A sportsperson is the closest we can get in the modern age to a gladiator. They fill seats with their passion, skill, bravado and fighting spirit to conjure up a spectacle befitting for the Gods. We respect Sportsmen because in times of peace, civilization still yearns for warriors. Our collective spirit demands competition, sacrifice and most importantly, conflict. In the last twenty years, nobody in cricket embodied these qualities more than Yuvraj Singh.
A devastating southpaw, he was gifted with the rare combination of beauty and brute force. Having him on the field meant entertainment, swashbuckling strokes and most importantly, India still had a chance! The Snapchat generation won’t remember, but not so long ago, the Indian cricket team was kind of a long running joke. Winning was a bonus. The real prize was watching ten passengers (some of them match fixers) share the field with Sachin Tendulkar. Our best bet was batting first, hoping Sachin scores a century and then further praying that the opposition batsmen keep making mistakes because your most deadly bowler was Javagal Srinath. I still shudder when I reminisce those days but the night is the darkest before the dawn.
Yuvraj Singh was the dawn of Indian cricket. I am not saying this because he just hung up his boots, but because his arrival coinciding with that of Mohammed Kaif, gave the Indian cricket team what it lacked the most – personality. Oh and they both were superb fielders. A quality that most Indian uncles were convinced we lacked because of our “vegetarian diet” and not sharing the white man’s superior athletic genes. Yuvi and Kaif, in addition to being gifted batsmen, introduced the team to the art of “finishing a game”. The Indian team almost religiously ensured that good starts were never capitalized on and the final total whether batting first or second was well below what it could have been. This middle order duo finally showed a nation what it means to have players who could build on good starts and most importantly, chase a total, no matter how big or small.
Although Kaif’s career peaked in the 2003 Natwest Series final, Yuvraj used that final as a stepping stone to be a central part of India’s incredible generation that won the 2007 T20 and 2011 ODI World Cups! Never awed, never in doubt, Yuvraj was an alpha male. While most remember him for his six sixes against Stuart Broad in 2007, for me the Prince will be always remembered for his stellar performances against Australia in both the 2007 and 2011 World Cup campaigns. Wile most Indians check the calendar for our match against Pakistan, my focus has always been Australia because no one can win the cup without defeating the infuriatingly good Kangaroos. His explosive 30 ball 70 in the 2007 Semi final and the crucial 65 ball 57 in the 2011 Semi final, both against Australia, is what cemented his position as one of the best limited overs batsmen in the history of the sport.
He has had his fair share of off field fun but unlike Kambli and Sreesanth, they never encroached the field where he wielded his bat like a sword. Laying waste to bowling attacks of all kinds, Yuvraj was an imperious warrior and we can only be thankful that he was born in our country. A true credit to the sport, he truly deserved a better farewell. But I will not let that come in the way of my memory of Yuvraj. A big game player who delivered when his nation needed him the most, even at the risk of losing his life. What more can you ask of a gladiator?
Farewell Yuvi. I was privileged to have seen you play.