Yuvraj Singh wound up on the losing side when he played for India against New Zealand in a Twenty20 international in Chennai this week, but that mattered much less than the fact of his being there at all.
It was the 31-year-old Indian all-rounder’s first match since last November. Since then, he has received a diagnosis of and treatment for mediastinal seminoma, a rare germ-cell tumor between his lungs.
Greeted with roars by a large crowd that included his mother, Yuvraj bowled two overs of his slow left-arm spin, then came into bat with India chasing New Zealand’s total of 167 from its 20 overs.
Within a few minutes, he had struck New Zealand’s star spinner, Daniel Vettori, for a magnificent six, and there was a further spectacular blow from medium-pacer Jacob Oram as the contest came to a climax. But Yuvraj was unable to complete the full Hollywood ending, getting outbowled by James Franklin for 34 in a final over that ended with India one run short.
“We lost a game that we should have won, but for me personally it was a big emotional moment to get on the field,” said Yuvraj, who added that “I had tears in my eyes when we were fielding. Luckily, the cameras did not catch it.”
Yuvraj’s treatment included three sessions of chemotherapy at the Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis, where he was a patient of Dr. Lawrence Einhorn, who led the team that treated the cyclist Lance Armstrong and saved his life in 1996.
“Maybe I had to come back to it this way and finish the book,” said Yuvraj, admitting to having read only half of Armstrong’s first book, “It’s Not About The Bike.”
Yuvraj said before his previous scheduled start — a rained-out Twenty20 match last Saturday — that returning to the game “is like starting a new life.”
“A few months ago,” he said, “I had trouble climbing four steps, now I can’t wait to take the field.”
While the full story of his recovery is to be told in a three-part television series, part two of his cricket career should rapidly acquire some new chapters as he takes part in the World Twenty20, starting next week in Sri Lanka.
The Indian bowler Harbhajan Singh said, “Now that is what we call a comeback.” But Yuvraj’s teammates will welcome him for reasons that go beyond good wishes for a sick colleague. He is the archetypal modern Indian cricketer: a thunderous hitter perfectly suited to shorter forms of the game.
Those talents have made him rich — in 2009, Forbes magazine listed him as the third-highest earning cricketer in the world , with an income of $5.5 million, including $4 million from endorsements. That was before the immense boost to his marketability from his role in India’s 2011 World Cup triumph, where he was voted Player of the Tournament after being Man of the Match in four of its nine matches. (But he did not have a spot on the most recent Forbes list .)
There is also a certain swagger about him, which in 2010 earned him a place alongside Floyd Mayweather Jr. and LeBron James, among others, on The London Daily Telegraph list of the 10 largest egos in sport . The only other cricketer on that list was England’s South-African born batsman Kevin Pietersen, an old rival.
Pietersen has little regard for Yuvraj’s spin bowling, which he has described as “filth” and “pie-chucking.” But Yuvraj dismissed him twice for low scores when England visited India in 2008, and Pietersen has never quite shaken off the suspicion that he is vulnerable to modest left-arm spin.
Yuvraj is not cricket’s first cancer survivor. The Australian captain, Michael Clarke, had two low-grade skin cancers removed from his face in 2006.
The South African batsman Dave Callaghan, who played One Day Internationals in the 1990s after recovering from testicular cancer, said Yuvraj would be better in his return. “The tough times will make him far stronger as an individual, and with his carefree approach to the game, it could be a lethal combination.”
It remains to be seen whether this extra drive enables Yuvraj to achieve one important remaining ambition: mastering five-day test cricket. His record in the longest game is modest, with only 37 matches for India and three scores of more than 100 since his debut in 2000.
As a supposed egotist, he was highly ungratified when the former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar called him “one of the all-time greats in 50 over cricket.”
“I am very far away from greatness,” said Yuvraj, whose father, Yograj Singh, played one test for India before becoming a prominent film actor. “Tell me, who remembers a one-day cricketer?”
Those who were in Chennai on Tuesday will certainly remember that day, but its charismatic central figure clearly feels he still has more to prove.
© 2012, The New York Times News Service