Chapter 5: YOGRAJ SINGH — The Father’s Story
Are great men born great or are they made great? This question is relevant to the story of a father who saw in his son a born player. But for Yograj Singh, that was not enough. His son had to be the greatest cricketer ever to have walked the earth. The story of Yograj is a strange one. It is a tale of the desperation of a man whose every breath was filled with the guilt of not having been successful in his preferred career. It is the tale of a man’s vision, and his obsession with this vision, which made him blind to everything else in life. All Yograj knew was that his son (Yuvraj) was to fulfil the promise that he himself had belied.
The son had to lessen the burden of his father’s past, and lay the ghost that refused to leave him. Unfair though it may be to make your child bear the baggage of your own past, one thing is clear. Yograj succeeded in making Yuvi what he is. Yograj Singh’s cricketing career had started off well. He was a contemporary of Kapil Dev. Both men were from Chandigarh and both were very good all-rounders.
Yog lost his way
For the India U-22 team that played against England in 1977 at Nagpur, Yograj was chosen over Kapil Dev. But after 1977, for some reason, Yograj lost his way and was out of cricket for a couple of years. When I watched him at the nets at DAV College, Jullundur, in 1979, he still looked a very good all-rounder, though he weighed not less than 95 kg.
In those days, I was writing for Sportsweek magazine. I happened to be in Jullundur for some work and had requested Ashwini Minna, the former Punjab Ranji player who had played with Kapil Dev and Yograj Singh, to invite young talent to nets at DAV College. As the nets were going on, Yog arrived, and without looking at anyone, bowled and batted superbly. Though he looked overweight, in terms of skill, he was terrific.
On my return to Mumbai, I mentioned to Polly Umrigar, the chairman of the selection committee, that I saw great potential in Yograj Singh. On the committee were experienced cricketers like Ghulam Ahmed, Chandu Sarwate, Dattu Phadkar and Vijay Mehra. They were aware that Yograj hadn’t played much competitive cricket — in two seasons, he had played only two Ranji games — yet they picked him for the Board President’s XI to play the touring Pakistan team at Baroda in 1979. In that match, Yograj took 3 for 29, including the wickets of Javed Miandad and Wasim Raja off consecutive balls. Subsequently, he was picked for the Indian team that toured Australia and New Zealand in 1981.
But he failed to perform, and from that point on, he simply faded away. It is against this backdrop that Yograj’s behaviour towards his son needs to be considered. In his mission to make Yuvi the greatest cricketer, the end became all important, the means didn’t matter. People called him a madman. And a madman he was. How many people are capable of such passion, such determination, perseverance, desire? The world laughed at Yograj, but he didn’t care about their criticism. All he wanted was a son. Once he had him, he took charge. Luck and chance didn’t matter because he would call the shots.
He made the choices, he took the decisions. He constructed Yuvi bit by bit. But his creation turned against him. What follows is Yograj Singh Bundhel’s version of his life and his relationship with his son, in his own words.
‘I owe a lot to Mumbai, to you, Makarand, for resurrecting me and recommending my name to the national selectors. I always felt that I had left something incomplete. That caused me a lot of sorrow because you gave me so many opportunities, you got me a job with Mafatlal, which had the best team in India, you made me play cricket in Mumbai. Mafatlal taught me the cricket culture.
‘Whatever I achieved, how to be a mature cricketer, I learnt in Mumbai. Yet I lived with this constant pain, this awareness, this feeling, that my life was somewhat incomplete, and I felt answerable to you, Makarand, to my parents, and to myself. Despite possessing so much talent and playing on such a big platform, I couldn’t achieve much, partly because my family imposed certain restrictions. Sometimes I wish I had not thought about my parents. I wish I had not thought about my family. I should have focussed on my cricket and I would have been the greatest cricketer on earth. But I had to, because of a few reasons.
‘So it was always in my heart that my family should have at least one cricketer in it. My attention went towards Yuvi because sport was in his blood. He was good at everything, from tennis to skating. I believed that he was a very talented sportsman, blessed by the gods. I felt like making him a cricketer because if you are a good athlete who has outstanding talent, you will be successful wherever you invest that talent.
‘So I forced him. One day, when Yuvi came home after winning a skating competition, my first thought was that my son was doing such a fantastic job in this sport, winning so many medals. But when I looked at him, his red band and long mane, something hit me very hard. I threw away his skates and his medals. People called me a ruthless man, but I had something else in my mind. Yuvi was twelve years old at that time.
‘I remembered people like Ashok Mankad and Sunil Gavaskar, under whom I played, telling me that all the important qualities should be inculcated from childhood itself. I remembered you telling me that one can do only one thing properly in life, not ten. So start whatever you are going to do at the earliest.
‘I still feel that if I wanted to do something for a child, I’d do it when he was seven or ten. There are many players in my academy whom I spotted when they were eight or nine years old. And so I forced Yuvi to give up skating, which he loved. Obviously, he cried a lot that day. He would never cry in front of me, but that day he did.
Yuvi was tired of crying
‘My mother was also very angry and scolded me. But once Yuvi was tired of crying, I hugged him and told him that there was no future in skating. I tried to make him understand. I don’t know if he remembers, but I explained to him that one thing still remains incomplete in me and I feel answerable to those who invested so much time in me, for time is nothing but money.
‘That day, for the first time, a father cried in the arms of his twelve-year-old son. He hugged me like a mature person. Maybe he realised then, that from now on he would have to play cricket. ‘Tea used to be served in my room every morning — Shabnam used to bring it in. The day after the skating incident, I remember he came in with her and asked me, “Will you come with me to buy a cricket kit or should I go with Mom?” I was very happy. They went and bought the kit and Yuvi started playing. ‘The first thing I did was take over the garden that Shabnam had made. I destroyed it and made a pitch. Everybody in my house was angry because Shabnam had gone to great trouble to grow a beautiful garden.
‘After that, I made a gym upstairs, put lights on the pitch. Ashok Mankad was my mentor. I told him what I was doing with Yuvi, and he just nodded. ‘When he had made me an opening batsman, he had said to me, “Yograj Singh, you have no idea how much potential you have. The problem is that there is no one to guide you.” ‘I wanted to do something different. International cricket is all about fast bowling, especially now, when we go abroad and encounter bouncy tracks. So I started with hard plastic and wet tennis balls. I remember that one day, we were practising in the backyard of our Chandigarh house. The ball went through the visor of Yuvi’s helmet. ‘Yuvi fell down and I remember that my mother yelled at me. She adored her grandson. I used to tell her, “You wait and watch, your grandson will become one of the greatest players ever.” Unfortunately, she did not live long enough to see Yuvi become a great player.
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