Visakhapatnam, Sept. 8 -- At half past 11, just as the players trickled into the dressing room after a warm-up game of football, Yuvraj Singh held Harbhajan Singh's legs in jest. Bhajji raised his hand as if to bless his team mate. Cameras caught the act of bonhomie and the two walked away laughing. Moments later, Bhajji looked at the stands and said, "aap sab ko aashirwaad. Sau saal jiyo (Bless you all, live for a hundred years)."
Yuvraj shouted, "Marna bhi chaaho gey to nahin maroge. (Even if you want to die, you won't)." Although it was in a lighter vein, it didn't evoke laughter from the handful of people, who were looking at someone who'd just won a fight to live.
In two hot and humid hours, Yuvi made his all-round presence felt - batsman, bowler and entertainer. Although he fumbled through his first light-hearted football game with the India bunch for nearly a year, skipper MS Dhoni warmly welcomed him back into the fold.
"Hope he enjoys, that's what we want. He looks joyful. We missed him for a long time," Dhoni said.
At the practice nets just 100 metres away, to where he and the team members moved, he waited for his turn with Dhoni, often pulling Virat Kohli's leg. Barring that, the patience with which he waited for his turn was exemplary. It looked as if there was a routine and he was following it without looking for any leeway.
"We want to keep it as normal as possible for him, we don't want to create any pressure. When people talk about it, it creates pressure," said Dhoni, eager to put him at ease and tone down the expectations.
The moment arrived. The first ball from Ashok Dinda was driven through cover. The next one from Irfan Pathan was pushed back, and then the onslaught began. Tiredness was pushed to the background as the rasping drives, short-arm pulls and massive straight hits were back.
People later searched the thick undergrowth beyond the nets to look for the ball he'd hit. Some were lucky. The action was repeated at the next nets where R Ashwin and Piyush Chawla were bowling.
The difference between his strokeplay and that of others was there for all to see. A slight push and the ball would race away.
When he was done with his big-hitting well after noon and was preparing to bowl, he caught Virat Kohli leaving the field. He called out, "Abey bowling to kar le (Do some bowling)." Virat tried to excuse himself, and when he failed, yelled, "Yuvi pa, I am not coming. You just need me for your entertainment."
Yuvraj laughed and continued bowling.
Former coach John Wright talks about Yuvraj's early days
I met this young man in 2000, during the first trip to Kenya for the Champions Trophy, and the first impression was a lasting one.
A young man with immense talent, an uncut diamond waiting to be polished, he had the attitude of 'bring them on and will see'.
This in fact was the attitude of the new wave of Indian cricket, waiting to unfold in the new century.
I have fond memories of Yuvraj Singh and when he takes the field on Saturday, in the first T20 match against New Zealand, for a fresh guard on the cricket field, my blessings will be with him.
It will be a celebration of life with Yuvraj. He was instrumental in winning the T20 World Cup for his country, was the 'most valuable player' in the 2011 World Cup, but on Saturday, Yuvraj will symbolise the victory of life.
There have been divided thoughts on his return to the cricket ground.
People who love him and his ability have shared their anxiety on whether it has been a hurried return.
I will look at Yuvraj as somebody who has conquered cancer and is all set to send out the message that you indeed need to celebrate life.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.