By R Kaushik in Mirpur
It’s premature to say that Yuvraj is back, but he has ticked the boxes against attitude, hunger, ambition and the willingness to fight
Fanciful thinking, of course, but that little exchange between deliveries offered another, not-so-tiny peek into the weight of unrealistic expectations India’s cricketers, individually and collectively, are put under. Some 15 minutes back, these same voices were cluck-clucking; suddenly, in the matter of two deliveries, scarcely concealed irritation made for admiring gasps and visions of history in the making, again.
That’s the effect Yuvraj Singh can have on onlookers. His team-mates and his coaches have far more realistic expectations. They are privy to his moods and his thoughts, to the inner demons he is continuing to fight and the external battles that are very much an integral part of professional sport. But not those who are not in the inner circle, those with the license to comment and criticise, as much as to extol and eulogise.
The collective gasp of disappointment as Yuvraj followed up sixes off the first two balls of the over with a single to deep cover signified the breakdown of a mini-dream within the press box. Durban 2007 was not going to be reprised, Muirhead would not join Broad in conceding six sixes in an over to Yuvraj. Disappointment? How often have six sixes been smacked in an over in international cricket? Unrealistic? Of course not, we have every reason to expect the unexpected, don’t we?
Sunday (March 30) night at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium might yet turn out to be a huge night for Yuvraj in particular, and for the Indian team as a whole. Or, it might not. Only time will tell. For now, the only thing that can said with any certainty is that Yuvraj is far from finished. That, while he might occasionally give the impression of being detached, even disinterested, you can only place so much faith in body language. That his hunger remains undiminished. That the fire still burns brightly. And that he can still hit the ball a mile. A long mile, at that.
And then again, Sunday night threatened to unfold much like the previous Sunday night when, against West Indies, Yuvraj had played out 19 deliveries in making 10 nervy, scratched out runs. That Sunday, with victory one little single away, Yuvraj fell guiding Marlon Samuels to slip. A week later, with victory a distant dream after his team limped to 59 for 3 in 10 overs, Yuvraj had the time, the opportunity, some might say even the desperate necessity, to make a start count. And he did.
Early on in the ICC World Twenty20 2014 game against Australia, Yuvraj was circumspect. The ball wasn’t gushing off the surface, it was gripping and turning; not even Yuvraj at his pomp could have teed off from the start. The Yuvraj of a half-dozen years back might have tried and perished. The Yuvraj of today, more mature, more aware, more willing to set ego aside for the greater good, played himself in. He was eating up deliveries doing so, and that might have caused general consternation given his recent form, but everyone knew that he had it in him to redress that balance. Whether he would actually do so was another matter.
A familiar tale seemed to be unfolding as Yuvraj had reached 13 off 21, his timing still very much off, when he skipped down the track to Brad Hodge’s part-time off-spin. The ball had been dragged down enough for Yuvraj not to get to its pitch; in an instant, the batsman realised he needed to respond in kind. The result – a whipped, vertical bat whip-pull that screamed across the turf and smacked into the boundary boards. Whoa, where did that come from?
And then, they wouldn’t stop coming. First Muirhead, then Mitchell Starc, then, even more devastatingly, Shane Watson felt the weight of that scything willow. No cuteness, no cheekiness – just the wonderful sound of middle of bat on tiny, helpless little ball, the full Yuvraj flourish that signifies confidence and rhythm and flow, the umpires’ hands going up or cutting through the air frenziedly as the sixes and fours began to arrive with far greater regularity.
Post the attack on young Muirhead, Yuvraj was in full flow. There were pulls that didn’t always come off the meat of the bat but had enough to speed away to fine-leg, there was one monstrous whip off a Watson full toss that disappeared way over deep square-leg – a la the fifth of those six sixes from that Broad over – and an incredible drive off Starc, backing away and making room, that sailed some distance over long-off. ‘He’s back!’ someone screamed.
Watson has seen Yuvraj in full flight on numerous occasions in the past, and he had no doubt what Yuvraj brought to the Indian team. “I’ve seen Yuvraj take us apart at certain times since I was 18,” he grinned. “Playing against Yuvraj, when he is on (song), he hits the ball in all different spots. He gave himself a bit of time to get in and then picked his bowlers to be able to take on. There’s no doubt when Yuvraj is taking on the bowlers, it is certainly when he is at his absolute best, like he was tonight. He hits the ball as clean as anyone in the world, from the quicks and the spinners as well. There’s no doubt it is going to be a huge confidence-builder for the Indian team itself as well as Yuvraj because Yuvraj batting well for the Indian team certainly makes them a great team. They have got a very good opening combination and him in the middle order, we’ve seen what he has done in the World Cup previously as well.”
As the cameras homed in on the Indian dugout, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma were exchanging knowing smiles. Both men have looked up to Yuvraj, as has the rest of the younger lot, and both men have, like Mahendra Singh Dhoni, repeatedly publicly reaffirmed their faith and confidence in Yuvraj. They just couldn’t stop smiling, and it wasn’t merely because Yuvraj had run into form at the most opportune moment from the team’s perspective. There was genuine happiness all around for what Yuvraj had done for Yuvraj first. And, only then, for what he had done for the team.
Especially given the fickle nature of the Twenty20 game, it will be premature to announce that Yuvraj is back in business. His 60 off 43 on Sunday doesn’t guarantee him runs on April 4, when India plays their semi-final. He will still start on zero, and he will still need to play himself in. If India runs into South Africa, then Yuvraj will relish the extra pace as he did against Australia, which in six Twenty20 games have conceded three half-centuries to the powerful left-hand batsman. If not, Yuvraj will have to work a little harder for his runs. There is no guarantee for success and for runs, of course; that said, Yuvraj on Sunday wasn’t only about runs. The boxes against attitude, hunger, ambition and the willingness to battle it out were all ticked; that will please Dhoni, and Yuvraj himself, more than anything else.