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Yuvraj Singh never says bye

Vijay Lokapally | Updated on June 21, 2019 Published on June 21, 2019

What comes next: The all-rounder wants to play the private leagues, but not at the cost of his work for his cancer foundation or his vacations. - Vivek Bendre   -  The Hindu

The all-rounder’s retirement from cricket doesn’t mean that he goes off the pitch. It’s only the beginning of a new innings

It was a dilemma that’d haunted Yuvraj Singh for more than a year. He wanted to play cricket — but the joy of being able to do what he always wanted to do was almost crushed by the pain of not being able to do so. “I wasn’t sure what I really wanted,” he reflected.

The desire to play competitive cricket was overwhelming and drove him to chase his dreams once again through the circuit of domestic cricket after a break in his playing career. For a player of his stature it was hard.

“It was like trying to prove my credentials once again. It took me back 20 years when I was trying to break into the Indian team. But this was vastly different.” So, he did what he thought was best: Took a bow from the game he loved so dearly.

Yuvraj’s retirement from cricket — announced at a plush South Mumbai hotel last week — surprised those who knew how determined he was to come back one last time. The national selectors — the group that chooses the teams — said something, and did just the opposite. But the all-rounder was not the one to complain. “All I wanted was to understand my position,” he said.

The 37-year-old was asked to undergo the yo-yo test — a fitness test for players. “I was game and I cleared it,” he said with pride. The authorities told the graceful left-hander that if he failed the test, he would be granted a farewell match. That seemed fair enough.

But Yuvraj stunned them — and evidently disappointed some — by clearing the endurance test. He was fit enough to qualify for selection. But the selectors and some members of the cricket fraternity turned their back on him. Yuvraj was left stranded at the crossroads and, in his own words, “sad”.

His sporting career was replete with things he was forced to do. As a boy, he loved roller-skating but had to give it up. He won a trophy, which he described as an “outstanding” feat, given that his opponents were senior to him. The victory attracted the wrath of his father, Yograj, who had played international cricket. The trophy was smashed into bits and Yuvraj was warned not to be seen anywhere near the roller-skating rink again.

“It broke my heart,” he told BLink. The pain in his voice confirmed his unstinted love for the sport years after he had faced a “thrashing” from his father.

Yuvraj fought the demons within and the dragon in front. The dragon in his life was his father. “He was a terror. He would explode if I failed in a match. I would dread the training sessions because he would let the ball fly from 16 yards. It was scary. I was afraid of getting hit.” Many years later, while facing the fierce Australian bowling in Nairobi in 2000, Yuvraj thanked his father. “He had prepared me to tackle the fast and rising deliveries with that training in the backyard of our house.”

Yograj was demanding but, at heart, wanted his son to do well. “He wanted to live his dream through me. He could not earn a spot in the 1983 team which won the World Cup. He wanted me to win the Cup. I am glad I was a part of the 2011 team.” Recalling that, Yuvraj could afford a smile on the day of his retirement. But his mother, Shabnam, the force behind his successful fight against cancer, was distraught. “I would have loved to see Yuvraj announce his retirement from the ground,” she lamented.

Yuvraj did enjoy a regular stint in Test cricket but it hurt him the most, too. “I know I disappointed you all by not playing 100 Tests. But I was always under pressure to perform. Initially there was a terrific tussle for a place in the middle order. I played 40 Tests and watched another 40 from the dressing room. It was frustrating,” he recalled. He confronted the cancer bravely and excelled in India’s 2011 World Cup win. A dream, his and his father’s, had been fulfilled.

Yuvraj now wants to live life on his terms. “I want to play some cricket.” Cricket after retirement? “Yes, I want to play the private (T20) leagues. I can’t stay away from cricket,” he said. He also wants to work with YouWeCan — his cancer foundation. “My priority is going to be spreading awareness about cancer and ways to fight it. It is a venture very close to my heart and now I have the time to do the things I want to do.”

It is difficult to imagine Yuvraj — Yuvi to friends and fans — in the role of a coach, selector or administrator. “Not for me,” he stressed. He has not given much thought to what he wants to be pursuing. “Maybe some media work.” But Yuvraj is clear about one thing: He has had enough of “do this and do that”. He just wants to be.

“I want to travel, take vacations when I want. And help people fight cancer.” He has discovered new friends and “support” outside cricket — wife Hazel among them — and an inner strength to “enjoy” life. The dilemma doesn’t trouble him anymore.

Vijay Lokapally is Deputy Editor, Sports, The Hindu

Published on June 21, 2019

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