"Smooth seas don't make skillful sailors." No other cricketer today epitomizes that saying more than Yuvraj Singh, whose international career has been irregular but intriguing; erratic but exemplary; flinching but fabulous.
Since he burst onto the international scene in 2000 with a cracking 84 in his first innings, against Australia in Kenya, Yuvraj has faced a series of setbacks, both mental and physical. After a dream start to his career, a string of low scores followed. He was ostensibly vulnerable against the quality spin and voices were raised to drop him from the team, though Sourav Ganguly supported him to the hilt.
Indifferent form was a constant of Yuvraj, and even when he scored – the NatWest Series final at Lord’s in July 2002 was the high point of his fledgling career - he was deemed as undisciplined and brash. His focus and commitment were constantly under the scanner and his colourful lifestyle provided ample grist to rumour mills. His name constantly featured in gossip columns pertaining to his rollicking flings.
Yuvraj also had some personal demons to exorcise. He was unable to convert his half-centuries into hundreds and that took a toll on him mentally. He later admitted that he sought the help of a psychologist to allay the turbulence boiling in his head. But after he notched up his first ODI century against Bangladesh at Dhaka in 2003, his career took an upswing.
He was promoted up the order to No. 4 which enabled him to rattle up centuries on a regular basis. His ton against Australia at Sydney in 2004 and another against Pakistan at Karachi in 2006 enhanced his reputation as a batsman who could score runs in all parts of the world. Receiving the Man-of-the-Series award in ODI series against Pakistan in 2006 was another high point of his career.
Despite cementing his place in an ODI squad, Yuvraj failed to do well in Test matches despite getting many opportunities. From 2003-2011, Yuvraj played 37 Test matches but was dropped on numerous occasions, sometimes during a series, and his Test career has remain chequered.
Many eminent former cricketers, including Kapil Dev, questioned his commitment to the game. Despite all the disappointments and negative hype surrounding him, Yuvraj continued to sail on the happy cloud.
In the inaugural ICC World T20 in 2007, he took the cricketing world by storm by smashing six sixes in an over off Stuart Broad. Suddenly his connect with his fans grew stronger, because they saw him as a sensitive but lion-hearted person who wasn’t immune to the vagaries of life. Yuvraj’s stirring vulnerability only added to his charisma and made people warm to him.
The year 2010 was tough. Yuvraj was grappling with a slew of injures, he had put on a weight and subsequently was dropped from the ODI squad for the Asia Cup. His form had deserted him and apparently he indulged in a brawl at St. Lucia during the World Twenty in the Caribbean for which he was berated.
With critics on his back, Yuvraj seemed down on his luck. However, being included for the 2011 World Cup changed his fortunes. His batting and bowling form – he scored 362 runs and took 15 wickets - propelled India into the final and Yuvraj was adjudged Player of the Series for his resplendent performance. Once again, he became the toast of India.
But just when he was soaking up his crowning glory, life handed another tough battle to Yuvraj, the toughest of all he had faced. In late 2011, it was reported that Yuvraj had a non-malignant tumour in his lungs. It sent shock waves among all the cricket fans. It was also revealed that during the World Cup Yuvraj had bouts of coughing and vomiting but he ignored them by taking pain-killers for the sake of the team.
Yuvraj went through the painful diagnosis period in the USA while fans in India prayed for a speedy recovery. His treatment went off well and he returned to India and recently started training at the NCA in Bangalore. Yuvraj also expressed a desire to return for the Twenty20s against New Zealand in September as well as the World T20 the same month, and on Wednesday his inclusion in India's 30-member preliminary squad for that event was met with widespread joy among the cricketing fraternity.
If he does make a successful comeback to international cricket after being diagnosed with cancer, Yuvraj’s story will be regarded as one of the most spectacular achievements by a sportsperson.