When Yuvraj Singh steps onto the field on Tuesday for the Twenty20 international against New Zealand, it will mark his return to international cricket after recovering from a rare germ call cancer. The first man to achieve this remarkable feat was South African batsman Dave Callaghan, who staged a creditable comeback after being diagnosed with testicular cancer.
In 1992, he made his competitive comeback for Eastern Provinces B in a first-class match against Northern Transvaal with a half-century to claim the Man-of-the-Match award. A year later, Callaghan was playing for South Africa against India in an ODI at Cape Town. The highlight of his career, however, was an unbeaten 169 against New Zealand in an ODI at Centurion Park.
Speaking to CricketNext, Callaghan talks about his disease, the tough times he encountered, his comeback and his message to Yuvraj Singh.
Dave Callaghan, the first international cricketer to return from surviving cancer, on the tough times he encountered.
How much time did it take for you to recover from testicular cancer? How difficult was that period? Who were the people who stood by you during that time?
My recovery time was approximately five months. I was diagnosed in September 1991 and returned to cricket in February 1992. It was an extremely difficult time for me and the family. My whole family stood by me throughout the process. You need all the support you can get during your recovery period; it was at times very lonely.
Which was your first match after the return? What are your memories of the match? Share some emotional moments please. How special was it to win the Man of the Match in the return match?
I played for Eastern Province B in a first-class fixture against Northern Transvaal, as a warm up game to the Benson & Hedges day-night game against Transvaal. I have great memories, as I scored 65 on my return to the big league. It was a very emotional evening all round; to be honest, I was just happy to be playing again. The Man-of-the-Match award was a bonus.
Did you feel any weakness or face certain difficulty while playing cricket after the return?
No, I had physically prepared well for the return match. The only concern I had on the evening was "did I have enough match practice?" but then the adrenalin takes over and your natural ability suddenly comes back very quickly
Your first international match after return was against India. Your memories ...
Almost a year later to the day I played against India at Newlands in my debut game. In a year I had changed as a player. Cricket wasn't everything. I realised that there is so much more to life. I had a far more determined attitude, but at times I had a carefree approach to my batting on my return which made me play better cricket. I felt I had became more of an entertainer, which the spectators want to watch, and with this my confidence grew.
How did your team-mates react?
Although many of my team-mates came to see me in hospital, many of them visited me at home and asked of my health when I went to practice. Twenty years ago, people were still a little skeptical about cancer. Although I didn't practice, I used to assist the bowlers and then with the fielding practice, until I felt tired.
How did you feel when you scored 169 against New Zealand? Was it the best innings of your career?
The innings against New Zealand was certainly the best innings I have ever played. It was a wonderful opportunity to be able to open the batting on a great wicket. All top sportsmen have a day when everything clicks and you are in the so called 'zone'. Nothing seemed to go wrong and everything come out the middle of the bat. As the innings grew, my confidence grew, and before I knew it, I had carried my bat and the innings was over. I actually do not remember too much about the innings.
How is life after cancer? Did you face any problem later?
Cancer has left me a better person. Although we all feel down at times, I still try to live every day as my last. I appreciate so much more.
Your thoughts on Yuvraj Singh as a cricketer? Can he make a strong comeback?
Yuvraj is one of the cricketers I would pay to watch. He is very exciting to watch and I think this little setback will have given him the renewed energy to succeed for India again. The tough times will have made him far stronger as an individual, and with his carefree approach to the game, it could be a lethal combination. He has so much to offer Indian cricket.
What precautions must Yuvraj take? What's your message to him?
Live the moment. Yuvraj must enjoy his recognition. He will have inspired so many people during the past 6 months. He needs to take this match like any other big match in his career.