The match was on in the Chennai heat. Still, something seemed amiss in the last World Cup league match against the West Indies. Yuvraj Singh was timing the ball like a dream, but for an elite athlete the way he looked out of breath after a few runs appeared quite odd. He had busted his gut to get in shape for the tournament, and still labouring towards the three-figure mark?
As it turned out, Yuvraj was not only grappling with the high pressure of being an India star, he was battling a serious illness. His lung capacity had been clearly hampered, and it's a tribute to his fighting qualities that he outshone everyone on the biggest stage. With 362 runs, 15 wickets and 4 MoM awards, he was the player of the tournament.
"I used to wonder that Yuvraj coughed a lot, but I just thought he had a sinus problem or a bad allergy. Before the World Cup too, he coughed a lot; in hindsight, it (the diagnosis) didn't come as a surprise," said Paddy Upton, India's mental conditioning coach during the successful campaign.
"The fact that he came back from being out of form, illness and adversity, there is a lot to salute in what Yuvi achieved at the World Cup and his overall contribution to Indian cricket," added Upton, on the first anniversary of the triumph.Yuvraj was later diagnosed with a rare germ cell cancer and is on the road to recovery after undergoing treatment in the US.
Fight of life
"The pressure was there and I don't think all through the World Cup he was in his comfort zone or was able to draw on all his reserves in the face of adversity in all his innings. That shows the fighter in Yuvi. The conditions were stacked against him but he was still able to fight them. He was under immense pressure, yet focused enough to deliver through that which is the mark of a champion," said the South African, who was a key member of coach Gary Kirsten's support staff.
It was a fairytale for the player who had struggled for runs before the World Cup.
"He was not in a good space six months before the tournament, having lost his place in the side. To then come back and do what he did!"
A lot of focus in motivational exercises is on visualising your dream. Yuvraj's big dream, Upton revealed, was to hit the winning runs against Australia in the final. And Upton was not surprised to see him play like a man possessed against Australia in the quarterfinal. Chasing 261 to win, the hosts, at 187 for five, looked to be on their way out before Yuvraj took control in the company of Suresh Raina
and took the game away from Ricky Ponting's men with an unbeaten 57.
"He used to think about it a lot, it was one of his big dreams. Though it was not the final, when he powered India to victory in the quarterfinal, it was the realisation of the dream he had nurtured for long. For him, it was like a final. Everyone is grateful to him, and the rewards he got at the end of it were well deserved. He's a passionate, emotional, sensitive, fun-loving guy and a fighter."