Yuvraj Singh’s life is an inspiration to everyone. Widely deemed as one of the greatest limited-overs cricketers to emerge from India, Yuvraj has done wonders for his country.
The southpaw has hit six sixes in an over off Stuart Broad during the inaugural ICC World Twenty20. In the same tournament, he had scored a scintillating 30-ball 70 against Australia in the semi-final to propel India into the final, where they beat Pakistan by 5 runs to lift the trophy.
Yuvraj was adjudged Man of the Tournament in India’s triumphant 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup campaign. He had played in the showpiece event while suffering from an illness and vomiting blood. The illness was later diagnosed as cancer on his left lung.
Subsequently, Yuvraj took a sabbatical from cricket for his treatment at the Cancer Research Institute in Boston, United States and eventually made a return to competitive cricket in September 2012. Since then the 36-year-old is doing his bit for the cancer patients by running a foundation called ‘YouWeCan’.
In an exclusive interview with Sunday Guardian Live, Yuvraj recently reminisced about the times when he started playing the sport.
“My tryst with fulltime cricket began in a funny way. I won the gold medal in only one sport when I was around 10 years old, and that was in skating. My father sat me down that day and said, “I understand you don’t enjoy studying but if you love sports so much, at least take one that can get you somewhere…focus on cricket,” Yuvraj quoted.
“I went through my fair share of struggles while attempting my hand in the field of professional cricket. My father has been one of the biggest driving forces in my career. From an early age, I was sent to Mumbai to train and endured the most strenuous training every day. It definitely paid off in the long run—I made it to the Under-19 team of Punjab, and played the Ranji Trophy in 1996-97. I was then awarded “Player of the Tournament” for my performance in the Under-19 World Cup held in 2000, which won me a spot in the national squad,” he added.
When asked if there is still a stigma around cancer in our society, the left-hander said: “In recent years, a lot of people have become more aware about cancer and have begun taking their health more seriously. But of course, even with the progress made in oncology over the past few decades, cancer still has a stigma attached to it for some of those who do not understand the disease or the effects of its treatment. YouWeCan [Singh’s cancer foundation] is an effort to support such people and create awareness among them. These [the foundation’s] grants will provide substantial funding of devices and adaptation of existing technologies for cancer awareness and detection in low- and middle-income areas nationally.”
“I did not want my treatment to be a secret because I was very well aware of the love that my countrymen have for me and I wanted to let them know that I was fighting my cancer just like they wanted me to. I wanted to lead by example and believed that nothing is too big for you to conquer once you decide on it,” he explained.
Sharing the struggles he had to endure to make a return to the national side after battling cancer, Yuvi said: “I began training with the team a few months prior to the matches. In the beginning, it was very tough on my body. Things improved with each and every session. The body got used to the conditions. Also to resume training, you need a lot of strength. The body needs to get that strength back. I went through a period of training at the NCA [National Cricket Academy], as well as underwent physiotherapy and gym sessions, and was continuously monitored for my progress. I was nervous and was preparing myself like it was my first time playing for team India.”
Elaborating the kind of work YouWeCan has been doing, Yuvraj said: “YouWeCan focuses on every sector of cancer. Be it creating awareness about its symptoms and chemotherapy procedures, or helping educate the kids who are cancer survivors. All in all, we believe your hope and help from the near ones give you enough courage to face adversity in its face. We as a foundation make conscious efforts to set up cancer awareness camps in remote areas of the country. We work towards creating awareness of the disease, as well as encouraging people to get screened for cancer on a regular basis. As a foundation, our main aim is to allow every cancer patient, survivor or fighter to believe in themselves and those around them, and to fight cancer with the utmost willpower and spirit. YouWeCan had a clear mission and vision in place since the organisation’s inception. We believe charity is the first step to a better society and hope is what keeps everyone together in difficult times.”
Yuvraj Singh has also set up a cricket academy – ‘Yuvraj Singh Center of Excellence (YSCE)’ – which has several branches across India.
Speaking about the vision of YSCE, the Chandigarh born cricketer stated: “Our vision is to groom and help every cricketer from the grassroots level to the highest standards. We want to make accessible the best infrastructure for cricket aspirants in every city and bring the best opportunities for every future legend. YSCE’s out-of-the-box strategy focuses on developing the sporting ecosystem of the country via a multi-faceted approach which includes setting up high-quality cricket academies across the country, identifying and supporting technology solutions for the enhancement of the sports, pitch intelligence, character building and understanding of the laws. According to us, being successful in sports is a way of life—24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. We strive to give all players the necessary tools to develop their game, but it’s up to the player to take the final step.”
Yuvraj has also penned down his autobiography in 2013, titled “Test of My Life: From Cricket to Cancer and Back”.
Speaking about the experience of writing a biography, Singh said: “If I think of it, my life is full of words beginning with the letter “C”. I was born in Chandigarh; I became a cricketer; and during my decade as an international cricketer, all I craved, along with the rest of the India team, was the “Cup”. This story, though, was about the new C in my life. It was the story of my cancer. The experience of writing about my life was very overwhelming. It became about denial and acceptance, from the battle to defeat the disease, to the struggles that I still face.”