Dad guy deserves some credit

Published: Jun 13, 2019, 05:40 IST | Clayton Murzello

Yograj Singh was not always politically correct in the way he behaved or spoke, but the role he played in Yuvraj's career cannot be ignored

Dad guy deserves some credit
Yograj Singh, Yuvraj's father, during his playing days. Pic/mid-day Archives

Clayton MurzelloArrey, woh Yograj ka ladka, kya lamba, lamba marta hain." I remember then National selector Anil Deshpande telling me about a young batsman he had seen during the 1999-2000 season. Within a few months, this young gun — Yuvraj Singh — was picked to play for India in the Champions Trophy, where he made a mark in his second game (against Australia), not having had the opportunity to bat in his debut game against Kenya.

Few things are more exciting for a cricket lover than to see young talent come good, and Yuvraj's man of the match award-winning performance against Steve Waugh's team made him an instant hero. The ODI win at Nairobi was India's first in two years against Australia. Yuvraj was in India's one-day scheme of things for 13 consecutive years (2000 to 2013). He kept dreaming of playing again for India after the last of his 11 games in 2017, but it proved elusive.

Whenever Yuvraj walked in to bat in white-ball cricket, he gave one the impression that he wouldn't need too many balls to get his eye in, sending out a clear message to the bowlers that only a superlative delivery will eventuate in a dot ball.

A few months before reporting on his famous innings in the NatWest Trophy final at Lord's, I watched him demolish a Zimbabwe attack in an ODI at Hyderabad's Lal Bahadur Stadium. The visitors had scored 240 and India were gasping at 56 for three in response under lights. Yuvraj, on his return to the Indian team, walked in at 132 for four and together with Mohammad Kaif guided India to a winning position.

He played splendidly for his famous 69 in the 2002 NatWest Series final at Lord's but it shouldn't be forgotten that he played a fine role in India's opener against the same opponents as well — 64 not out in a six-wicket win and another player of the match award as India reached their 272-run target in the 49th over at Lord's.

The performance of Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj ensured India earned the right kind of momentum to be a serious threat to England and Sri Lanka in the series. Ganguly's men lost just one game — at The Oval against England — but that qualified as an aberration. The NatWest win must rank very close to India's 1983 World Cup win. People on the streets of London that night were calling it India's finest ODI win because it was achieved in thrilling fashion while the 1983 final victory was a foregone conclusion towards the end of the West Indies innings. Yuvraj got lesser known as Yograj's son as his career progressed, but that did not chip away at the influence the former all-rounder had on his son. Yograj was not always politically correct in the way he behaved or spoke, but he shaped a career.

In March 2006, while India and England did battle in the rain-interrupted Mohali Test, I left the press box to meet Yograj at his National Service Centre petrol pump in Chandigarh's Sector 17. Yuvraj was in the playing XI but had scored only 15.

Yograj seemed unaffected and made it clear very early in our conversation that he doesn't watch his son play.

Realising I was from Mumbai, Yograj took great pleasure in speaking about the role this city played in his emergence as an India player. He hadn't played for Haryana for over two years. He was based in Jalandhar then and overweight. It all changed when Mumbai-based journalist Makarand Waingankar got him to the city and had him stay at his residence in Andheri. Soon, he was playing for Mafatlal Sports Club and it didn't take too long for Mumbai's top batsmen on the inter-office circuit to
realise that he was seriously quick.

Ashok Mankad, his skipper at Mafatlal, handled the wild one well and Yograj had no hesitation in saying that Mankad was the best captain he played under. Once, when Mankad was declared caught behind after some vociferous appealing by the slip cordon in a Times Shield match, Yograj vented his frustration by bowling like the wind and delivered a telling blow to the opposition's opening batsman — on his heart.

He got limited opportunities on the 1981 tour of Australia and New Zealand and that's the farthest his international career reached.

By 1984, he had played his last match for Haryana. Yograj's responsibilities at home prevented him from enjoying a long cricket career. After his father passed away in 1981, he had to attend to the farm and plough the fields. In between all this, he wanted to make Yuvraj a cricketer and he didn't care about the kind of methods he used to ignite the cricketing flame in his son. "I was very hard on Yuvi. I even threw a glass at him when he played a bad shot in the nets and I did not tolerate bowling no-balls in the nets," he told me.

Yuvraj learnt his cricket the hard way. No waking up late in Chandigarh — the bedroom door used to be broke open and at times, the kid cricketer would wake up after water was splashed on his face. Yograj also revealed that the Singh household didn't have a television set then: "No TV in our house, but there were 100 bats, pads and plastic balls. No holidays or picnics too… only cricket."

Greg Chappell was coaching India at the time of our interaction and Yograj felt he was, "the best thing to have happened to Indian cricket." He felt then that Chappell, portrayed as a taskmaster, lightened the load of responsibility from his shoulder. Yograj was also confident then that his son would be a legend. "Before, I used to follow Yuvi a lot. I wanted to stay with him all the time, but when Greg came in, things changed," he said.

Sure, the all-rounder couldn't be the Test player he wanted to be, but anyone who can contribute significantly to two World Cup triumphs, conquer cancer, play for the country after the illness and go out gracefully like he did the other day, is very nearly one.

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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