The Test of My Life April 6, 2013

An inspiring story, simply told

The tale of how Yuvraj Singh beat cancer and came back to cricket is now the subject of a book that reveals the man behind the allrounder

Towards the end of this book, Yuvraj Singh asks the question: "What if I had been any Indian sportsman but a cricketer?" And he answers thus: "There would have been a few articles in the newspapers and some stories on TV. Federation bosses would have made the right noises and everyone would have clucked in pity. After that my family and friends would have had to run around trying to get me treated... it would have been easier to walk away from the sport I loved."

Being a cricketer meant that Yuvraj was under the care of India's richest sporting body, the BCCI. It meant that he was guaranteed the best treatment, a clear path back to his sport, and sufficient media space to tell his story. Not surprisingly, he became the best-known cancer survivor in the country, and even if the occasional tasteless advertisement capitalised on that, the larger picture was positive.

During the World Cup, India's captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, said to the media, "[Yuvraj] has been vomiting a lot." It was seen as an anxiety reflex. In fact, Yuvraj himself said, "Yes, the anxiety can be really heavy." Yet this wasn't about butterflies in the stomach but a tumour, and a cancerous one at that. No one knew then, of course, and in hindsight one marvels at how Yuvraj kept playing and carrying on as if everything was normal.

The story is an inspiring one, and the book tells it with the clarity and insight of a newspaper report, which is both its strength and its weakness. Had this been a Bollywood story, it might have been dismissed as fanciful and far-fetched. Yet it is all true, which is why it is not difficult to forgive the descent into heart-tugging Bollywood style, and constructions like "Water, juice, energy drinks, by this time these were all into-Yuvi, out-of-Yuvi."

Of the three strands that make up the narrative - family, cricket and cancer - each serves as a cautionary tale. Yuvraj does not shy away from speaking about his father, the India player Yograj Singh, and his obsession with making his son a star; for every Yuvraj-type success, there are possibly thousands who might be marked for life. The cricket part too hints at many what-might-have-beens.

The cancer - the time wasted on alternative medicine, the denial, confirmation, and finally full recovery and return to the Indian team - forms the most crucial cautionary tale of all. "You could have died of a heart attack," his doctor tells Yuvraj. The tumour had been pressing against an artery.

The book bravely strips away the macho public image of a talented allrounder good enough to play for India at 19, and reveals a vulnerable human being unafraid to cry. Top of the world at 29, within weeks Yuvraj faced the prospect of the end, and not just of his career. The horror (and necessity) of chemotherapy is well told, the gratitude at the simple fact of being alive is a subtext.

Better editing might have ensured a smoother read. Such sentences as "You reach downtown, and steam rises out of manholes, the buildings are huge, but hardly a soul to be seen" stick in the throat. The ghostwriters have attempted to speak in Yuvraj's voice, so there are few literary flourishes. The story is compelling enough to make the many irritants seem irrelevant.

The Test of My Life: From cricket to cancer and back
by Yuvraj Singh
Random House India
Hardback, 189 pages, Rs 399

Suresh Menon is the editor of the Wisden India Almanack