The comeback of Yuvraj Singh

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As the reigning International Cricket Council World Cup champion from 2011 and the winner of the 2012 ICC U-19 World Cup, India enters the ICC World Twenty20 with a chance at staking claim to the three tournament trophies at once. The feat would be impressive, but it would pale in comparison to the accomplishment made by Indian star Yuvraj Singh just to be able to participate in this tournament.

Without Yuvraj, India would not have raised the World Cup on home soil last year. Although the tournament title was won for all-time great batsman Sachin Tendulkar, it was accomplished largely through the efforts of Yuvraj. His dual contributions on the batting and bowling side saw him named player of the series.

It appeared that after years of teasing with promise since making his international debut as an 18-year-old in 2000, Yuvraj had finally come of age during India’s World Cup win in April 2011. But just as he seemed to be entering the prime of his career, a series of ailments dragged him down.

Signs that something wasn’t right with Yuvraj occurred during the World Cup, notably during a match against the West Indies, when he could be seen vomiting on the field during his 2-hour, 43-minute batting stint to make 113 runs. It was reported that he was suffering from a “stomach bug.” He missed the tour to the West Indies that took place a few months after the World Cup with a “chest infection.” He was deemed healthy enough to tour England later in the summer but suffered a broken finger during the second test match at Nottingham and wasn’t able to take any further part in the tour.

In the fall, he played two tests at home against the West Indies but withdrew himself from the one-day series that followed in November after a “non-malignant tumor” was found on his lung. It was initially believed he would be healthy enough to tour Australia in January, but those plans were shelved after he needed more treatment. It wasn’t until February that the full scope of what was affecting him was uncovered. The initial reports that his tumor was malignant. He had cancer.

Yuvraj traveled to the U.S., where he received chemotherapy treatment for mediastinal seminoma, a tumor between his lungs, at the IU Simon Cancer Center at Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis. Along the way, he received a note of encouragement from cancer survivor Lance Armstrong and was visited by former teammate and Indian bowling legend Anil Kumble. By April, Yuvraj was back in India, cancer-free and ready to work on getting back into the Indian side.

Following in the footsteps of Armstrong, hockey players Mario Lemieux and Saku Koivu, baseball players Andres Galarraga, Mike Lowell and Jon Lester, as well as fellow cricketers Simon O’Donnell and Dave Callaghan, Yuvraj is making his comeback to elite sports competition this month after beating cancer. But what should fans expect from him? Is it possible for him show up in Sri Lanka as part of India’s squad for the ICC World Twenty20 and reprise his tournament MVP exploits from the 2011 World Cup so soon after overcoming a life-threatening illness?

“I think most people will understand if he doesn’t set the world alight, but even if he scores a good 15 or 20 in not too many deliveries, I think they’ll be happy because they’ll know that he’s making progress, that he’ll get there sooner rather than later,” Indian batting legend Sunil Gavaskar said last month. Despite modest expectations for Yuvraj, Gavaskar believes that India’s selectors made a positive move to put faith in him to contribute at the ICC World Twenty20 rather than wait for him to ease his way back into the swing of things outside of a pressure-packed tournament.

“Mentally, he’s always been a strong person and he’s got the determination to come back into the Indian team,” Gavaskar said. “This selection is the best thing that the Indian selectors could have done. They could have said, ‘No. We’ll wait another four months. Let’s watch him somewhere in a competitive game and then pick him.’ But by giving him this opportunity, they’ve given him the backing that he deserves. He’s done wonderfully well for India. He was the player of the series in the 2011 World Cup, and I’m absolutely delighted that the Indian selectors have rewarded him and I’m hoping that he comes back with a bang.”

On Sept. 11, 30-year-old cancer survivor Yuvraj Singh took the field in the India blue uniform once again and nearly scripted a fairy-tale finish by scoring 34 runs before getting out as India fell just short against New Zealand, losing by one run in the team’s last match ahead of the ICC World Twenty20. But if his performance that day was any indication, Yuvraj has plenty of gunpowder stored up from his time off the field to come back in this tournament with quite a bang.