Yograj Singh is famous as cricketer Yuvraj Singh's father. Rewind to the late 1970s and Yograj was a star in his own right.
He was a dashing all-rounder and was considered at par with his friend, Kapil Dev. When Indian cricket was looking for young blood, two names caught the selectors’ mind: Kapil and Yograj. They came from similar schools, with similar talent and they even had the same coach.
Kapil became India's greatest all-rounder but Yograj’s career never took off while. “I was depressed, it was disaster for me and I even picked up a gun and put it in my mouth. Life became hell, and that frustration was in the family. My mother felt hurt, my wife felt hurt and even my kid Yuvraj was getting hurt,” says Yograj.
Yograj played just one Test and six ODIs for India: numbers he could never live down. He insists he had the talent but not the luck. “I must say that it was his bad luck that he could not reach the top. Yograj was capable of achieving what Kapil achieved. I feel very sad for Yograj,” says Desh Prem Azad, his coach.
Yuvraj was a child when Yograj handed him a bat. Yograj remembers that day. “As I told you I am a very spiritual man. I was crying one day in front of my guru ‘what the hell , how do I live, I cant live like this.’ Some thing inside me said: ‘I’ve gifted you a son’. I looked at this small kid sitting on the potty, wearing a small hat. Some thing told me: ‘I have given you a gifted son , coach him and he will play for you’. Believe me that voice still comes in me,” says Yograj.
Yograj started pushing Yuvraj to achieve what he could not. “I told Yuvraj, "apne baap ki pagdi ke liyen khelo (play for you father’s honour).”
And Yuvraj, whose batting at the T20 world cup is now part of cricket folklore, acknowledges his father’s role in his career. “My father didn't play much for India. He was very emotional and wanted his son to play for the country. He worked a lot on me,” says Yuvraj.
Yograj is now a coach at Chandigarh’s DAV College; his love for the game restored by his son’s success.
Never played for India
Yograj got a chance to play for India—not Arun Sharma, the Punjab wicket-keeper batsman who kept wickets for 16 years and still holds the record for the most stumpings and catches in Indian first class cricket.
Arun should have played for India but at that time the great Syed Kirmani was in his prime. Arun, who started playing when he was 10, remained in the sidelines. “Cricket was my life—I never thought of a life without it. I did not play for India and yes this made me depressed,” he says.
Sitting at his sports shop, Arun looks back at life with mixed emotions. “Playing even one match for India can make a difference in your life. There is a difference in being a first class cricketer and an cricketer for India.”
Arun doesn’t crib though and values what he has achieved. He says cricket gave him a job at the Food Corporation of India, made him a match referee with the BCCI and helped him in setting up a sports shop. “My identity is as a cricketer and I am nothing without it.”
Small success but a winner
When Sanjay Bangar played for India, Rahul Dravid would call him the “Budha”. Sanjay was never one of the glamour boys or a star but he was known as a hard worker. Sanjay could complain that the game should have given him more but he doesn’t.
“At the end of the day you think you could have achieved more and you could have played longer. But then you can look at the other side and realise there are many players who are talented but who couldn't perform at the right time. When they played well the selectors where not there to watch them,” says Sanjay.
Sanjay doesn’t boast but it takes a lot blood and sweat to play 118 first class matches. He represented India for almost three years but was then suddenly dropped. He was given no explanations and he didn’t seek any. He says cricket taught him lessons which he applies to his life.
"In Test matches there is a factor called draw. Most people go through their life and they end up with nothing—it’s as good as drawn life for them. They never achieve what they started to but they did okay. It was a drawn life for them.”
Sanjay is now back where he started: Delhi's Karnail Singh Stadium. It’s not easy to return to the dull domestic circuit but Sanjay is ready for another session at the nets.
Sanjay Bangar and Arun Sharma are among thousands of nameless cricketers who slug it out in anonymous domestic games. They are the unsung heroes of the game—they didn't make it big but they played the game.