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Cricket news - In training Yuvraj, there was a method to my madness - Yograj Singh

"Yuvi was pushed hard for fitness, running twenty rounds at the age of eight. But I still believe that what I did was right." - Yograj Singh

By Makarand Waingankar

Are great men born great or are they made great? This question is relevant to the story of a father who saw in his son a born player. But for Yograj Singh, that was not enough. His son had to be the greatest cricketer ever to have walked the earth.

The story of Yograj is a strange one. It is a tale of the desperation of a man whose every breath was filled with the guilt of not having been successful in his preferred career. It is the tale of a man's vision, and his obsession with this vision, which made him blind to everything else in life. All Yograj knew was that his son was to fulfil the promise that he himself had belied. The son had to lessen the burden of his father's past, and lay the ghost that refused to leave him.

Unfair though it may be to make your child bear the baggage of your own past, one thing is clear. Yograj succeeded in making Yuvi what he is. Yograj Singh's cricketing career had started off well. He was a contemporary of Kapil Dev. Both men were from Chandigarh and both were very good all-rounders. In fact, former India captain Col. Hemu Adhikari rated Yograj a notch higher than Kapil Dev. For the India U-22 team that played against England in 1977 at Nagpur, Yograj was chosen over Kapil Dev.

But after 1977, for some reason, Yograj lost his way and was out of cricket for a couple of years. When I watched him at the nets at DAV College, Jullundur, in 1979, he still looked a very good all-rounder, though he weighed not less than 95 kg.

In those days, I was writing for Sportsweek magazine. I happened to be in Jullundur for some work and had requested Ashwini Minna, the former Punjab Ranji player who had played with Kapil Dev and Yograj Singh, to invite young talents to nets at DAV College. As the nets were going on, Yog arrived, and without looking at anyone, bowled and batted superbly. Though he looked overweight, in terms of skill, he was terrific. On my return to Mumbai, I mentioned to Polly Umrigar, the chairman of the selection committee, that I saw great potential in Yograj Singh. On the committee were experienced cricketers like Ghulam Ahmed, Chandu Sarwate, Dattu Phadkar and Vijay Mehra. They were aware that Yograj hadn't played much competitive cricket - in two seasons, he had played only two Ranji games - yet they picked him for the Board President's XI to play the touring Pakistan team at Baroda in 1979.

In that match, Yograj took 3 for 29, including the wickets of Javed Miandad and Wasim Raja off consecutive balls. Subsequently, he was picked for the Indian team that toured Australia and New Zealand in 1981. But he failed to perform, and from that point on, he simply faded away.

It is against this backdrop that Yograj's behaviour towards his son needs to be considered. In his mission to make Yuvi the greatest cricketer, the end became all important, the means didn't matter. People called him a madman. And a madman he was. How many people are capable of such passion, such determination, perseverance, desire? The world laughed at Yograj, but he didn't care about their criticism. All he wanted was a son. Once he had him, he took charge. Luck and chance didn't matter because he would call the shots. He made the choices, he took the decisions. He constructed Yuvi bit by bit. But his creation turned against him.

What follows is Yograj Singh Bundhel's version of his life and his relationship with his son, in his own words. "I owe a lot to Mumbai, to you, Makarand, for resurrecting me and recommending my name to the national selectors. I always felt that I had left something incomplete. That caused me a lot of sorrow because you gave me so many opportunities, you got me a job with Mafatlal, which had the best team in India, you made me play cricket in Mumbai. Mafatlal taught me the cricket culture.

"'Whatever I achieved, how to be a mature cricketer, I learnt in Mumbai. Yet I lived with this constant pain, this awareness, this feeling, that my life was somewhat incomplete, and I felt answerable to you, Makarand, to my parents, and to myself. Despite possessing so much talent and playing on such a big platform, I couldn't achieve much, partly because my family imposed certain restrictions.

"Sometimes I wish I had not thought about my parents. I wish I had not thought about my family. I should have focussed on my cricket and I would have been the greatest cricketer on earth. But I had to, because of a few reasons.

"So it was always in my heart that my family should have at least one cricketer in it. My attention went towards Yuvi because sport was in his blood. He was good at everything, from tennis to skating. I believed that he was a very talented sportsman, blessed by the gods. I felt like making him a cricketer because if you are a good athlete who has outstanding talent, you will be successful wherever you invest that talent.

"So I forced him. One day, when Yuvi came home after winning a skating competition, my first thought was that my son was doing such a fantastic job in this sport, winning so many medals. But when I looked at him, his red band and long mane, something hit me very hard. I threw away his skates and his medals. People called me a ruthless man, but I had something else in my mind. Yuvi was twelve years old at that time.

"I remembered people like Ashok Mankad and Sunil Gavaskar, under whom I played, telling me that all the important qualities should be inculcated from childhood itself. I remembered you telling me that one can do only one thing properly in life, not ten. So start whatever you are going to do at the earliest.

"I still feel that if I wanted to do something for a child, I'd do it when he was seven or ten. There are many players in my academy whom I spotted when they were eight or nine years old. And so I forced Yuvi to give up skating, which he loved. Obviously, he cried a lot that day. He would never cry in front of me, but that day he did. Even today, I don't like people crying.

"My wife and I had an argument that day because she didn't like what I had done. But I said, 'This is not the job of women. Just shut up.' "My mother was also very angry and scolded me. But once Yuvi was tired of crying, I hugged him and told him that there was no future in skating. I tried to make him understand. I don't know if he remembers, but I explained to him that one thing still remains incomplete in me and I feel answerable to those who invested so much time in me, for time is nothing but money.

"That day, for the first time, a father cried in the arms of his twelve-year-old son. He hugged me like a mature person. Maybe he realized then, that from now on he would have to play cricket.

"Tea used to be served in my room every morning - Shabnam used to bring it in. The day after the skating incident, I remember he came in with her and asked me, 'Will you come with me to buy a cricket kit or should I go with mom?' I was very happy. They went and bought the kit and Yuvi started playing.

"The first thing I did was take over the garden that Shabnam had made. I destroyed it and made a pitch. Everybody in my house was angry because Shabnam had gone to great trouble to grow a beautiful garden.

"After that, I made a gym upstairs, put lights on the pitch. Ashok Mankad was my mentor. I told him what I was doing with Yuvi, and he just nodded. When he had made me an opening batsman, he had said to me, 'Yograj Singh, you have no idea how much potential you have. The problem is that there is no one to guide you.'

"I wanted to do something different. International cricket is all about fast bowling, especially now, when we go abroad and encounter bouncy tracks. So I started with hard plastic and wet tennis balls. I remember that one day, we were practising in the backyard of our Chandigarh house. The ball went through the visor of Yuvi's helmet.

"Yuvi fell down and I remember that my mother yelled at me. She adored her grandson. I used to tell her, 'You wait and watch, your grandson will become one of the greatest players ever.' Unfortunately, she did not live long enough to see Yuvi become a great player. Shabnam reacted in much the same way. So many people used to comment on my practice sessions, which used to go on till late in the night and even during the cold days of winter.

"I believe that there is only one thing at the heart of discipline, devotion, dedication, all those big words, and that is hard work. No one should feel sorry for a person who works hard. I also believe that if you want to create something outstanding, you have to do something different to get there.

"At first it was very difficult for me to make Yuvi understand why I was doing it, why I was waking him up at six and making him play through the day. Today I think he realizes its value. Even if he doesn't, I don't want to comment on it. I believe that if you do anything, there should be a craziness, a madness for it. People called me mad but there was a method in the madness I pursued.

"As far as getting up in the morning was concerned, I have spent many years in your house, Makarand, and I remember you used to hit me very hard on my back to wake me up at 5 am so that we could reach the venue for practice on time. We used to go by a crowded train from Andheri and, after playing the match, come back in the evening at eight, have a quick meal, and by ten, you would say, 'Lights off! Go to sleep.' So I think you will understand me.

"Yuvi reacted to the hard regimen I put him through in the same way as I reacted to you. There were times when I didn't like you because you were pushing me too hard. I used to ask myself why I had come back to cricket. But soon I realized that what you were doing was for my good. Why else would you have gone and recommended me to the national selectors when I had given up the game? 'Yuvi didn't realize it then and thought that his father was a Hitler. Even as an adult, he has made this statement: 'I used to hate my father.' I know he hated me. But somebody had to take the call.

"I always felt that something different had to be done. Yes, Yuvi was pushed hard for fitness, running twenty rounds at the age of eight. But I still believe that what I did was right. There were times when I had to break down the door and wake him up, pour a bucket of cold water on him. I once had to throw a tumbler full of milk at him. This may have been wrong in people's eyes, but today it has been proven that I was right.

"Of course, my mother and my wife were reacting to all this, and they weren't wrong. If they'd had a bat, they would have hit me on my head. But they didn't understand what I wanted to create. I think that when Yuvi was sixteen years old, he started realizing it himself, because he started enjoying his brilliance. He used to score 200, 250, and big hundreds.

"To cut the long story short, I want to say this. If Yuvi had just gone on with my training and had done all the things that his father had taught him to do in those twenty years, he would have scored 20,000 runs and maybe thirty internationals hundreds by now. He would never have got injured if he had listened to me. I believe fitness and training are the ultimate things in life, not only for a sportsman but for everybody: you, me or a five-year-old. We should aspire to be a sports-oriented family and a sports-oriented country. Like Australia.

"'When Yuvi was sixteen, he was practising at the nets and Navjot Sidhu, captain of the Punjab Ranji team, saw him. He told me to include him in the Ranji team. Raj Singh Dungarpur said to me, 'Ahh, a champion is here!' I said, 'No, he is not ready yet.' He said, 'What are you talking about?' I said, 'Sir, when he is ready, you'll know.' "Yuvi played his first Ranji Trophy match against Orissa and got out for a duck. For two and a half years after that, he didn't play Ranji. I think that Ranji match was a big mistake. An emotional decision made by Sidhu. Maybe he wanted to prove something to me or to Yuvi. Maybe he thought Yuvi had the potential to be a great player and he needed an opportunity. But I honestly felt that was a wrong decision.

"At the age of sixteen, Yuvi was concentrating on batting, lofting and hitting the ball cleanly. There were still a few things that had to be rectified. Also, there was the issue of fitness. It is different when you are playing U-14, U-16 and then U-19. When you are selected to play Ranji, you have to be ready for it. And I believe that you know you are ready when you are confident of handling pressure.

"By the time he was chosen for the U-19 World Cup team, Shabnam and I had separated. But Yuvi was with me during the U-19 World Cup and even during the ICC tournament in Nairobi. Soon after that, things started going wrong within the family. Yuvi left me. My mother had died. There was no one to hold him, no one to tell him to sleep at ten and wake up at five. He was treated like a star by his mother - mothers just can't be strict. And the limelight was on him at a very young age. It was very difficult for him to handle.

"I have my values. I am a man who loves and needs love.I cannot be pushed around by my wife, parents, son or anybody. Today Yuvi must realize that he has not done any good to himself by not coming to me. Whenever he did come to me in the past and wanted to have practice sessions, he enjoyed it. I made everything that he needed for good practice available to him.

"Perhaps his mother must have told him something about me, what I did when he was a child. And they must have struck a chord in his mind because they reminded him of how I had treated him during his making. Gradually we drifted apart. I felt bad, for I am the sort of person who would abandon the world for someone who came to me with love. But if someone walks away from me, or takes me for granted, I won't be there for them, regardless of who they are.

"Yuvi was born into such a great family, he could have done wonders by now if we hadn't been separated. Shouldn't he pity himself? For not being allowed to do what he is meant to be doing? Also, he should ask himself, has he been truthful to the game?

"I want to speak the bitter truth now. If you want to prepare someone for their future, three things have to be stopped immediately. One is the interference of relatives. Second, there has to be very strict discipline, even from

the mother and grandmother, or whoever is living in the house. And there has to be one man who should take charge. This is very important and Yuvi should have done it himself, but I don't blame him because he thought what his father did with him was wrong. It wasn't Yuvi's fault at all. Everybody around him was saying the same thing.

"When he was eighteen, I told the media that Yuvi was the next Sobers. People laughed at me. Many ridiculed me. After those six sixes he hit in one over off Broad, the media wrote the same and Sobers endorsed it.

"I remember how it was when Yuvi made it to the U-19 World Cup team in 2000. To reach the U-19 took ten years and ten hours a day of preparation: batting, bowling and fielding. No television, no outings, no holidays. If he needed a friend, I was there. I was his friend, I was his mentor, I was his father, I was everything. Yes, I was ruthless, and you too, Makarand, used to get angry with me.

"But fitness is the most important thing. Even the great Sir Garfield Sobers once remarked to Bishen Singh Bedi that if he had known what fitness training was all about, he would have scored 50,000 runs!

"For me, fitness training meant running twenty or thirty rounds every day, sprinting 400 metres, taking 500 catches, gymming, four sessions of batting, and bowling. It was a ten-hour job. I would make him do six hours on the ground and then come back home and work for four hours more. And Makarand, you were a witness to it. There were times when you too felt that I was overdoing it.

"I think all this made Yuvi a better player. Also, he was the fittest. There was no one in the world except Jonty Rhodes who could match him as far as fielding was concerned.

"The point is not that you practise the whole day. It is how perfectly you practise. Yuvi was a brilliant left-arm fast bowler, and then he developed a lower back problem. Otherwise, we would have seen him bowl at 145 km per hour. That is what preparation is all about.

"'If you want to get someone to be outstanding in this world, that is how you do it. You have to sacrifice so much. Your family, friends, everything. Only then will you achieve something in life. Look at Tiger Woods, Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Vivian Richards. Can we not learn from them?

"I am very unhappy about the progress Yuvraj has made as a cricketer. He has lived up to only 25 per cent of his ability and talent. The only person who has done justice to his talent is the great Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. That is why I salute him all the time. He has been doing it day in and day out for the past twenty-three years. He has sacrifced so much for the country.

"Yuvi was not ready to listen to his father as far as cricket was concerned. He thought other people were better. Among the many things he has to learn is how to pace an innings. Don't throw away your wicket, I used to tell him. Score 200 not out, or 300 not out. Once, he scored 365 in the U-19 final against Bihar. I said, 'Well played, well done, but you could have got 400 runs.' His reply was, 'Bacche ki jaan loge kya?' (Are you going to kill the boy now?). I said, 'Don't talk to me like that again.'

"Yuvi has so much power, such perfect timing, so much talent. He sights the ball so early that there is no need for him to hit sixes all the time. I used to tell him, 'If I had ten per cent of your talent, I would have scored 100 and 200 in every alternate innings.' Mahila Jayawardene and Kumara Sangakkara said this too.

"I used to tell him not to sweep the ball at the start, one should first know when to sweep. He needs to understand that it's not about deciding whether to play a stroke. It is knowing when and how to play a shot. 'One has to visualize shot selection,' I would say to him. But he used to brush me off. I wish I had played a hundred Test matches. Then maybe he would have listened to me.

"I have been taught by one of the best teachers in the cricketing circuit: Ashok Mankad. I think he is one of the greatest captains I played under, who took me from batting at number nine to opening the innings. It got me many hundreds. He always told me I didn't know my capability and where I was going wrong.

"Ashok Mankad made me practise my defence. Even today, if you want to succeed in Test cricket, you need to be a good defensive player. You must not throw your wicket away. It is not about hitting sixes and fours, it is about ones and twos and pacing your innings. Once, I remember, I got 136 runs against the Tatas and he shouted at me because I threw my wicket away.

"Yuvi should have realized this too. He could have come to his father and said, 'Dad, one week with you. I am going to go and play a Test match.' I would have said, 'Son, defence is very important, I am going to throw five hundred balls to you. You just defend. Front foot forward and defend the ball.' But Yuvi was not prepared to listen to his father where cricket was concerned.

"What Yuvraj Singh is today is not his fault, it is the fault of the environment he has lived in. What is the use of having a lavish life, with cars and bungalows and money, if you are not doing the right things?

"He got carried away by the publicity and the glamour. He started playing to the gallery and not for himself. Yuvi became a superstar when they began to tell him, 'Oh, you can hit a great six, you can hit it here or there!' There was a time when I used to tell him not to hit the ball because it wasn't possible to do so every time in international cricket. He would ask, 'Then how do you get the runs?'

"Viv Richards used to say, 'I am an entertainment man. I am here to entertain people.' Fine, he could say that because he had achieved so much, he was the greatest. But if Yuvraj Singh starts saying that he is an entertainer, I am sorry, he has not reached that stage at all.

'I could compare Yuvi to Vinod Kambli. Such a great player. What happened to him? All the former Mumbai cricketers are responsible for what happened to Kambli. Nobody took him in hand, nobody mentored him.

"There were times when I used to give Yuvi a call and say, 'Son, do this, do that', and he would say, 'Yes, I'm doing it. I'm not a kid anymore'. I used to feel so stupid. I would tell myself, Yograj Singh, why are you running after him? But I was doing it to ensure that his talent didn't go down the drain.

"Yuvi seems to have forgotten that all this glory is because of the game, because of this beautiful game called cricket. He has taken life for granted. Does he ever ask himself, what have I given back to the game? Is it enough to just go out and play?

"Because I was concerned about Yuvi's attitude, I once rang his mother, and she said, 'Who the hell are you? You are a divorcee. Leave us alone.' I talked to Yuvi, and the way he put me off, I felt deeply hurt.

"I think Yuvi's mother could have handled him better. He was only nineteen when he started playing international cricket. She seems to have pampered him. There was no one to question him. Does she ever stop him from going out, partying till late? Yuvi today doesn't know where he is going because he is surrounded by sycophants.

"Had I been there, I would have given him the stick. You may be a great player, but when you come home, you are a part of the family. You are Yuvraj Singh, you are not a star. I would have thrown him out of the house. That's the reason he walked out on his father.

"Yuvi should have realized that he was born with a golden spoon. His dad gave him everything required to bring him to the highest level. He should have at least acknowledged that as far as cricket is concerned, he owes it to his father. Or he should have had the guts to tell his mother to let me do it my way. Things would have been very different.

As he himself has often said, Yograj Singh never cared for or valued the opinion of others. Some call it confidence and some arrogance. Yes, Yograj Singh has been extremely ruthless and unsympathetic and quite blind to his son's pain in the pursuit of his goal. I wonder, though: Isn't there a bit of Yograj in all of us? A father who desperately wants his son to follow his path. A father who wants to save his son from all the follies and mistakes that he himself committed. Perhaps the only difference between an ordinary parent and Yograj is the extent of his determination. Behind the harsh taskmaster is the vulnerable heart of a father who cannot bear the thought of his talented son getting lost in obscurity. He preferred being hated for something worthwhile than being loved for nothing. He had to assume this role for the future of his son, in the hope that someday his son would come to him and say, 'Thank you, Dad, for making me'. Yograj's vision has come true. Yuvraj Singh has made it and made it big. As for the father, his vision may have come true, but his dream still waits.

Excerpted with permission from the book Yuvi, published by Harper Sport, an imprint of HarperCollins India. Copyright Makarand Waingankar.

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