Show me a cricket reporter and I’ll show you a cricket fan. Being a journalist presupposes a kind of objectivity and neutrality that isn’t merely impossible in sports writing, but not even desirable. The tendency to throw a ball, or hit one that comes at you, run as fast as you can or jump far or high comes to all of us long before we know what any of those things mean.
Look at any 18 month old, and you’ll know what I mean. It’s got nothing to do with sport at that stage, rather it’s an irrepressible urge that prompts toddlers to take, literally and figuratively, the baby steps that will one day end up being codified into games and sport. In that sense, sport is in all of us, and any sports writer or journalist who claims total objectivity is only making the point that he or she is a liar.
What’s more useful than denying a love for sport, an admiration for those who practice it so unbelievably well at the highest level, if you’re in my business, is understanding where your biases lie, accepting them, and doing your best to compensate. So, just as business journalists of reputed publications are required to disclose their positions in a certain stock before writing about them, here’s my disclaimer.
Yuvraj Singh, whose book, The Test of my life I lapped up and am about to tell you about, is someone I’ve known almost all my professional life and his. I’ve been a fan of his ability to hit a cricket ball since the ICC Under-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka, where I called him the future of Indian cricket in an embarrassingly amateur piece of journalism even before India had played the semifinal.
Remember what I said about objectivity? That’s fawning. What makes it even more complicated for me to review Yuvraj’s book is the fact that it’s been co-written by two people, Sharda Ugra, the journalist, and Nishant Arora, the former journalist who now manages Yuvraj, with whom I have shared press boxes and meals, discussions and arguments. So, with a warning as bold as the statutory one on cigarette packets, here goes.
If you’ve read Lance Armstrong’s It’s not about the Bike (Yes, we can now say he did have a sense of irony), you might’ve been led into thinking Yuvraj’s book would be all about his battle with cancer – mediastinal seminoma, to be exact – but this is far from the case. Yuvraj’s life has been far from private, but most of us don’t know him at all.
We might’ve heard that his parents had problems, and read that Yograj Singh, the father, did his best to take all the fun out of cricket for young Yuvi while teaching him lessons he would only come to value later in life. We might have read on twitter that Sandeep Sharma, a lionhearted bowler and ferociously capable thumper of the ball, was Yuvraj’s best buddy through it all. There’s even been a book on Yuvraj by someone who demonstrably knew Yograj well, but there hasn’t been any real corroboration from Yuvraj.
As someone who has interviewed Yuvraj more times than I can remember – and he recently told me that I’d done his first interview – I can tell you that he’s a delightful pain. He doesn’t like to talk too much about technique, won’t bring his family or friends into the conversation, will stand up for even the most annoyingly underperforming team-mate and shoulder arms when you ask about opponents who are doing their best to ruin his career.
His image is that of the party boy to end all parties, but he can be the most boring interview subject. Not because he’s dull, inarticulate or generally a pain in the ass – and believe me there are plenty of all three categories in top-flight cricket – but because he’s actually a shy guy, in the ways that matter the most. His caller tune will always be current and bordering on risqué, but he’s as old-fashioned as they come, and this shines through in his book. He loves his mother, respects his father, is desperate to do well at his job and hopes to find true love: that sounds like the story of the average software engineer from Bangalore, and not that of the most flamboyant Indian cricket star of recent times.
While Yuvraj’s baritone shines through, the manner in which Ugra stays in the background and draws vitally illuminating information from her subject without resorting to sensationalism, not unlike how she helped give shape to John Wright’s Indian Summers, and Arora’s instinctive approach to the anecdotes that count, make the book significant in the Indian cricket landscape. The easy thing would be to pick out bite-sized pieces from it and plate them up here, but that would just ruin your experience.
If you like any one of Yuvraj’s public personas – six-hitter, Test struggler, ODI legend, party animal – then this book is for you, because you’ll learn what he’s actually like. If you’re not particularly fond of Yuvraj, having taken him to be merely one of the personas we just spoke about, then this book is for you, because there’s so much more to the man. If you positively detest Yuvraj – and there has been some talk of him ‘milking his cancer story for what it’s worth – then you must read this book. It will not merely change your view of Yuvraj, but of cancer itself. You owe yourself that much.