I was at Lord’s on July 13, 2002, during the NatWest Series final between India and England. Sachin Tendulkar
was out fifth at 146. Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly, and Rahul Dravid
were already gone. India still needed 180 runs to win. The situation was pretty grim. In walked a tall, well-built, handsome 19-year-old Punjabi lad. Over the next 18 overs, the gutsy young batter partnered with an equally gritty Mohd Kaif to score a masterly 69 runs and take India almost to the doorstep of victory. A star was born that day. The one and only, Yuvraj Singh, India’s Warrior Prince.
I saw him on television at the 2007 ICC World Twenty20 loft Stuart Broad
for those six savage (but sublime) sixes. Incredible! Unbelievable! I was at the Wankhede on April 2, 2011, as Yuvraj ran from the non-striker end to hug his captain M S Dhoni after that legendary lofted maximum that won India the World Cup. And I saw Yuvraj step up to receive the coveted Man of the Series award. There were tears in his eyes. The prince had come of age.
In the Dentsu Celesta celebrity study of 2008, Yuvraj had the highest scores on research attributes like unique, innovative, prestigious, distinctive, stylish, cool, tough, fearless, sexy, and macho. His brand map back then dwarfed all his cricketing colleagues, bar Dhoni. And he was miles ahead of the Khans, and almost all of Bollywood. Outside of the brand tracking study, my own description of Yuvraj would use different adjectives: Aggressive, daring, dashing, entertaining, flamboyant, and fun. Maybe even charming. But if I were to describe him in just one word, it would have to be mercurial. And if I would be allowed to add just one more, it would surely be swashbuckling.
Actually, ‘mercurial’ has been both the making and the un-making of Yuvraj Singh.
Both as a player, and as a brand. Definition of ‘mercurial’ as per the Merriam-Webster version, preferring a more ‘dependable’ and less-excitable Dhoni for the job.
But Yuvraj is someone you could never afford to ignore. It was the sheer force of his personality — go-getter, groovy, gregarious — that got so many brands to use him as their ambassador. Over the years, Yuvraj endorsed a long list of well-known brands: Microsoft Xbox 360, Reebok, Pepsi, Puma, Parachute, MTS, UC Browser, Revital, Lakshmi Vatika, Birla Sun Life, Royal Stag, Laureaus, Benz, and most recently Cadbury Fuse. He is, of course, also the face of his own ‘YouWeCan (YWC)’ line of apparel and accessories. Contrary to popular belief, not very many of us understand or appreciate how difficult it is to get brand endorsements in cricket if you are not a reigning captain or an ex-captain. Statistics show that brand owners have favoured team captains — Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid, Dhoni, and Virat Kohli — for more than 80 per cent of all cricketer endorsements ever. Which is why Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, and Navjot Sidhu got so few in their heydays, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan get only a handful even today, and the likes of V V S Laxman, Zaheer Khan, and R Ashwin got nearly none. But Yuvraj defied all such mundane thumb-rules and apparent marketing logic (if any), commanding his own price for brand endorsements on a par with Dhoni.
Brand Yuvi is not just about some of the biggest sixes ever hit by an Indian — his 125-metre-six heaved off Brett Lee at his peak in the 2007 T20 WC; or the stratospheric prices commanded by him at IPL auctions — Rs 14 crore in 2014 and Rs 16 crore in 2015. His brand today is about his compassion and his charity post his successful fight with cancer. It is the caring, concerned, and considerate Yuvraj spending his own money under the YouWeCan Foundation for societal good — very rare to see among celebrities.
But whereto from here? Yuvraj had famously once said in an autobiographical insurance ad, “Jab tak balla chalta hai, thaat hai …”. Well, given his popularity and appeal, he could follow in father Yograj’s illustrious steps and star in a few Punjabi movies! Or emulate Sidhu — join politics. Follow his first captain Ganguly — become a cricket administrator. Do a Sehwag — try commentating. Copy Dravid — coach budding cricketers. But what I would love him to do most is to become a life coach and share his incredible story of struggle, success, and survival with all. Viva la Yuvi!
The writer is an advertising and media veteran