YouWeCan ~ a 25 year tale of inspiration, pride, resilience & big moments!
Just last night when India beat Australia, an image flashed in my head — that of Yuvraj Singh, kneeling and roaring in relief after beating Australia in the World Cup Quarterfinals in Ahmedabad in 2011 and seeing India through to the semi-finals of the tournament that we eventually went onto win. It was thanks to his 362 runs, including a century & 4 fifties; 15 crucial wickets and agile fielding at point that Team India managed to lift the prestigious trophy after 28 years and the dreams of billions of people like me were fulfilled, that too on home soil. All this, whilst he knew that cancerous cells were destroying him from the inside but he continued his pursuit with single-minded focus and without sharing his pain with anyone just so that he could lift the trophy for the nation and his beloved ‘Paaji’.
When you close your eyes and think of the phenomenon called ‘Yuvraj Singh’, one typically imagines a pumped up, confident, athletic young lad who walked with a bit of swagger; very often had eyes that were focused & dilated and someone who was roaring, fist-pumping and jumping in jubilation. Throughout his career, one could sense that his juvenile, child-like demeanor must have ensured that he was the perennial prankster in the team. The man was an energy ball and more than runs & wickets, he could lift the morale of his side and the audience in minutes.
Our generation’s love affair with Yuvi perhaps started when most of us saw him for the first time on screen on 7th Oct 2000 when he helped India beat the Aussies in the ICC Champions Trophy in Nairobi with a fluent 84 of 80 balls. Although by now, this 19-year-old southpaw had already made waves in the cricketing circle by helping India win the U15 & U19 World Cups in 1996 and 2000 respectively, wherein he was adjudged Man of the Series in both tournaments, giving us a preview of what was to come in 2011, where he famously finished off the game with his skipper Dhoni. Who would have imagined this in 1999, when Yuvraj played against Dhoni in a Cooch Behar trophy game in Jamshedpur and scored a mammoth 358 all by himself in response to 357 scored Bihar? As depicted in Dhoni’s biopic, perhaps this innings left a massive impression on Dhoni, who eventually made the most of Yuvi’s resources, especially in major global tournaments.
Yuvi was one of the 5–6 young guns that flourished under Dada’s rule and boy did he make an impression in the Natwest Trophy finals at Lords in 2002 when he stitched an unbelievable 121 run partnership with Kaif that helped India snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and instilling belief in a new generation of Indian cricketers, who were coming out of the horrors of match-fixing, that they could win overseas!
He had a fairly average outing in India’s campaigns at the 2003 & 2007 ODI World Cups but when the world moved to the T20 era, the man made his impression immediately in the inaugural World Cup in 2007. His 6 sixes off Broad sparked early celebrations all across the nation and left an indelible mark and made an entire generation believe once again. More than those 6s, it was his crushing 70 off 30 balls in the semifinals against the Aussies that I remember (or perhaps don’t), because that night I had a bet with a few friends that for every boundary he scores, I will down a shot and he gave me that privilege a mere 10 times;)
As I write this, I realize that all or most of my memories about Yuvraj are centered around his contributions at major tournaments and finals. Can you believe it that last night India beat Australia in an ICC event for the first time since 1999 without Yuvraj Singh in the playing XI?! He was part of the 5 Indian wins against Australia in the ICC events and scored a fifty in four of those! It’s hard to believe that the man only averaged 36 and 33 with the bat in ODIs & Tests respectively but those numbers hardly do any justice to the man’s impact, presence and aura. No wonder statistics is such a dry subject!
Many would rightly say that his bout of cancer robbed him of a good 5–6 years of cricket just when he was peaking in 2011 but what is unreal is that the man never stopped believing in himself and staged 3 comebacks post-2012 — each time he would go back to the drawing board in domestic cricket to make his case. In his last comeback attempt in 2017, the warrior managed to score a career-best 127 ball 150 against England.
As he draws the curtain on a glorious, 19-year career today, am sure a generation of Indians and cricket lovers would salute this ‘Sher’ for his heroic contributions to help Team India win 4 World Cups; for giving us goosebump inducing memories to be proud of and for showing us time and again that what matters is to perform when it matters and make the big moments count. I have no doubt that he would blindly walk into (with his usual swagger) anyone’s all-time ODI XI to capture the #6 position.
Thank you Yuvi for making us believe that “YouWeCan”!