A surprise that greeted cricket lovers during the week that went by was the decision of Yuvraj Singh to come out of retirement and resume playing domestic cricket for his home state Punjab. The former Indian player has written to Board of Control for Cricket in India President Sourav Ganguly and Secretary Jay Shah, seeking permission from them to play first-class cricket. This permission is required due to the fact that since bidding adieu from the game, he had played in T20 cricket leagues organised on foreign soil, which is not allowed for cricketers taking part in Indian domestic cricket. He has also undertaken that, if he is allowed to return, he would not play in such tournaments abroad.
The responses from media and public to the news of his attempt at comeback indicate the regard and love that followers of cricket in India still retain for Yuvraj. From the time he made his debut in international cricket during the Champions Trophy in 2000 till his last game for the country in 2017, he remained a player whose very presence created a buzz on the cricket field. He started by tearing apart a much vaunted Aussie attack in only his second international match and proceeded to guide India to a near impossible win in the final of the NatWest Trophy a couple years later. He slammed Stuart Broad for six sixes in an over during the inaugural ICC T20 World Cup that India won in 2007 and was the Man of the Tournament when the Men in Blue lifted the World Cup in 2011. His career went into a slump after that as he was diagnosed as suffering from a form of cancer. Though he returned to the game after a course of chemotherapy, he could not regain the magic that marked him out as different and finally retired from the game in June, 2019.
What could have prompted Yuvraj, who had climbed most of the peaks in cricket, to think in terms of coming back to the rough and tumble world of domestic cricket? The player has stated that the time spent with the young players in the nets of Punjab Cricket Association rekindled in him the zest for playing the game again at first-class level. He also announced that his intentions were to help the new boys and contribute to winning more trophies for his state.
This brings one to the issue of whether there are any precedents of players coming back after quitting the game. A quick research reveals that this is not all too unusual as there are some instances around the world where cricketers decided to get back to the game after calling it quits. Some of the more famous such comebacks are recounted below.
Imran Khan: The present Prime Minister of Pakistan had announced that he would retire from the game after the 1987 World Cup that was held in the Indian sub continent. Imran left the side after Pakistan were knocked out during the semifinals of the championship. However, within a year, he was forced to return as none other than General Zia Ul Haq, President of Pakistan, requested him to reconsider his decision and play again for the country. Imran returned as captain of the side and played till the 1992 ICC World Cup, where Pakistan won the championship.
Bob Simpson: This past captain of Australia had retired from the game at the end of a successful career in early 1968. However, he was recalled after more than nine years in December, 1977, when India toured Australia as the home side was depleted by the absence of all their top players who had joined the Kerry Packer sponsored World Series Cricket. He made light of his 41 years of age during the series against India that the hosts won 3-2, where he led from the front scoring 539 runs in five Tests. In the series against the West indies that followed, he did not contribute much with the bat and the side crashed to a 1-3 defeat. When England toured Australia in1978, Graham Yallop replaced him as skipper following which he hung up his boots.
Carl Hooper: This former West Indian all-rounder played international cricket from 1987 till 2003. He announced his retirement from the game in 1999 just prior to the World Cup held that year. But he returned to international arena in 2001 and then went on to captain West Indies. He led the side in 2003 ICC World Cup but was replaced after their early exit from the championship. Following this he retired again, this time for good, to make way for younger players.
Grant Flower: The younger of the “Flower brothers” who had served Zimbabwe cricket during its initial years in international cricket, Grant Flower holds the record for being the only batsman to carry his bat in both Tests and One-Day Internationals (ODIs). He was involved in the dispute between players and Zimbabwe cricket authorities, on account of which he quit the international arena in 2004 and went to England to play for Essex as a professional cricketer. He returned to don Zimbabwe colours again 2010 but left after couple of ODIs to take up career as a full-time coach.
Kevin Pietersen: Arguably one of the most popular cricketers to emerge from England during the present century, Pietersen decided to leave the ODI format in May, 2012. Though the reason cited was that this was done to focus on the longer duration version of the game, it was rumoured that this decision was prompted by differences of opinion with the England and Wales Cricket Board and some of his teammates. Though he said that he was reversing his decision couple of months later and indicated his willingness to play in all formats, a fresh controversy involving sending defamatory text messages to the touring South African side led to his exclusion from the side. He was brought back to the side only in November, 2012, for the tour of India where he played in Test matches as well as limited overs games. He continued playing for England till he was dropped from the squad in November, 2014, upon which he announced his retirement.
Shahid Afridi: This Pakistan player remains the international cricketer to hold the dubious record of announcing retirements the maximum number of times! He announced his retirement from Test cricket in 2006 but did a quick turnaround within two weeks. Though he was appointed a captain of Pakistan Test side, he quit Test cricket after leading in only one match. He announced his retirement from all versions of the game in 2011 after captaining Pakistan to the semifinals of the ICC World Cup but reversed it yet again. He retired from ODIs after 2015 World Cup and T20 cricket in 2017.
It would be seen that no Indian cricketer figures in this list as they have, as a rule, stayed away from the temptation of getting back to representative cricket after leaving it. One exception is Ambati Rayudu, who had announced his retirement in pique after finding that he was not selected for playing the ICC World Cup 2019 but decided to come back soon afterwards. Old timers would also remember V Sivaramakrishnan, former left-handed opener from Tamil Nadu, who announced his retirement from first-class cricket at the start of 1988 cricket season but reversed it when his state reached the
knockout stage of Ranji Trophy championship. He contributed substantially to Tamil Nadu’s success in Ranji Trophy that season as he scored heavily in all the matches that he played. Being part of a Ranji Trophy-winning side was the high point of the career of this hard working cricketer who was unfortunate not to play for the country.
It would be interesting to see how Yuvraj copes with the challenges of playing competitive cricket at first-class level again. He has not been away from the game for too long and still retains high standards of fitness. Further, his vast experience would be an asset for the other members of the side. But the most important aspect is whether he still retains the fire and intensity to go through with it. A person who has fought and conquered the “emperor of all maladies” would not be found wanting in determination and resolve to achieve any goal that he sets for himself. However, the key factor here would be the achievements of the side as a whole rather than his individual performances.
Here is wishing Yuvraj good luck.
(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)