Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 August 2019

Yuvraj Singh retires a Cricket World Cup hero – but did he fulfill all his father's wishes?

Yuvraj owes much of his international success to the ambitious and single-minded Yograj, but the two-time World Cup winner eventually chose not to marry a fellow superstar athlete - 'someone like Steffi Graf' - as he would have liked

Yuvraj Singh, India's middle-order batting lynchpin during two World Cup triumphs, announced his retirement from international cricket in Mumbai on Monday.

Even though it was an emotional moment for the player, it came with some stage-managed fanfare at the news conference. Preceding the announcement was a documentary-style recap video of his life featuring father Yograj and mother Shabnam separately because his parents were long divorced even before Yuvraj had learnt the cricketing basics.

The planned farewell, ironically, brought an end to a successful 17-year international career which was stage-managed so meticulously by his father, termed eccentric by many critics.

Yograj unabashedly concedes it in the video, pointing to the end result – Yuvraj's success – as vindication for his single-minded determination to see his son in India colours.

Yuvraj remained until the end a reluctant but obedient son who delivered despite hating the sport even after achieving much. In the words of the all-rounder himself on Monday, it was time for him to end his "love-hate relationship" with the sport.

It is a well-known fact that Yuvraj loved skating. When he came out on top at the junior national championship, Yograj threw out his gold medal and undertook more stringent efforts to ensure his son focused on playing cricket. The backyard of the house was turned into a concrete pitch for Yuvraj to train against bouncers.

What is less known is the extent to which Yograj, himself a former Test cricketer, was willing to go to ensure he not only passed the sporting baton to Yuvraj but also to the generation after. But this is one area in which Yograj failed to enforce his rule of thumb.

Yuvraj and Yograj have heart-to-heart chat

In 2004, Yuvraj was on his way to scoring an invaluable 206 for North Zone against East Zone in the final of the Duleep Trophy, a premier zonal competition in India. It was an important game for Yograj, sitting near the boundary rope, as he knew this would help Yuvraj’s selection for the Test team.

Yuvraj had already cemented his place in India’s one-day international squad, but Yograj wanted to see his son take the next step.

When this reporter asked to speak with Yuvraj, the local authorities in Mohali - home turf of the Singhs - directed me to Yograj.

Among other things, when asked what ambitions he had in mind for Yuvraj, the father said: “At some point, once he is a stable feature in the Indian team, I would like him to marry someone like Steffi Graf.”

Surely he meant the rising teen sensation Sania Mirza over the German tennis great of the 1980s and '90s?

“No, I have studied on this,” Yograj said. “Sports comes through naturally only if you have the genes. Why is Yuvraj talented in skating, cricket ... if he played tennis, he would have excelled in that, too. That’s because I am a cricketer. His mother is a sportswoman [Shabnam was a volleyball player].

“So, if Yuvraj marries, it must be someone to make a sporting couple - like [in the case of Andre] Agassi and Steffi. It is called genetic engineering.”

Yuvraj went on to play 40 Tests, 304 ODIs, the last of which came two years ago, and 58 Twenty20 internationals. He was a vital cog in India's World Twenty20 triumph in 2007 during which he memorably hit six sixes in one over during their match against England. He was also named Player of the Tournament at the 50-over Cricket World Cup four years later.

Yuvraj, though, went on to marry Hazel Keech, a British-Mauritian model, in 2016. She was not the professional athlete Yograj had in mind. In an interview, Keech conceded she knew little about cricket, or Yuvraj’s fan following, when they met.

The couple married with the blessings of Shabnam. Yograj, however, did not attend the wedding.

Yuvraj was out of action for much of the period between 2011 and 2014 as he fought a rare germ cell cancer. Following his recuperation and subsequent international comeback, he was inspired to start a cancer foundation which, he said during his farewell, he will now devote his time to.

On Monday, Yuvraj thanked a long list of people before taking a parting shot at his father. “My friends and the media can thank me because my father is not here,” he said with a wink.

Updated: June 11, 2019 12:11 PM

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