The most scintillating and enjoyable session of D 3131’s district conference in Pune titled adhyay18 was arguably the one in which Indian cricket’s two most celebrated cricketers Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan were interviewed by Vikram Sathaye. Apart from being extremely articulate and good friends, the two share a common point in that they’ve faced physical challenges — Singh much more than Khan as the former went through a grim battle with cancer — but have refused to be daunted by them and give in.
The conversation, aptly handled by Sathaye, revealed multiple facets of the cricketers and proved to be peppy with some interesting tidbits of their colleagues being shared.
For one, we found that Khan, or Zak as he is called by his friends and colleagues, has a terrible sense of fashion and “on dressing, he definitely takes advice from me. Now of course, as he sits on Star Sports as a commentator, he has to wear proper clothes. Earlier, he’d come and ask me: ‘Yeh jacket kaisi hei?’. And I’d say ‘Zak, nahiyaar please,” said Yuvraj. And the same was true of his shirt and belt “So every time we went out, he was wearing either my shirt or belt!”
Quick to confess, Zaheer added, “I’ve hardly bought belts; almost all of my belts come from Yuvi because he has the best belts in his wardrobe!”
Yuvi the wonder fielder
Next, Yuvraj was asked to divulge the secret of his great fielding at a time when only the batsmen and bowlers were noticed and patted. When asked by Sathaye to reveal how he learnt to dive like Mithun Chakravarthy, Yuvi revealed that he would keenly watch Jonty Rhodes while he was 15 or 16. “He would simply dive and I wanted to fly like him on the field.” But his first-class cricket debut at 16 was marred by a couple of misfields. “I have kept that clipping till today, where I was called the Gateway of India! My dad read it, took it very seriously, as he does anything related to me, and ensured that in every practice session I catch some 50 to 100 balls at least. So I worked very hard on the field; I’m not a natural fielder but learnt to move quickly.”
But Zak is considered a safe catcher, and here Yuvi related the anecdote of a match in New Zealand where the winds tend to be very strong. “So Zak was bowling and the ball went up and he said ‘Mine.’ But as the ball came down near me, he said, ‘Yours!’ I dived, touched the ball and it fell to the ground.”
Added Zak, amidst peels of laughter, “But it’s not an exaggeration; in Wellington the breeze is so strong that the ball swings in the air… it’s very hard to explain!”
A good part of the session was devoted to mind games; how a bowler can be extremely precise and make the batsman act to his will. Quoting Sachin Tendulkar, who had said Zaheer Khan was “the most intelligent bowler as he makes the ball talk, and is always trying to plot a batsman out,” Sathaye asked: “Tell us how you do it.”
Khan said knowing what would be difficult for the batsman was crucial. “Sometimes, even if you bowl to your strength, you are not going to get the desired results. You have to play on the batsman’s weakness, which everyone knows but to get results you have to prepare.”
His preparation would start by analysing videos and always looking at how the batsman moved his feet. “If his feet are moving well, that means he is not thinking about a whole lot of things and if the partnership is happening, you need to be smart and have to have a defensive plot. But that doesn’t mean you’re not thinking of taking a wicket. You’re always thinking that, but you won’t be aggressive in your intent.”
“I have kept that clipping till today, where I was called the Gateway of India! My dad took it very seriously, and ensured that in every practice session I catch some 50 to 100 balls and I learnt to move quickly.
– Yuvraj Singh
And the deliveries would be planned accordingly. But no bowler could claim he wanted to hit the ball or pitch it exactly in the same spot and it went there. “So I used to make all kinds of combinations to ensure I got good results.”
Asked about the mind games he played, particularly with Matthew Hayden, Khan said, “People always talk about sledging, but that is not only to do with bad language; it has also to do with playing with the psychology of a batsman. In international cricket there is tremendous pressure and responsibility which hamper your decision making. So you have to put the batsmen in that kind of a pressure situation where he will commit a mistake. How many times have you seen a batsman getting out on a really good ball? Most of the times batsmen get out because of the mistakes they make.”
Forcing batsmen to commit mistakes is the key; by getting the ball in the right place to attack the weakness of the batsman. But also by saying something to him. “For eg, I always knew that Graham Smith was very tentative while playing my bowling, because I have got him out many times and every time he played me, I would remind him that I have gotten him out. I’d say I know you have a weakness, I know you don’t like facing me. You say all these things so that he goes into a negative mindset and commits errors.”
As for Matthew Hayden, Khan recalled that in the 2008 Australia series when the first match was in Bengaluru and the second in Mohali, he had got Hayden out three times in four innings. “So I had a plan. But knowing the kind of batsman Hayden is, and the kind of consistency he has, I always knew that his mind is going to work in terms of counter-attacking me.” The next match was in Delhi which is a batsman’s paradise and has a flat wicket which gives little to the bowlers. “When the Mohali game got over, he had given me signs that he was going to attack me and I thought hard on how to counter a batsman of his stature where the conditions would be against me.”
Just before the Delhi match, there was an event and Khan seized the opportunity when he was asked to name his favourite batsman. “I said it is Hayden as he is the easiest batsman to bowl to. Next day, he was the first into bat and had decided that I can get out to any Indian bowler but not Zaheer Khan! So he didn’t play any attacking stroke and kept leaving the ball. He wanted to prove that you are a nobody and I can easily play you. But the attacking play was missing!”
Yuvraj was next asked if he is able to play Zak and he quipped, “Jungle mei mor nacha, kisne dekha! Zaheer Khan has got me out so many times in domestic play but nobody knows about it.”
You have to pressurise a batsmen to commit a mistake. How many times have you seen a batsman getting out on a really good ball? Mostly batsmen get out because of the mistakes they make.”
– Zaheer Khan
Asked about his own bowling action and invariable success when he is called in to take a wicket, Yuvraj said, “I have a unique action and it’s not as orthodox as it looks because I’ve got Kevin Peterson out a couple of times. He hated my bowling and said I am chucking pies towards him; he called me a pie-chucker and I actually enjoyed that name!”
But, he added, the thing about his bowling was that “I always thought of myself as a part timer. The day I start thinking like a bowler I would get hit. So my job was just to enjoy my bowling and use whatever opportunities that were there.”
On Yuvi’s famous six sixes in a single last over, the cricket legend said few people know that before that T20 World Cup, he had scored five chhakkas in one over. On his celebrated six sixes in that match in 2007, Yuvraj said those days there was a lot of competition with England;“we were playing many series with them. MS (Dhoni) went before me to bat and I had only the last three overs. (Andrew)Flintoff bowled two really good balls… a yorker and one back on length. And I hit both for boundaries and he got very angry that I had hit two fours on good balls.”
Just before the last over, he took a single and crossed over, and there was an exchange of angry words between him and Flintoff. “He said something which can’t be repeated here and I responded with a gesture raising my bat and saying I will hit you with my bat. It was a really heated conversation and the umpire intervened and said let’s carry on with the game. I was really agitated, but sometimes it works in your favour! It did that day and I was able to hit every ball (from Stuart Broad) out of the middle of my bat for a six.”
“ Zaheer Khan has got me out so many times in domestic play but nobody knows about it.
– Yuvraj Singh
Yuvraj Singh recalled that in the earlier days even though they could score top runs, “we were scared to speak in English. On our South African tour in 2001, we were very young and spoke bad English. We wanted some padding on the gloves and the physio asked Veeru (Virendra Sehwag) on which glove you want more padding. He thought for two minutes and said both of us please!” On another occasion in New Zealand “Veeru and I were eating a burger and a guy came up and asked: ‘Virendra Sehwag?’, and Veeru said Yup. Next he said how do you like New Zealand and Veeru goes Yup again! But later we overcame such problems.”
Asked about the serious shoulder injuries that had troubled Zaheer Khan and eventually ended his career in cricket, and what it took to mentally overcome such major physical problems, Khan said that when sportspersons sustain injuries they all make mistakes in tackling them. “For a sportsperson, the most important thing is to play and be on the field. Often you think if I’d done it differently I wouldn’t have been injured. But most important is to accept the fact that the injury has happened.”
He said over the years he had detailed chats with sports psychologists and also through personal experience he had learnt that the shorter time one spent on each of these phases, the quicker was the recovery. “I underwent my first shoulder surgery for a serious injury in 2008–09, and thought my career might end there. Because my bowling is such that 80 per cent of the action comes from my shoulder. So that put me in a very negative mind zone.”
But after the surgery comes the most important part, which is the rehab. “During that phase I would put my hand on my shoulder and transfer healing and positive vibes and felt it was working and my recovery was shorter than normal. It can’t be explained but it worked.”
When asked about what kind of mental strength it took to battle and overcome cancer, Yuvraj said, “Trust me, it wasn’t that easy… ki chalo yeh ho gaya hei, isey ab theek kartey hei (This has happened and let’s make it alright). This was much more serious than injuries; it was about whether I would survive or not. The question of life ending is very serious. And after going through this battle, injuries now seem like getting temperature and taking Crocin to fix it!”
He added that accepting that you have cancer is the most difficult part; “for the first 6–12 months I kept saying the doctors are lying, they don’t know anything. A guy who has been an athlete, and trained so hard, had a good lifestyle with sensible eating… how could this happen to me? And it happened at the peak of my career; I lost 4–5 years of my peak career to cancer. Since then, I have been trying to get back to the field. The message is: Never give up. I came back to hit my highest one-day score.”
An appeal to Rotarians
Having gone through this huge life changing experience he had set up a charity for cancer patients; “spreading awareness is one thing, but once you diagnose someone for cancer he turns around and asks, now where do I go for the money for treatment?”
So he had set up his NGO; but in India it was not easy to get funds for charity as most corporates have their own charity arms. “So after some years I felt I have to do some business to sustain my NGO and as fashion comes naturally to me, I have set up a fashion label. I appeal to Rotarians please go online to www.youwecan.com, buy something and help someone. Our stuff is good as well. And you’ll feel happy about saving someone’s life.”
Class & Grandeur
Organised with a lot of class, taste and grandeur in the spacious environs of Pune’s plush Amanora Club house, with its lush lawns and sparkling water bodies, the conference had a record registration of about 2,000 and had prominent speakers such as Anupam Kher, Chetan Bhagat and Swami Sukhabodhananda.
There was a good interactive session titled ‘Vision of Future Leaders’ between DGE Shailesh Palekar, DGN Ravee Dhotre and DGND Rashmi Kulkarni. The idea was to ensure that there was continuity in the projects and work planning for the coming years. Rashmi will be the first woman governor of the district.
There was music and dancing, a folk music performance and the service projects done through the year were presented. RIPR Past RI Director Saowalak Rattanawich from Thailand paid rich encomiums to DG Abhay Gadgil and said she had attended many district conferences around the world, but the meticulous organisation of this one in Pune took her breath away.
Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat
Quizzed about the 2011 World Cup where he did extremely well, and the events before it, Yuvraj Singh recalled that a year earlier, in Bangladesh he had broken his wrist. “Before that I had 4–5 fractures in a year and had an issue with my neck and all kinds of problems with my body. I talked to Zak about the huge physical problems I was facing and asked him what I should do. I thought he will say go see a good doctor or use such an ointment. But he said ‘Tu world cup jitayega. (You will get the World Cup for India)’ I said bro, the World Cup is in a year. And he said bus bold iya (I’ve said it). I felt quite weird that this is not the right kind of advice a friend would give you.”
But then the World Cup started; his health was in bad shape and he spent sleepless nights due to the pain and pressure. His neck was killing him “and I told Zak I can’t play as I can’t face the bowler and will tell Gary I can’t play. But he said, no, play this match. I said I can’t because my neck is stuck and I stand the danger of getting the ball hit on my head. But he was adamant and said nahi tu match khel. So I got more irritated with him… but his answers are like that only!”
Yuvraj said things were so bad with him that while the national anthem was playing he had no choice but to run to the physiotherapist on the other side of the stadium, get treatment, and play the game. “When I went into bat I remember (Graeme) Swann was bowling and I was able to play the spinners a bit. As the body got warmed up, my neck got much better. I got the first 50 of the World Cup in that match, and then another three 50s and a 100 and a 50 in the quarter finals. So thanks for the advice Zak!”
Quipped Sathaye: “After this event, if any astrological predictions are needed, I am the manager for Zaheer Khan.” Yuvraj’s response: ‘Oh yes, he is actually called the ideawale baba in the Indian team. Kisiko haath-vaath dikhan ho to Zak is the man for that! Because after those incidents I have to listen to him for the rest of my life.”