.

Yuvraj's book needs to be read at two levels. One, as a sportsman's account of how the biggest event in his life unfolded, and two, of the fear of fighting something he couldn't see

But eventually this is the story of a fight against an illness that scared him like nothing had; of someone who tried to cure his cancer with acupuncture, and of a humane doctor who gave him reassurance and told him the truth. And it is a mother's story; of a woman who dropped everything and, as he says, gave birth to him again. Unless you are hard and emotionless, you will find it difficult not to be moved by Shabnam Singh's story. And by the details of the love of the Indian cricket fan, of students in Indiana who made cards and brought food, and simple people who helped with shopping and cooked when needed. Those are not isolated stories. Mothers care, friends help, good samaritans emerge, but because it is Yuvraj, because it happened either side of the World Cup, you read it all and you feel good.

And you get an insight into people around Indian cricket. You read of trainers who didn't rest, and didn't let Yuvraj ease up on his routine; of team doctors who woke up at 4am to cajole a nervy match-winner to bed, who take great efforts to find the right sleeping pill before a World Cup final; of team-mates who call only to tell stories that will raise his spirits; and yes, of administrators who gave assurances of looking after everything. Indeed, Yuvraj talks about the support system in Indian cricket and wonders how he would have fared if he had been playing another sport.

It is a book that could have become syrupy, melodramatic and very Bollywood. Or it could have told the story with a literary flourish that wouldn't quite have been Yuvraj. At most times it stays simple, and it is in doing that and yet telling the story that Sharda Ugra plays her role. The writer with flair does come through fleetingly, but she doesn't allow style to dominate. A biography would have been very differently, but I suspect more easily, written.

Far too much of Indian cricket is shrouded behind scorecards, irrelevant quotes, noise, glamour and money. There are some lovely stories to be told that the lure of the daily media box office doesn't always allow. It is good to see one come up sometimes.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. He is currently contracted to the BCCI. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nampally on March 22, 2013, 23:29 GMT

    Harsha, I remember a poem from my childhood written by great Sarojini Naidu which starts with "Our life is a game of Cricket Lads" & builds an excellent simili between the Cricket & human life. Your narration of Yuvraj & his tough battle with Cancer brought tears to my eyes & I was all choked up at the end. What a courageous character to fight the battle not only on the Crickert field but also in real life. We all go thru' battles in our lives & it makes us that much better human beings when we emerge out of it much wiser & humane. It is always tough to please everyone. I am sure most Fathers have the best interests of their sons in their hearts. But conveying them in an effective way is an art which very few have. Hats off to Yuvraj for such a valiant fight back. It requires great mental & physical strength. Yuvraj not only conquered Cancer but was gutsy to win India the World Cup.Bravo, Yuvraj you are True Hero not only on the Cricket field but in real life - Mrs. Naidu's way!

  • Unmesh_cric on March 22, 2013, 16:13 GMT

    I have said this before, but will say it again. Yuvraj Singh is our World Cup hero. He was the main reason India won the 2007 T20 World Cup and 2011 ODI World Cup. Dhoni stole the limelight by his inning in the World Cup final; but if not for Yuvraj we would have never reached the finals. What an amazing contribution he made with both bat and ball! The way he played against Australia in that quarter-final match was simply breath-taking. It was tense, high pressure situation during that chase. But he batted positively & fearlessly and saw India through. A true champion!

  • vatsap on March 22, 2013, 5:35 GMT

    Yuvraj Singh is a true champ for Indian cricket. Never mind that he hasnt figured out tests. His boundless energy on the field, transformed fielding after the earlier group of Azhar, Jadeja and Robin set the standard along with Md Kaif. What catches and direct hits. Never mind that he seemed too expressive and haughty from a distance, but he was a champ for us in the onedayers. 2003 and 2012 WC's being prime example. HAts off to him and his family to have successfully come out of the toughest phase in their lives and truly loved by his team mates (matters the most than any fan's opinion formed at a distance).

  • Pinarsh255 on March 22, 2013, 3:55 GMT

    Yes sir, his is a story that will inspire generations to come. As for his cricketing achievement, we need to accept what he has done and celebrate those match winning knocks in One days, six sixes in one over and should not put a question mark on his ability for his non-success in Tests. To me, in terms of the number of match he has own for India, he is the all time second best ODI batsman of India, behind the obvious. He came back from cancer and now still hitting those flat sixes over midwicket, still trying push for a Test spot, confirms that he is not only a winner in cricket but also in life.

  • on March 25, 2013, 3:41 GMT

    Just finished Yuvraj Singh's TEST of MY LIFE, tears rolled down my eyes while reading it. The story is of a strong individual who despite of having a tumor will play the world cup and ignore every symptom that comes his way. A person who tries to heal the tumour (which turned out to be a cancer) with acupuncture so he can play for India and media raising questions about his whereabouts and character. A player who wants to excel in test cricket and plays against England with his body giving indications of him having a cancer. A fighter who when diagnosed with cancer wants to tour Australia and deny the test reports. A victim of cancer who fights every odd associated with chemo. A cricketer who comes back and represents his country again and gives us joy. It's not the story of THE YUVRAJ SINGH it's the story of every cancer patient who struggles, fights and comes back...

  • salil247 on March 23, 2013, 1:33 GMT

    Harsha Bhogle is just as biased towards Yuvraj as Sharda Ugra. Yuvraj will always be a great cricketer, and I like him a lot, especially considering the fact that he must've had a hard childhood, being brought up by a father who thinks 6 sixes in an over is enough to better the Don's record. I could quote Harsha and Ugra here till the cows came home and embarassment rained on their parades, but they make me tired all over and quite frankly, they don't need it now because they have long crossed over the line where you give a person the "benefit of doubt". So long!

  • BaselGirl on March 23, 2013, 0:59 GMT

    I haven't read the book. I refuse to read sportsmen's' biographies or auto biographies 'cause I find it irrelevant. No disrespect.

    However, anyone who has overcome cancer is a true hero in my eyes. There are plenty in daily lives, mothers, daughters, sisters, brothers and all. So is Yuvraj Singh. He's a great cricketer no doubt and a good role model to youngsters.

    I read Harsha's blog, and that's the only purpose on a Saturday morning with sizzling cup of coffee.

  • dariuscorny on March 22, 2013, 22:30 GMT

    simply brilliant,has a Tiger heart,he's the Royal Tiger who helped India lift WC for the second time,he stands apart when you talk about big stages ,he's the man.Simply an awesome talent spotted by Saurav ganguly.no words can measure his skill and brilliance,i feel someone who helps Ind win two WCs is a great.......

  • on March 22, 2013, 18:48 GMT

    Go Yuvi.. Your best is yet to come.. Show the world, what champions are made of! I am proud of you!

  • Sampra2457 on March 22, 2013, 16:53 GMT

    I look forward to Fridays because Harsha's column comes out on Fridays. And this is one of his best pieces. Thank you Harsha! This is a moving, inspiring article. I am now looking forward to reading Yuvraj's book. What can I say about Yuvraj Singh? Before/during the World Cup news were coming out that he was doing well despite fighting against some personal challenge, and that he did no want to reveal what it was. Very few people would persevere, and give off the best they can in a sport while fighting such a big battle. Unless, that is, they have tremendous passion for the sport and for winning. I am sure it is the same passion and winning spirit led him to such a spectacular recovery all the way back to the cricket field. Hats off to Yuvraj.

  • Nampally on March 22, 2013, 23:29 GMT

    Harsha, I remember a poem from my childhood written by great Sarojini Naidu which starts with "Our life is a game of Cricket Lads" & builds an excellent simili between the Cricket & human life. Your narration of Yuvraj & his tough battle with Cancer brought tears to my eyes & I was all choked up at the end. What a courageous character to fight the battle not only on the Crickert field but also in real life. We all go thru' battles in our lives & it makes us that much better human beings when we emerge out of it much wiser & humane. It is always tough to please everyone. I am sure most Fathers have the best interests of their sons in their hearts. But conveying them in an effective way is an art which very few have. Hats off to Yuvraj for such a valiant fight back. It requires great mental & physical strength. Yuvraj not only conquered Cancer but was gutsy to win India the World Cup.Bravo, Yuvraj you are True Hero not only on the Cricket field but in real life - Mrs. Naidu's way!

  • Unmesh_cric on March 22, 2013, 16:13 GMT

    I have said this before, but will say it again. Yuvraj Singh is our World Cup hero. He was the main reason India won the 2007 T20 World Cup and 2011 ODI World Cup. Dhoni stole the limelight by his inning in the World Cup final; but if not for Yuvraj we would have never reached the finals. What an amazing contribution he made with both bat and ball! The way he played against Australia in that quarter-final match was simply breath-taking. It was tense, high pressure situation during that chase. But he batted positively & fearlessly and saw India through. A true champion!

  • vatsap on March 22, 2013, 5:35 GMT

    Yuvraj Singh is a true champ for Indian cricket. Never mind that he hasnt figured out tests. His boundless energy on the field, transformed fielding after the earlier group of Azhar, Jadeja and Robin set the standard along with Md Kaif. What catches and direct hits. Never mind that he seemed too expressive and haughty from a distance, but he was a champ for us in the onedayers. 2003 and 2012 WC's being prime example. HAts off to him and his family to have successfully come out of the toughest phase in their lives and truly loved by his team mates (matters the most than any fan's opinion formed at a distance).

  • Pinarsh255 on March 22, 2013, 3:55 GMT

    Yes sir, his is a story that will inspire generations to come. As for his cricketing achievement, we need to accept what he has done and celebrate those match winning knocks in One days, six sixes in one over and should not put a question mark on his ability for his non-success in Tests. To me, in terms of the number of match he has own for India, he is the all time second best ODI batsman of India, behind the obvious. He came back from cancer and now still hitting those flat sixes over midwicket, still trying push for a Test spot, confirms that he is not only a winner in cricket but also in life.

  • on March 25, 2013, 3:41 GMT

    Just finished Yuvraj Singh's TEST of MY LIFE, tears rolled down my eyes while reading it. The story is of a strong individual who despite of having a tumor will play the world cup and ignore every symptom that comes his way. A person who tries to heal the tumour (which turned out to be a cancer) with acupuncture so he can play for India and media raising questions about his whereabouts and character. A player who wants to excel in test cricket and plays against England with his body giving indications of him having a cancer. A fighter who when diagnosed with cancer wants to tour Australia and deny the test reports. A victim of cancer who fights every odd associated with chemo. A cricketer who comes back and represents his country again and gives us joy. It's not the story of THE YUVRAJ SINGH it's the story of every cancer patient who struggles, fights and comes back...

  • salil247 on March 23, 2013, 1:33 GMT

    Harsha Bhogle is just as biased towards Yuvraj as Sharda Ugra. Yuvraj will always be a great cricketer, and I like him a lot, especially considering the fact that he must've had a hard childhood, being brought up by a father who thinks 6 sixes in an over is enough to better the Don's record. I could quote Harsha and Ugra here till the cows came home and embarassment rained on their parades, but they make me tired all over and quite frankly, they don't need it now because they have long crossed over the line where you give a person the "benefit of doubt". So long!

  • BaselGirl on March 23, 2013, 0:59 GMT

    I haven't read the book. I refuse to read sportsmen's' biographies or auto biographies 'cause I find it irrelevant. No disrespect.

    However, anyone who has overcome cancer is a true hero in my eyes. There are plenty in daily lives, mothers, daughters, sisters, brothers and all. So is Yuvraj Singh. He's a great cricketer no doubt and a good role model to youngsters.

    I read Harsha's blog, and that's the only purpose on a Saturday morning with sizzling cup of coffee.

  • dariuscorny on March 22, 2013, 22:30 GMT

    simply brilliant,has a Tiger heart,he's the Royal Tiger who helped India lift WC for the second time,he stands apart when you talk about big stages ,he's the man.Simply an awesome talent spotted by Saurav ganguly.no words can measure his skill and brilliance,i feel someone who helps Ind win two WCs is a great.......

  • on March 22, 2013, 18:48 GMT

    Go Yuvi.. Your best is yet to come.. Show the world, what champions are made of! I am proud of you!

  • Sampra2457 on March 22, 2013, 16:53 GMT

    I look forward to Fridays because Harsha's column comes out on Fridays. And this is one of his best pieces. Thank you Harsha! This is a moving, inspiring article. I am now looking forward to reading Yuvraj's book. What can I say about Yuvraj Singh? Before/during the World Cup news were coming out that he was doing well despite fighting against some personal challenge, and that he did no want to reveal what it was. Very few people would persevere, and give off the best they can in a sport while fighting such a big battle. Unless, that is, they have tremendous passion for the sport and for winning. I am sure it is the same passion and winning spirit led him to such a spectacular recovery all the way back to the cricket field. Hats off to Yuvraj.

  • Mina_Anand on March 22, 2013, 16:16 GMT

    Very compelling reading - this piece !

    But did Yuvraj really say that the cancer would take away the only thing that he was good at? Surely he would be good at other things as well. Time will tell.

    Why does every non-cricketer assume that cricketers cannot do anything other than play cricket. Playing for your country, incidentally, is a huge thing in itself.

    So why call it the 'only thing'. It is the biggest thing !

  • henchart on March 22, 2013, 15:21 GMT

    Yuvraj's ability to bat for long period has taken a beating since his return to International cricket in Madras last September.Would he be a safe bet in ODI's ?Should he focus only on T20s?Time will tell.No body has got any right to comment on the way he fought the dreaded disease with or without the resources at his disposal.Let us stick to analyzing Yuvraj the cricketer not Yuvraj the person.But how can some fans say Yuvraj has been unlucky in tests?I guess Wasim Jaffer and Murali Karthik were more unlucky than Yuvraj.

  • on March 22, 2013, 13:56 GMT

    @Rav Khandelwal: The fact of life is that every human CANNOT be celebrated! Yes, we would all love to have the entire country's or world's care, but some people are born special. The TRUTH is also that when people find out they have CANCER, they panic and run to the doctors straight away. This man continued playing for HIS COUNTRY only that his 1.2 billion countrymen could smile and rejoice. Yes, I love soldiers as much as I love my cricketers. But, I don't know their names to celebrate them. Its what you chose to do with your life that defined it. So, please RESPECT YUVI for that! God bless..

  • on March 22, 2013, 13:43 GMT

    @kamesh: The book name is "the test of my life from cricket to cancer and back"..

  • on March 22, 2013, 13:18 GMT

    Yuvraj is a true fighter. A disease like cancer takes a lot of toll, both physically & Emotionally & to come out of it & re-establish yourself in a physical sport, is the stuff of legend. He is one of the greatest match winners in limited overs game.

  • venkatesh018 on March 22, 2013, 12:44 GMT

    Reading Harsha's review of the book overwhelmed me. Looks like a must read for every cricket fan...

  • SasiGladi on March 22, 2013, 11:48 GMT

    I saw yuvi vomitting between overs in WC match against WI in chennai, he was on ground when ever there is break in the match but he went on to reach century and bowled well to take wickets its a champions stuff a true hero...felt worried when he had cancer....now I feel happy for you Yuvi...

  • on March 22, 2013, 11:14 GMT

    @Rav Khandelwal Hey, cancer is cancer. You can have all the medical attention in the world, and still die. And he truly has made a comeback. Maybe not in Tests, but in ODIs and T20s, he is still an important cog in the scheme of things. For most sportspersons, cancer would surely be the end of their careers. Only a few people have managed to overcome it, and go back into their professions as strong as before. For a sportsperson who lives and breathes sports...fighting for their passion is surely something worth fighting for.

  • Amit_13 on March 22, 2013, 9:19 GMT

    This is something I wrote for a similar article about the book launch...

    It is amazing how often we, as fans, forget the human frailties of our heroes. To us they are indestructible. In the same way, the HULK is to a 5 year old. We forget that they have similar issues that we face with the added annoyance that everyone focusses infinitely more on their issues. And without the time required to grow that side of the brain. It takes an event of this magnitude in their lives for the average fan to appreciate their real value. To emerge from the vulnerabilities of every situation to be the best at something is truly heroic. That war cry in the quarter finals will ring in my ears for a long time.

  • on March 22, 2013, 8:59 GMT

    remeber he also played IPL at a cost of his life...how can he be hero????

  • on March 22, 2013, 7:26 GMT

    How easy it is, if you are a celebrity everyone is there to support you, showcase the emotions and pain you found in something...But whats about such people who are no celebrity and facing similar type probs like cancer or other deadly disease...or fighting each day to earn livelihood for their family...whats about a soldier who dies on border saving others life...who was just young and recently married...whats about his family - father, mother, wife or kids...How harsh when they don't get due support from govt...no one cares. The truth is that if you are a normal person in this world, then its just your pain and your life...but if you are a celebrity and especially in cricket or bollywood then whole world is behind you.

    agree that Yuvraj too faced this thing as a human in his life...but nothing worth of writing a book, putting an article appreciating book content, showcasing of TV if you cannot do this things for millions of other people who faced / facing similar or a bigger issue.

  • kamesh. on March 22, 2013, 7:11 GMT

    Can some one tell me the book name?? Is it " The test of my life" ???

  • on March 22, 2013, 7:03 GMT

    He was a personal favorite ........ but now; HE IS MY HERO....... AN INSPIRATION. Respect !

  • on March 22, 2013, 6:51 GMT

    It looks so very ironical that a learned person and a profound speaker of the game is such a small man of insight and knowledge of life and fighting. I do not feel that he made a comeback or a fightback when he is having all the medical attention of the world and that too for a cancer in its primary stage. It would have been a real fight back if he was a normal man and was short of resources to get the required medical attention and then the inner will of the person forces him to fight that if he will not be there his family will be on the roads. I believe through this book an attempt to get the sympathy of the people is been made. real fighters are those who fight when they are very sure that it is something worth fighting for. Pity on the thoughts of such a speaker.

  • on March 22, 2013, 6:40 GMT

    whatever may be his achievements in the future no fan would bother. But what he has already achieved on the field is enough for the present eneration to cherish. Hats off to YOUWE.

  • kamesh. on March 22, 2013, 6:23 GMT

    Take a bow Yuvi...I had tears all along reading this article...Take our lives and live long and won as many things as you can for INDIA..

  • chandu195 on March 22, 2013, 5:46 GMT

    Thank you Harsha for the article. Just bought the book after reading your article.

  • NKhakholia on March 22, 2013, 5:42 GMT

    Honestly feel that he should be given some more chances in Tests too... He has played decently in the domestic circuit....

  • on March 22, 2013, 4:36 GMT

    Am buying the book, Harsha!! I am very glad that Yuvraj Singh bounced back from disease. A disease like cancer pushes one to self doubt, self pity and a great any other nasty things. Many of us face it in our lives and come out of it. But it is simply great that a celebrity of Yuvraj's stature faced and got out of it right after the World Cup.... because it gives many people hope, brings a lot more happiness and makes more people aware that a disease can be cured. Excellent thing by Yuvraj to write a neat book on his experiences.

  • InsideHedge on March 22, 2013, 4:05 GMT

    I look forward to reading it. Yuvraj has been unlucky in Tests, too many ppl were quick to dismiss him as a ODI player but if it's true that the Indian fan loves his limited overs cricket then Yuvraj can take pride in the fact that he has won India many a game. But it's his battle against cancer that's his biggest victory.

  • InsideHedge on March 22, 2013, 4:05 GMT

    I look forward to reading it. Yuvraj has been unlucky in Tests, too many ppl were quick to dismiss him as a ODI player but if it's true that the Indian fan loves his limited overs cricket then Yuvraj can take pride in the fact that he has won India many a game. But it's his battle against cancer that's his biggest victory.

  • on March 22, 2013, 4:36 GMT

    Am buying the book, Harsha!! I am very glad that Yuvraj Singh bounced back from disease. A disease like cancer pushes one to self doubt, self pity and a great any other nasty things. Many of us face it in our lives and come out of it. But it is simply great that a celebrity of Yuvraj's stature faced and got out of it right after the World Cup.... because it gives many people hope, brings a lot more happiness and makes more people aware that a disease can be cured. Excellent thing by Yuvraj to write a neat book on his experiences.

  • NKhakholia on March 22, 2013, 5:42 GMT

    Honestly feel that he should be given some more chances in Tests too... He has played decently in the domestic circuit....

  • chandu195 on March 22, 2013, 5:46 GMT

    Thank you Harsha for the article. Just bought the book after reading your article.

  • kamesh. on March 22, 2013, 6:23 GMT

    Take a bow Yuvi...I had tears all along reading this article...Take our lives and live long and won as many things as you can for INDIA..

  • on March 22, 2013, 6:40 GMT

    whatever may be his achievements in the future no fan would bother. But what he has already achieved on the field is enough for the present eneration to cherish. Hats off to YOUWE.

  • on March 22, 2013, 6:51 GMT

    It looks so very ironical that a learned person and a profound speaker of the game is such a small man of insight and knowledge of life and fighting. I do not feel that he made a comeback or a fightback when he is having all the medical attention of the world and that too for a cancer in its primary stage. It would have been a real fight back if he was a normal man and was short of resources to get the required medical attention and then the inner will of the person forces him to fight that if he will not be there his family will be on the roads. I believe through this book an attempt to get the sympathy of the people is been made. real fighters are those who fight when they are very sure that it is something worth fighting for. Pity on the thoughts of such a speaker.

  • on March 22, 2013, 7:03 GMT

    He was a personal favorite ........ but now; HE IS MY HERO....... AN INSPIRATION. Respect !

  • kamesh. on March 22, 2013, 7:11 GMT

    Can some one tell me the book name?? Is it " The test of my life" ???

  • on March 22, 2013, 7:26 GMT

    How easy it is, if you are a celebrity everyone is there to support you, showcase the emotions and pain you found in something...But whats about such people who are no celebrity and facing similar type probs like cancer or other deadly disease...or fighting each day to earn livelihood for their family...whats about a soldier who dies on border saving others life...who was just young and recently married...whats about his family - father, mother, wife or kids...How harsh when they don't get due support from govt...no one cares. The truth is that if you are a normal person in this world, then its just your pain and your life...but if you are a celebrity and especially in cricket or bollywood then whole world is behind you.

    agree that Yuvraj too faced this thing as a human in his life...but nothing worth of writing a book, putting an article appreciating book content, showcasing of TV if you cannot do this things for millions of other people who faced / facing similar or a bigger issue.