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Yuvraj Singh wants to continue playing cricket for India in any format chosen for till 2019. Photo: HT
Yuvraj Singh wants to continue playing cricket for India in any format chosen for till 2019. Photo: HT

Yuvraj Singh as ambassador

On the sidelines of a sports charity event in Mumbai, Yuvraj Singh talks about his relationship with sport

Not surprisingly, Yuvraj Singh’s hands are huge. The cricketer, once an electric fielder in the covers, envelops your hand when he shakes it. At the peak of his prowess, he was known for his assured catches, athleticism and a slinging throw—thanks additionally to those huge hands.

Not surprisingly again, Singh’s decline as a cricketer is best symbolized by his fielding—particularly in the Indian Premier League—which became sloppy in recent years. Though currently out of the Indian team, that only marginally diminishes his “celebrity" standing—a status that is reason why he was recently chosen as Laureus Sport for Good’s first “ambassador" from India.

Laureus is a not-for-profit global organization which supports about 100 sports-based community programmes in 35 countries and wants to “use the power of sport to end violence, discrimination and disadvantage, proving that sport can change the world".

Already, Laureus has three Indian sportspeople, all cricketers, as academy members—Kapil Dev, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. The difference between members and ambassadors, explains Andy Griffiths, global director with Laureus Sport for Good, is that the former category comprises retired players while ambassadors are still active.

Singh last played a one-day international in June against the West Indies and his last T20 International was against England in February. He has been in and out of the team for years now, partly due to form, injuries and his well-documented recovery from cancer in 2012.

During the Laureus announcement on Wednesday at the Cooperage in Mumbai, the 35-year-old Singh, looking a bit thicker in the middle, played football with schoolgirls from non-governmental organizations—and Laureus and Mercedes-Benz India partners—Naz Foundation, Slum Soccer, Oscar Foundation and Yuwa. He japed around a bit, showed some nifty footwork on the downsized football pitch, and posed for pictures.

He says his role as an ambassador fits in well with his own experiences and his fame. “I can express my feelings about how to bring the best out of a child. I have been through adversities as a child—when your parents are not in the right frame of mind and things are not going well."

“But both my parents supported me. Both studies and sport are important: more than your career, your mind is important. If you do both (study and sport), your mind is in a good space. You get into a good space, you can start following a career, in sports or studies or wherever it takes you."

“What he brings for us is credibility," adds Griffiths about Singh’s voluntary role. “He is such a huge star here. It’s important for us in fund-raising. For a senior male hero in India to play football with girls on an equal basis is a big statement."

No Indian sportsperson has won at the 18-year-old annual Laureus World Sports awards, though in 2004 the Indian and Pakistani cricket teams won the Sport for Good award (Singh was one of the people who collected it), while in 2014, NGO Magic Bus got the Sport for Good, and the Afghanistan cricket team won a Spirit of Sport award.

Singh’s own charity foundation, Youwecan, inspired by cyclist Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation, started soon after the cricketer from Chandigarh was diagnosed with cancer in 2011. It focuses on creating awareness and helping educate cancer survivors. Singh believes his own charity work syncs well with the work for Laureus.

“If I am not dignified, then it’s a problem," he laughs, when asked if an “ambassador" requires him to shed his happy-go-lucky image. “I have always been myself. I have done what my heart has told me to do. Sport got me out of adversity and sport has given me a second life. For that I will do whatever I can do, with my fullest capacity."

Though now out of the Indian team—across formats—one of the heroes of the 2011 ICC World Cup and the 2007 World Twenty20 wants to continue playing in any format chosen for till 2019—the next ODI World Cup. “I have been training and practicing hard to play cricket till 2019, whatever cricket I get to play. I will just give it all till 2019, after that do something else," says Singh, who declined to speak in detail about his career.

His return to the Indian team is plagued with doubt, though coach Ravi Shastri has stated that his inclusion cannot be ruled out, provided form and fitness allow for a comeback.

The Indian team is currently on a high, having beaten Australia 4-1 in a five-match ODI series, with its middle order—where Singh bats—brimming with performers like Kedar Jadhav and Hardik Pandya. Ajinkya Rahane (currently playing as an opener), Manish Pandey and K.L. Rahul are other options. Dinesh Karthik is in the T20 side as well, predominantly as a batsman.

Though 32-year-old Karthik’s and 38-year-old Ashish Nehra’s inclusion indicates that the selectors are not averse to picking older players, Singh and Suresh Raina’s comeback would depend on their domestic performances and fitness.

India’s next series is at home against New Zealand—three ODIs and three T20s—starting 22 October.

“I have been in and out (of the team) for a long time; what keeps me going is belief in myself, not to give up. There’s a lot of struggle and sacrifice before you get glory. Since I came back from cancer, when you come so long, I don’t think giving up is the right idea," says Singh, dressed in a T-shirt and skinny jeans. His foundation also has a clothing brand, YWC Fashion.

“Playing sport makes me happy. Obviously, I want to play for India, but also have to realize how I enjoyed just hitting the ball. On those reasons, I feel this is something that brings me happiness."

“It has brought me unhappiness also, but this what I like. I will play as long as I enjoy it. As soon as I stop enjoying it, I will look forward to life and doing something else," says Singh, who regrets not playing enough Test matches (he has played 40 since his debut in 2003).

“It’s been an eventful journey—something new happens every year of my life," he adds with a smile. “Let’s see what happens next year."

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