Thursday, February 9, 2012


Right now, while you are reading these words, Yuvraj Singh would be sitting in bed with a copy of Lance Armstrong’s It’s Not About The Bike, reading through his favourite passages, trying to prepare himself for the arduous months ahead. Indeed, Armstrong’s account of his battle with testicular cancer, a condition so severe that doctors gave him less than 40% chance of survival, and subsequent Tour de France triumph is one of the most inspiring stories in the history of man.

But there’s a story that should matter even more to Yuvraj Singh while he charts his long and lonely route back to international cricket after he’s been treated for cancer. This story begins with a yellow seat that sat far away from him while he took guard at the Melbourne Cricket Ground during that Australian summer of 2007-08. As the bowler walked back to his mark, Yuvraj must have squinted at the sun and then looked straight ahead at the long on boundary, then at the sight screen and then at the spectators on the first and second tiers of the stadium. There were spectators and supporters, cheering and jeering, but Yuvraj’s gaze must surely have traveled further up to the top tier where amongst the row of blue seats sat the proud little yellow seat.

It seemed to be a million metres away from the square. That seat is a taunt that teases every batsman who walks out to bat at the MCG. And Yuvraj Singh must not have been any different. There’s a small plaque near the seat that mentions the fact that this seat was once struck by the biggest six to have ever been hit by a batsman at that ground. That yellow seat amidst a row of blues is a challenge for every batsman to try and match or surpass that feat but none have succeeded so far. Yuvraj himself has smashed a few colossal maximums and he must have fancied his chances.

But that yellow seat really is a long long way off on this massive ground. He must have wondered what kind of a man could muscle a ball that far into the stands, and the answer is a man who had cancer.

Simon Patrick O’Donnell was on top of the world. The year was 1987 and the then un-fancied Aussies, under Allan Border’s stewardship, had just won the cricket World Cup in India. Simon O’Donnell was a young all-rounder with the team and had done his bit for the cause. His champagne soaked clothes were yet to dry when Simon got the news after a routine check that he had been diagnosed with a form of cancer, not very different from the kind that Yuvraj is fighting. Shock and dismay hade to make way for courage and faith.

Like in Yuvraj’s case today, selectors and fans alike hoped and prayed for Simon’s return to good health but in the same breath wondered if he would ever regain his strength and stamina as well as his repertoire of skills to make it back to the national team, if and when he did survive the cancer. A little more than a year went by. Simon had beaten the cancer and was back in the domestic circuit. The Australian team was returning to India for the six-nation Nehru Cup and Simon was back in the team.

Skeptics wondered if Simon had really merited selection or had he been a sentimental pick. It didn’t take long for Simon to scatter the naysayers with his heavy hitting. In 1990, the O’Donnell bat, a meaty willow mace, smashed the Sri Lankans all over that park in the desert in Sharjah for what was then the quickest half-century in ODIs. His 18 ball 50 was a record that stood for another six years. He went on to become one of Australia’s most valuable one day cricketers. And then on that fateful day at the MCG, in the year 1993, during a Sheffield Sheild match, as Greg Mathews skipped up to the wicket tobowl, O’Donnell readied himself for the delivery and then smashed it out of the park. The ball whistled and soared and then crashed into that seat high up on the stands, which was then painted yellow to immortalize that monstrous hit.

Cancer couldn’t kill O’Donnell. It only made himstronger. Today he is about fifty and a very popular television commentator. And if O’Donnell can, is there any reason why Yuvraj Singh can’t? The people of India owe Yuvraj Singh all the prayers he needs to get through this rather difficult time.

To hope, wish and believe that the man who has the fortitude to hit Stuart Broad for six sixes in an over and win us the World Cup will surely find the courage and the conviction he needs to keep his chin up through the debilitating chemotherapy and those fits of self-doubt, is perhaps all we can do. Cancer is a nemesis we understand better today.

There are ceres and promised that hold out both hope and healing. Perhaps familiarity has even bred a bit of contempt, but the disease still remains an apparently indiscriminate killer. It is inevitable that there would come a time when most cancers would be treatable diseases and nothing like the specters of doom that they are today. But until such a time as that, we will need to keep looking at a Simon O’Donnell, a Lance Armstrong or perhaps soon enough, a Yuvraj Singh, to remind ourselves, that though we be weak of flesh and bone, with courage, the spirit can soar above sickness and disease, healing every pock that mars our own…So get well soon, Yuvraj, for somewhere out there, sits a yellow seat you need to smash...


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