Perhaps the first superstar of the 21st century, Yuvraj Singh revved up the style, the swagger and the appeal of the sombre Indian dressing room almost instantaneously.
But before Yuvraj went on to chisel his own cult, the teenager was 'overwhelmed' by the galaxy of stars present in the Indian dressing room during his debut.
Speaking to Firstpost , Yuvraj reminisced his early days as an international cricketer.
“It was overwhelming to be part of that dressing room. I remember sitting next to (Sachin) Tendulkar and looking at him. When he shook hands with me, I rubbed my hand all over my body, cause I didn't know when I was going to get another opportunity. Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, Javagal Srinath were some big names. That time there was no IPL, so didn’t get an opportunity to get used to the limelight. It was straightaway with the big stars. It was very overwhelming,” he told during a promotional event in Mumbai.
Already a World Cup winner with the junior side, Yuvraj walked into the senior team filled with some established names during the Y2K glitch and went on to set new trends way before trending was trendy – be it from prancing on the ball at point, pulling off 300+ chases or simply chewing gum – Yuvraj had a sense of flamboyance in everything he did on the field.
At just 18, the strapping left-hander backed all his style with substance when he hammered a match-winning 84 in his first-ever innings against the nearly invincible World Champions Australia in 2000 during the ICC KnockOut in Nairobi.
Yuvraj’s journey was filled with hairpin bends, especially during the earlier stages of his career. Yuvi, as he is fondly known, threatened to combust several times before he could harness his flair and skill to become a regular match-winner for India.
Besides Yuvraj’s wide range of strokeplay, his natural ability to time the ball was one of his hallmarks. ‘The Prince’ also had an innate sense of timing for those big moments, where every top athlete in the world seems to find an extra gear to their game.
One such big moment arrived in his first World Cup in 2003 while playing against Pakistan. Yuvraj recollects the tense game against the arch-rivals and how the special occasion almost got the better of him as he didn’t feel like turning up for the match.
Harking back his memory on the high profile encounter, Yuvraj said, “The game against Pakistan was a very stressful one. It was also my first game against Pakistan and it was the first time I was playing Wasim Akram, Waqar Younus, Shoaib Akthar, Abdul Razzaq and I thought I shouldn't turn up for the game. It was a very high-pressure game and we managed to pull out a great win, especially after we had lost to Australia earlier in the tournament. We were like 120 (125) all out. So I think the team showed some great character. Tendulkar played a great innings and after that, we progressed well as a team and made it to the finals.”
He walked in to bat with his team in a tricky situation after Tendulkar had played a classic. India still needed a shade under 100 when the left-hander took guard. Yuvraj showed no signs of nerves as the Indian team of the 21st century continued to bury the ghosts of the 90s side, that would usually cave under pressure after Tendulkar’s departure. The southpaw showed maturity beyond his age as he in Dravid's company, struck a solid unbeaten half-century, his first in the tournament, to drive India to a convincing win.
Yuvraj expressed his disappointment on not winning the 2003 World Cup but rated the campaign successful.
“We lost in the finals, but it was a very successful campaign, especially for someone like me, who was very young and then making it into the finals. I had a decent World Cup too. Obviously, it was tough to not win the finals and Australia was number 1 and they were a tough side to beat.”
An early exit from the 2007 World Cup, a record six sixes and a World T20 championship later Yuvraj was no more just a snazzy player, who delivered sporadically, he had all but become a senior statesman of the Indian side by the time the ODI World Cup made its way to the sub-continent.
Despite several glorious moments in his career, Yuvraj’s finest hour as a cricketer was yet to come.
The entire cricketing world knew about Tendulkar’s lifelong desire to lift the coveted World Cup. With the finale to be held at his home, the already hyped up competition didn’t require any further embellishment.
Yuvraj, still unaware of the lethal disease that was slowly slithering in his lungs, goes up to his mentor to seek advice ahead of the showpiece event. Tendulkar, who had achieved everything on a cricketing field, asked Yuvraj to ‘play it for someone special’.
Yuvraj recalls the motivation that spurred the MS Dhoni-led side to win the trophy for a once-in-a-lifetime cricketer.
“I think Tendulkar really deserved it," said Yuvraj. “The amount of glory he achieved for India, he totally deserved it. He was everybody's favourite in India and the whole team was very passionate and loved Tendulkar quite a bit and they wanted to win it for him,” he remembered.
“So I think I had the same thought. When I had a discussion with him as to how to go about the tournament, he said 'play it for someone special' and so I think as a team we played it for somebody special. He had achieved everything in his life and the World Cup was something missing and I am glad we could do it for him.”
Tendulkar’s long-standing dream met result. Yuvraj, the Player of the Tournament, had a leading role to play in the glorious story of his idol. Tendulkar was featuring in last World Cup, however, little did anyone know that the finals at Wankhede would also turn out to be Yuvraj's last World Cup appearance.