The mercurial all-rounder had been in the form of his life at the 2011 Cricket World Cup, helping India win their first title in almost three decades when they beat Sri Lanka by six wickets in the final at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium.
Yuvraj had particular cause to celebrate after putting in a series of match-winning performances — his tally of 362 runs and 15 wickets in nine matches earned him the “Man of the Tournament” award.
“Everything came together at the World Cup and it was something really special. And just being together as a team, lifting the World Cup was a dream come true,” Yuvraj told CNN’s Human to Hero series.
But as each new chapter in that Indian sporting fairy tale was being written a more sinister narrative was unfolding deep inside Yuvraj’s body.
“I was coughing a lot. I was not able to breathe on my left side. I was struggling to breathe throughout the whole tournament (and) spitting a little bit of blood at times during games,” he recalls.
After the World Cup he went for a scan that revealed a tumor in his chest cavity, but a combination of denial and disbelief saw him carry on pretty much as normal.
In addition to regular appearances for his state side Punjab, he is kept busy with his cancer foundation, YouWeCan, which raises awareness and funds to fight the disease.
“I definitely think I’m inspiring a lot of people,” he says.
“Trust me, it’s not easy to get out of it. It’s something which kills you from inside and it takes a lot out of you, your family members and your friends to see what you’re going through. That’s why I’m trying to motivate people and try to help them get their life back.”
It’s a positive message from a man who could have been forgiven for letting his sporting career fade in the face of such trauma. But his love for cricket remains as strong as ever and his take on it could serve as a motto for how to approach the vagaries of modern life.
“It’s a sport which never flows in one direction, it’s always up and down. You never know which way it’s going to go. I just love the unpredictability.”