I have a friend — batsman, part-time bowler, captain, selector — who says: “Don’t tell me about the cricketer — tell me about the man.”
He’s right too as we can learn from the back story of Yuvraj Singh — left-handed batsman (ask Stuart Broad, smashed for six sixes in an over), effective slow bowler (just ask his main victim Kevin Pietersen) but most of all a good guy who would rather do you a favour than prove he is a superstar.
As we all know he was struck down by cancer a couple of years ago, went to America and did everything necessary to bring off a cure.
Just hearing the verdict — “yes, I am afraid it is cancer” hits you like a rifle bullet. I know. I sat with my partner as she was given that devastating piece of information.
It must have been just as bad for Yuvraj at the height of his athletic powers.
The disease would have stopped most men in their tracks. Brave Yuvraj drove on, determined that even such an unpleasant illness would not stop him.
In the last month we have seen his sixes fly again in Sri Lanka.
I was impressed even though his scores could not take India into the last stages of the tournament.
So, remembering my pal’s advice, I asked one or two people who know him well what sort of man he was.
One told me the story of India’s game against England in the World Cup when, even though he had every excuse to miss it, Yuvraj turned up for a book launch in a bowling alley.
He had promised and stayed long after he could have left and listened to a great mass of fans all “screaming as if he was a Beatle.”
With Yuvraj what you see is what you get. WYSIWYG, in computer language.
Even though he is a man of massive sixes and subtle slow left-arm bowling Yuvraj is still “always himself and he is never ashamed to be himself. He is kind too — and particularly to reporters and, as you know that is not always the case with great sportsmen.” He recalls a formal breakfast with sponsors, Yuvraj in a beanie, dipping his biscuit in his cup of tea.
Once his mother persuaded him to help a children’s organisation in Delhi — because he is so good with kids — and once again he threw himself into the day.
Someone had written a speech and when he read it he handed the paper back and said that “your English is very strong” meaning it was posh. Then, when it came to be time to make his speech, he simply made the speech in his own words.
That is not the end of the story.
He knew why he had been asked to attend the ceremony and leapt into the midst of the kids and started to play cricket with them as if he were their age. A famous man able to be a child again.
I have just read a book by an anonymous professional footballer — a book by Yuvraj will be out shortly, by the way — who advises other players to keep clear of all fans.
The Secret Footballer, as he calls himself, says that when he was injured, rather than face his fans, he stayed at home.
I also know just how determined Indian cricket supporters can be if they see a star player.
All credit to Yuvraj. I like to think he would meet with approval from my English friend and I wish this true gentleman many long years at the top of his career.