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

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

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  • Dummy4 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...

  • Salil 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!

  • Hema 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.

  • darius 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 words can measure his skill and brilliance,i feel someone who helps Ind win two WCs is a great.......

  • Dummy4 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!

  • Sameer 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 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 !

  • Shruti 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.