Just before Yuvraj Singh announced his retirement earlier this week at an event in Mumbai, a 20-odd-minute self-indulgent film played out at the venue. The film was a tribute to the cricketer, with his parents playing scripted parts in it, to showcase Singh’s journey to becoming a celebrated sportsman.
“I was sure he would become a legend,” Singh’s father, Yograj, who played one Test match for India in 1981, said in the film.
The hagiography explains the reasons for the fractured relationship between the two—Yograj discourages his son at a young age from roller skating, in which Yuvraj had won some accolades, and makes him focus on cricket. It’s the quintessential story of a sportsman living his dreams through his son, leading to resentment that soothed only much later.
“I think I actually made peace (only) a couple of days ago when I was talking to my father,” Yuvraj Singh said in response to a question. “That conversation happened and he said his side of the story. It was a peaceful moment for me to have that closure…because I have never had that chat with him in the last 20 years.
“He has always been like a dragon to me…. I think we both have a different relationship now. We both have grown up…. Well, I have grown up, I don’t know about him!” he said with a rare smile.
Later, as Singh read out a statement announcing his retirement from all form of international cricket and the IPL, or Indian Premier League (keeping the option open of playing Twenty20, or T20, leagues abroad), he paused in between, either to control his emotions or to gather his thoughts. If he was a cricketer who could create magic on the field—as an attacking batsman and an electric fielder—he could also be terrible at times, appearing brusque, bordering on arrogant, off the field.
The 37-year-old’s 17-year international career has been a roller-coaster ride. His performances inspired India’s titles in the NatWest Series of 2002, World T20 in 2007 and the World Cup in 2011, after which he was laid low with a tumour that required chemotherapy. If the NatWest Series final (in which he scored 69), the six sixes in an over against Stuart Broad (in the World T20) and man-of-the-series award in India’s triumphant World Cup campaign were his high points, the 21-ball 11 in the 2014 World T20 final was a definite low, by his own admission.
The cancer treatment, soon after the World Cup win, virtually ended his Test career, but the left-handed batsman and handy spinner remained a force in limited-overs cricket, making several comebacks to the Indian team. His reputation often preceded his form, with IPL teams shelling out more money on him than he seemed worth. His desirability also came from his image of a man about town, leader of the Indian team’s bad boys’ club, a glamorous Punjabi who dated movie stars, hogged billboards and launched his own fashion brand.
For the 2019 season, though, Mumbai Indians—his sixth IPL team—picked him up for base price, which may have been an indication of his declining prowess.
“I am not available for IPL (in the future) and no one wants me anyway,” he joked, when asked about the lucrative format.
Singh played only four matches this season, scoring 98 runs at an average of 24.5, with 53 as his highest.
“I have been talking to my wife (Hazel Keech) and mother (Shabnam) since two years that I want to retire and go on with my life. Because after playing international cricket for so many years, going back and playing domestic cricket was a bit of a struggle,” said Singh, dressed in a linen jacket with rolled-up sleeves over a black T-shirt and linen shorts.
Singh was a player with the greatest bat swing ever, as former cricketer Sanjay Manjrekar describes it in a tweet. Old YouTube videos of his six sixes, which are dominating social media these days, are testament to that skill, with the second of those sixes coming from a mere flick of the wrist.
Former India teammate and fellow party-hopper Harbhajan Singh recalls in an ESPN Cricinfo piece an under-16 match in which Yuvraj hit the ball so hard that a player whose hand came in the way dislocated his wrist. Singh’s 8,701 runs from 304 One Day Internationals (ODIs) is the reason his 2011 World Cup teammate Gautam Gambhir calls him the best-ever white ball (limited-overs) cricketer India has had.
In the mid-2000s, Singh was instrumental in solidifying a middle order that helped India, under Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly, win 17 consecutive ODIs batting second, forming a special partnership with another big hitter, M.S. Dhoni. But the famed middle order at the time was also a reason Singh could not get a longer run in Test matches.
His fractured 40-Test career had a few moments of joy, like his maiden century (112) against Pakistan in Lahore in 2004, and an unbeaten 85 that helped India beat England in Chennai in 2008. He also fondly remembers his first ODI innings (and second match) when he scored 84 against Australia in Nairobi in 2000.
“First game, you score 84 against the best team in the world…. It was a dream. After that I failed in a lot of games. But because I had started so well, I always got an opportunity,” he said candidly.
Singh, who will now focus on his cancer foundation YouWeCan, admitted to a love-hate relationship with the sport that gave him everything. “I can’t explain the feeling…it taught me to fight, fall…. I have failed more than I have succeeded but I never gave up. That’s what cricket has taught me. I was lucky to play 400-plus games for India.”
If he was unlucky, it was in making a mark in the longer format, but Yuvraj Singh will remain one of India’s best batsmen in limited-overs cricket.
Arun Janardhan writes on sport and lifestyle.