Imagine meeting your cricketing idol. Imagine knowing them for most of your life. Now visualise training with the same coach as them, but to take it one step further, picture that coach to be your own father. That is exactly how U19 sensation Raj Angad Bawa’s relationship with his ultimate cricketing inspiration, Yuvraj Singh, unfolded.
In an exclusive interview to the Punjab Kings, the impactful all-rounder talked about his encounters with Yuvraj and how the Indian legend has influenced him.
“He (Yuvraj Singh) used to come to my father to train. I’ve met him multiple times then, and I was very young. When he would come back after playing important matches, the newspaper would print pictures of the children of the academy with him,” Bawa recalls with a smile.
His grin widens as he explains further, “He made me sit on his lap for one such picture that got printed on the front page of a newspaper. I am clearly crying in that photo, but now it is one of my favourite pictures.”
Bawa’s most recent interaction with Yuvraj Singh was at a Ranji Trophy match, where he managed to get a bat autographed by the 2011 World Cup hero.
He was so influenced by Singh that despite being a right-handed child, Bawa refused to bat with his dominant hand. He shares a fun anecdote about the time his father realised that Bawa will not have it any other way.
“When I picked up a plastic bat to play cricket with my father at home, he was initially surprised as to why I played left-handed. He had seen me do other activities right-handed before, and tried to force me into batting with my dominant hand too,” Bawa said.
Little did his father know that a young Bawa was so influenced by big-hitting Singh, he would switch to batting with his left arm immediately. “Every time my father would make me turn around to bat, I would turn back again, much to his amusement, since the only person I had my eyes on was Yuvraj Singh!” Bawa exclaims.
It was only after many such tries that his exasperated father gave up on trying to persuade him to use his dominant hand, and Bawa, much before he even started playing cricket seriously, was treading the path his idol took.
Ask him his favourite Yuvraj Singh innings and Bawa rattles off a bunch of his memorable outings for India. “Of course, his six sixes against Stuart Broad in the inaugural T20 World Cup is memorable, but there are so many more that I can think of when you speak of Yuvraj Singh,” says Bawa, as his eyes wander in happy recollection.
“In particular, I remember this one T20 match against Sri Lanka that happened in Mohali. Sri Lanka had sent India a target of over 200 runs and India pulled off one of the biggest run chases back then,” Bawa recalls, starry-eyed.
“Yuvraj Singh had scored 60* off 23 balls and had also picked up a handful of wickets (3/23) to be named the Player of the Match. It was a great match,” he expressed.
Bawa also spoke about why Singh’s batting intrigued him so much. He explains, “Usually, Yuvraj Singh would come out to bat when India were knee-deep in trouble having lost a lot of wickets early on, or the team would need a solid, quick finish. He has more often than not bailed the Indian team out of sticky situations, and it would always excite me to see him play.”
Having done exactly this during his U19 World Cup 2022 assignment in the Indian Blues, does Bawa see himself playing Singh’s role too? “Of course I want to ensure I am a reliable resource for the team when they need me. I will help the team in whichever manner possible,” Bawa smiles!
Bawa also picked 12 for his jersey number. It still thrills him that while his birthday is on November 12th, Yuvraj’s is on December 12th. With this happy coincidence, he didn’t have to choose from two different birth dates for his jersey number!
It is endearing to see Raj Bawa’s reverence for his childhood icon, showing us an element of the quintessential Yuvraj style every time he plays, be it with the left hand batting or the 12 on the jersey. Here’s hoping we get to see more of Bawa recreating the successes of his icon too.