Yuvraj Singh stared into the distance through the glass windows at the rooftop of Mumbai’s plush hotel as he contemplated his answer to the question about what he will miss, as he begins a new innings in life without cricket.
“I don’t know, being on the ground, wearing my India jersey which is hanging right there. Whoever comes and takes that jersey, that number, will be very proud of what I have done in that jersey,” he said before mentioning other expected aspects like missing the sizeable crowd cheering him, the high of winning the match for the country and of course the effort that he always put while fielding, batting and bowling.
Not someone known to be philosophical about life and future on the circuit, the 37-year-old was seemingly lost for words to articulate exactly what would it mean for him to stop playing a sport that not only shaped his career but also his personality.
A roller-coaster journey
Dressed in a casual white shirt over a black t-shirt, white shorts and wearing aviators even inside a hall, Yuvraj had attentively watched a short-film made on his journey from his childhood, his relationship with his parents and his struggles.
Just like his interaction with the media after he announced his retirement from international cricket and Indian Premier League – he still wants to play in overseas T20 leagues for a year or two, board permitting – the conversations in the short-film were curt and to the point, with his parents and he refraining from any overt display of emotions.
Not when he calls the backyard of his house where his father Yograj taught him the basics of the game “a quality jail” or where he describes how his father threw away his medal and skates after he had won a staking competition.
The fractious relationship between the father and son has been an open secret in cricket circles; Yuvraj seemed to always carry that rage even on the cricket field. So the obvious question to ask was at what point did he made peace with it?
“I actually made peace with it a couple of days ago when I was talking about it to my father. I spoke to him, demons inside as young kid came out and that conversation happened with him [Dad] and he came with his side of the story and it was a very peaceful moment for me to have that closure and have that chat with him, because I had never had that chat with him in the last 20 years,” said the 37-year-old.
“He has always been a driving [force] to me as you saw [in the video]... Me and father have very different relationship now. I have grown up, I don’t know about him [laughs], because all his life he has taken off on me in media, now it’s my time. I don’t know when he is going to grow up. Mom is loving it [laughs].
“I have had closure with him. He never appreciated me playing any other sport which started from when I was a young kid. He appreciated when I played cricket and [I was like] so be it and luckily for me later in my career I enjoyed it and made something good of it,” he said.
With over 8000 one-day international runs for the country, the man of the series trophy in India’s 2011 World Cup winning campaign, scoring six sixes in an over in World T20 and more importantly carrying the tag of a proven match-winner for most part of his international career, Yuvraj achieved a lot more in his 17 years of international cricket career.
But he still regrets not having a long enough Test career. “I was playing at a time when it was difficult to get a spot, players like [VVS] Laxman, [Saurav] Ganguly, who was the captain, Sachin [Tendulkar], Rahul [Dravid] and Viru [Virendra Sehwag] started opening and it was very hard to find space in the middle order.
“That time we used to get one-two Tests compared to guys today who get 10-12 Test matches to play all the time, so never really got that spot, every-time I failed I used to lose the spot... Then when Sourav retired and after that one year I was actually playing Test cricket and finally I got my spot and I was diagnosed of cancer. So I don’t know what to say. It’s been unfortunate. If you look at the whole journey it is great but unfortunate not to play another 40 Test would have been awesome,” he added.
Career starts off with a bang
Known to excel under pressure, Yuvraj announced himself on the world stage with a 80-ball 84 against Australia in Nairobi in only his second ODI and first international innings. Just an year later he starred with Mohammad Kaif in that famous Natwest Trophy Final triumph, which remains one of India’s finest victories across formats.
He fought back again after being diagnosed with cancer soon after the 2011 World Cup and when everyone thought his cricket career was all but over, the left-handed batsmen not only made it back to the national team but went on to don the Indian colours on and off from another five years.
“Probably the worst day in my cricket career was the 2014 T20 World Cup final against Sri Lanka when I scored 11 off 21 balls. It was so shattering that I felt my career was over, and I was written off by everyone to an extent that it made me feel at times that it’s all over.
“Then I took a bit of time off and that’s when I realised why I play cricket - its because I love the game. So I went back to basics, and scored heavily in domestic cricket. And about a year and a half later I made by comeback in T20 for India again where I hit six and four in the last over against Australia in Sydney. Suddenly all the belief came right back,” he added.
But life away from international cricket, playing matches in the domestic season was fast becoming a struggle for Yuvraj and by his own admission he started thinking of hanging his boots in the last two years.
“I had thought last year that the IPL this year would be my last and I would give my best shot... I was confused with my career, how to end my career. I wished that last IPL that we won and had I got a chance to play, I would have gone with satisfaction, but in life you don’t get all the things,” he added.
There was also some bitterness in his voice when asked about whether he explored the possibility of a farewell game. “I did not tell anyone in BCCI that I have to play the last match. Agar main accha tha, potential tha toh main ground pe se chale jaata. (If I was good enough, I would have retired from the ground). Aur mujhe is tarha ki cricket khelna pasand nahi hai, ki mujhe ek match chahiye (I don’t like to ask for a game, I have never played the game with that mindset).
“Toh maine us time bola ki mujhe retirement match nahi chahiye, ‘Yo Yo’ test pass nahi hoga toh main chup chhap ghar chale jayunga ‘Yo Yo’ test pass kiya (I told them I don’t want a farewell game. If I don’t pass the Yo Yo Test I will go on my own. I passed it) and then rest is not my call,” he said before adding that his time to speak about certain things would come but he would prefer to let the focus stay on India’s World Cup campaign and not speak a lot now.
But then why he decided to make an annoucement about his retirement during the World Cup? “I just felt that it was a perfect day to move on,” he said. “It’s time to say good bye and walk away. It was a roller-coaster ride, at beautiful story. But it has to end.”
May be if BCCI permits, there could be another chapter of this beautiful story in some overseas T20 or T10 league. But the warrior prince is now mentally prepared to hang his boots and find another purpose to his life.