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Yuvraj Singh: Swagger and Inspiration

Today Yuvraj Singh announced his retirement.

He was known to typify the man who walked on the field with swagger, played with flamboyance, and showed ability that borders on genius.

Credits

Who can forget his 6 sixes against England during the inaugural T20 World Cup in South Africa.

But the most enduring memory was Yuvraj Singh, who was often being criticised as a bit of a has been in 2011, come out and play the best cricket of his life. It was not surprising that when Indian became World Champs in 2011 in Mumbai – Yuvraj was the man of the series.

But the saga had just started. News trickled out that Yuvraj had been sick during the tournament. Over the next year, he fought lung cancer and with chemotherapy he survived and beat cancer.

He did not just beat cancer, he managed to get back to cricket and play at the highest level all over again. His international career after his comeback was patchy but is the most inspiring part of his career and a testimony to mental strength and courage.

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A haircut, a cola and a Test match

Recently, I watched in bits and pieces, India winning a test match against England on television. I am one of those cricket tragics, who watches only test matches. The rest I feel does not have enough context. I was thinking a bit about why I think of the long form game with such romance. And I remembered a very blurry memory from my childhood.

I remember as a child (and that would be the 80s) getting a haircut from the local barber shop. The cricket match was playing on a grainy television set in the shop. The great West Indies team were hurting the Indian team (sometimes quite literally with their fast bowling attack) but everyone in the barber shop was egging our cricketers along, at the same time praising the opposition’s quality and excellence. My dad having with a general receding hairline had his haircut in a few minutes. Then it would be my turn. Though I love the game of cricket, I preferred the usual soft toned Mohammad Rafi songs that usually saloons played instead of the West Indies bowling at Indian batsman.

Why you might ask?

Well, the guy with scissors would mutter a cautious word to the Indian batsman. Snip, Snip, Snip he would go around my ears and suddenly groan “Play straight, play properly. Don’t throw your wicket away”.

“Yes, please follow your advice. Don’t cut off my ear now” – I wish I had the courage to say that.

That particular day, I hated the cricket great Kapil Dev. He was not the cautious kind. If someone bounced a ball at 90 mph at this head, he was going to hook it out for a six. Sometimes he would miss, sometimes he would flamboyantly smack it out of the ground for six. While it was all riveting, I hated him for making this man with deadly sharp scissors, very excited. Kapil Dev was getting him excitedly shouting sometimes in admonishment and sometimes in pure joy.

After that near death experience at the barber shop, my dad would take me to the nearest provision store and we would share a cold drink. It was always a bottle of Thumsup. Getting a Thumsup after a haircut, was our tradition. Apparently it was older than even before I could begin to form proper words.

We would walk back home and as a family watch a slow moving and detailed drama called Test cricket. Kapil Dev, Viv Richards, Malcolm Marshall would usually write unusual twists and turns that made watching a whole day’s game worth the time spent.

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A Champion from Mumbai

It was said he cannot bat well when India really needs him. It was said he isnt a Match winner, or atleast not as big a match winner as some others. Personally for me when I think of the words Sachin Tendulkar it takes me back almost twenty years ago, watching him bat against Pakistan on the grimy television tube. A sixteen year old boy had become a batting sensation and the sensational batsman went on to become legend and even that was a long time ago. Heard a comment from a friend a while ago that Tendulkar epitomises Mumbai.
It is so true. Its like the superhero; everyone admires his super success and so it isnt as entertaining to see him suceed and then the failures of the superhero becomes entertainment. Its important to remember how Tendulkar has never talked about why he has needed to bat carefully and restrict himself. He has never discussed matters that were discussed in the dressing room. We often sing praises to Ganguly as the best captain for giving direction to youngsters like Harbhajjan Singh, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan. Its said Tendulkar was not a good captain, cooly we forget he was a captain at the age of 23 and his youngest teammates who were just settling into the Indian cricket team were Ganguly and Dravid. Both players who went on to captain India.
But apart from his contribution to cricket, the stand out quality that remains is his seemingly indifference to expectations. Yes, I will call it indifference because I dont think a person can deal with such expectations like Tendulkar has on him and be sane. Imagine if you have a bad day at work and your patriotism to your country is questioned !! Thats what Tendulkar has dealt with on more than a few occasions. The century in the last innings at Chennai was perfect. It was not the most brilliant of his career but like Harsha Bogle commented it was like how a brilliant writer of literture will take joys in writing a good project report, just to tell himself he can. 
The Champion like the city he hails from has been battered, injured and denounced as a has been and even selfish. But like champions both will just keep going, without a fuss, with indifference to expectations of everyone except their own.
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Saurav Ganguly: God of the off side…

I love cricket more than any other sport. Football comes a close second but Cricket is well boss, THE GAME. Today Saurav Ganguly decided that this would be his last test series. The last time he will play for India. And he bows out of the game against possible his arch-rivals Australia.

I have never been a big fan of Ganguly, but mainly for non-cricketing reasons. I thought his taking off his shirt and waving it around at Lords was irresponsible for a captain. We still see the then youngsters Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh still showing more passion for effect rather than in their game. But inspite of what I think, I admit, it felt so good to see Ganguly waving his shirt around like that on the famous Lords balcony. But it must be said his passion was not only for effect. Making one of the most prolific comebacks in recent times shows he had and always will have a few roars left in him.

His 144 against Australia at Brisbane was something that probably made the world respect him. Battered in the ODI triangular series against the Aussies, with hardly any good form India travelled to Australia. Their coach Buchanan had predicted a 4-0 victory for Australia. Ganguly was attacked by the Australian verbally provoked as a batsman who was weak against fast bowling. His record in a previous Australian tour had been pointed out for that effect. Australia had piled up close to 400 runs in the first innigns and then India lost 4 quick wickets and then a master class by Ganguly, ducking and weaving bouncers, looking ugly yet surviving and then suddenly attacking the Australians. A mind numbing 144 runs and India took the lead. THe first test in Brisbane was a draw, but India went on to win the next one in Adelaide. A strange twist of irony is that now Buchanan is the Coach of Kolkata KnightRiders and subsequently is working with Ganguly to build the IPL team.

Many think he was India’s best captain, best left hander, best or most agressive player. I don’t know about that. Watching him bat in full flow you had to say he was the God of the Off Side as his old colleague Rahul Dravid has said of Ganguly. The last series for Ganguly, the last 4 tests he will feature in Indian test cap. I think its time to savour it. Its time for his critics and fans to come together and savour the last of the God of the off side. Its time for us to realize that there are other greats who will also bid farewell to cricket in the next year or two and history will be much kinder to them than our pessimistic and controversy loving public and its news media.