Yuvraj Singh doesn’t deserve our sympathy; what he does deserve is respect, writes Nirmal Shekar
Man is a natural-born retributivist. All it takes is the merest hint of a letdown, a failure, and we can be counted on to spout forth outrage clearly directed at a single individual or group — outrage that is often disproportionate to the action, or inaction, of the target in question with regard to the issue.
In the dystopic imagination of many Indian cricket fans, Sunday, April 6, was doomsday. And all the gloom that descended on a nation of 1.2 billion was because of the action of a solitary individual who answers to the name Yuvraj Singh.
Of course, the stock markets didn’t crash the following morning; all our nuclear facilities are safe; there is, at the time of writing, no news of any alarming spread of a never-before-heard-of virus.
Nation is outraged
Yet, a nation is outraged. It is time for a bout of medieval witch hunting, of organised irrationalism.
At a time of such spectacular over-reaction, a tiny bit of proper debunking might not be out of place, although facts may be immaterial when the blood is laced with primordial passions.
The truth is, even if Yuvraj had made 20 or 25 off the 21 balls he faced — instead of the 11 runs he did score — it would not have mattered. The World Cup Twenty20 final would have been a closer contest, but the worthy Sri Lankans would still have won anyway.
But that is not the point of this column. Sniping at false targets may bring schadenfreudian joy, but it will not get us any closer to the truth.
“The intensity of a conviction that a hypothesis is true has no bearing on whether it is true or not,” wrote the Nobel-winning biologist Peter Medawar.
This is something that sports fans need to be reminded of constantly in moments of crushing disappointments, because they live in a culture of nowness where the past is shut out.
And the world of sport is one where, strangely enough, there are countless failures for every great success.
Nine teams ought to have failed for Sri Lanka to take home the trophy on Sunday night in Dhaka. And India, which had a brilliant run up to the final, was just one of them.
But no, we will have none of that; it was all about Yuvraj’s failure, it was all about the ineptitude and listlessness of a single man.
This is what you might want to call Indian cricket’s Ronaldo Moment — not Cristiano Ronaldo but THE Ronaldo, Brazil’s arch-villain turned hero.
Back in 1998, with a great football-obsessed nation placing its collective expectations on him, the gifted Brazilian was struck by some mysterious illness on the morning of the final against France.
As a result, Zinedine Zidane’s band of rainbow warriors outplayed Brazil and a feckless Ronaldo to bring up France’s greatest sporting moment. Four years later, the man the Italian press famously called Il Fenomeno (The Phenomenon) was simply irresistible as Brazil won the World Cup in 2002.
This kind of reversal of roles has happened to many superstars before Ronaldo, and to many after him too. It is just that in Yuvraj’s case, the narrative has taken the natural course, with all the big stage successes coming in his early and mid-career years and the one little failure coming as his magnificent limited-overs cricket career is just about winding up.
Just because we choose to turn someone into a superman, we cannot expect him to fit a handy one-word label all the time. For mutability defines sport; it is the very essence of athletic activity.
But then, right from the time he first turned out in the Indian colours, Yuvraj has been an iconic figure in limited-overs cricket for the country.
The NatWest final, the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa, the 2011 fifty-overs World Cup, you name it and he has been the trump card in all of them.
When Yuvraj was at his best, he often brought to mind James Joyce’s immortal words in his book, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Wrote Joyce: “He was unheeded, happy, and near to the wild heart of life.”’
There was a Dionysian wildness about Yuvraj in his pomp that was jaw-droppingly awesome. Remember the six sixes in an over off Stuart Broad?
And merely the fact that Yuvraj almost always promised the impossible does not mean he owes it to us to deliver it every single time.
Every superstar in sport deserves the right to fail. Without actually experiencing failure, he may not be human at all.
There is no mention here of a life-threatening illness that Yuvraj fought with great courage and resourcefulness to reinvent himself as an India player only because readers might tend to believe that this columnist is using a medical condition that often resonates in a particular way with us to seek sympathy for him.
No, Yuvraj Singh, as a cricketer, doesn’t deserve our sympathy; what he does deserve is respect, and understanding.