Throughout his checkered international career, spanning more than 11 years, Yuvraj Singh had elicited a host of emotions from the cricket fraternity, media and public. Unanimous support and well wishes have not been one of them.
The news that Yuvraj, 30, has been diagnosed with cancer and is currently undergoing chemotherapy in the USA has extracted a sea of support and best wishes from the public, media and cricketing world. It is a very, very tough time to go through for any individual and as chronicled by cancer survivors – especially athletes - it can be a dark passage.
What Yuvraj has experienced in the last year, some don't go through in a lifetime. Before the 2011 World Cup, he had been dogged by injury and poor form, his image as a cricketer tattered and taunted at. He had a poor 2010, with a lack of runs and fitness costing him a place in the Test team, and briefly even the one-day (ODI) team. Hand fractures, a wrist injury and a neck strain made it his toughest year in international cricket, but he replied resoundingly with 362 runs and 15 wickets in India's run to the World Cup title. It was redemption and a career high for a player constantly hounded by his critics at the slightest drop in form.
When that World Cup high was followed by a lackluster showing in the Indian Premier League (IPL) as Yuvraj led the Pune Warriors through a forgettable debut season, out came the critics again terming Yuvraj lethargic and disinterested. When he opted out of the West Indies tour, there was speculation that he had done so because he did not want to play under the much younger Suresh Raina. Yet again, the naysayers and skeptics were sharpening their knives.
Then came the Test series in England, when in his first innings in a year Yuvraj posted a fighting half-century at Trent Bridge. In the same match he was struck a blow to the hand which ruled him out for three months. He duly returned to the Test squad, but once again failed to cement his place. After scores of 23, 18 and 25 in three innings he was axed. It was evident he had not the technique to survive in Test cricket, and the manner in which he was dismissed by Darren Sammy added to the image of a poor five-day cricketer. His technique and footwork was analysed no end, and many said his days as a Test cricketer were over.
Yuvraj asked the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to not consider him for selection for the home ODIs against West Indies because he wanted time to regain fitness. In the interim, tests revealed a "golf-ball sized" growth on his left lung and he was told it could be malignant. Yuvraj's mother, Shabnam, released an emotional statement highlighting the family's struggles. Sickeningly, there were murmurs that it was a means to garner support for a struggling cricketer.
Now that it has been revealed that he has been diagnosed with cancer, there is unanimous support all around for Yuvraj. He needs and deserves all the support he can get because beating cancer isn't one person's battle. It is a medical team, family and friends and a belief that survival is possible. Yuvraj needs a strong support system to spur him on, but his biggest battle may be in inspiring himself. A cancer survivor's journey is always one of milestones, and for Yuvraj the best way forward is to strive to return to the cricket field. Maybe he will find inspiration in his support system, or from the rigours his father Yograj put him through in a quest to make him a world beater, or in answering his critics, or in highlights of some of his memorable innings.
Cancer is life's largest and most deadly opponent, but there is every reason to believe Yuvraj can bounce back. There are many sportsmen who have battled cancer, the most famous being cyclist Lance Armstrong. In these darkest of times, Yuvraj can seek inspiration from those before him.
Seven months ago, not satisfied with being remembered as the World Cup's Player of the Tournament, Yuvraj hoped to create a legacy winning Test matches for India. More than ever though, his biggest challenge lies ahead. Yuvraj has been labelled many things: outrageously talented, ODI behemoth, Test failure, enfant terrible, brash, arrogant, irresponsible, lazy, the playboy of Indian cricket, among the most common. If and when he does come back – and we must all hope that he does, for he can be a treat to watch – Yuvraj must be looked at in a different light.
Fans of all sports love a comeback, a return to greatness, a story of redemption. Here's hoping Yuvraj can script his greatest achievement yet.