On Sunday, with South Africa crumbling under must-win pressure and defending only 191 runs, Yuvraj Singh came to the crease with the score reading 151/2.
India had played this innings calmly, for this score was way below sub-par on these flat pitches.
“How will Yuvraj play this though?” you wondered out aloud.
“There is only one way Yuvraj Singh plays. He will go hard at the ball and won’t prolong South Africa’s misery,” came the reply from Sir Clive Lloyd, on air.
True to form, Yuvraj smacked 23 runs off 25 balls, with a four and a six included. Yes, it wasn’t his quickest knock, but it was hurried enough in the scheme of things.
Shikhar Dhawan (78) and Virat Kohli (76 not out) had dropped anchor early on, content with scoring runs by accumulation rather than by hurting the opposition.
It was understandable from their point of view, as the duo added 128 runs for the second wicket.
Dhawan is in the zone, like any other ICC tournament, and is scoring more watchfully than ever before. Kohli hasn’t been in the best of nicks, as witnessed against Pakistan, and was searching for that sweet timing as he looked to spend time in the middle. Yuvraj, fresh from his blistering attack, just went about business as usual.
That partnership is easy to recall: 93 runs came off just 9.4 overs, at a stunning rate of 9.62, as Pakistan were shocked into submission.
Kohli blasted three sixes off his blade, the sweetest of them a drive flying over cover. It was a glorious shot, but the prelude to it was equally raw.
The Indian skipper, suffering through indifferent form during the Australia series and thereafter in the IPL, was struggling to hit the ball like only he can. There was this one phase of their partnership that the scoring rate somehow slipped away from India, before Kohli made a crucial decision.
“When Yuvi came in, we didn’t go back (to the pavilion due to rain) again. So, he started striking from ball one and that took pressure off me, and (I thought) maybe I should have given him strike.”
“Only he can hit the shots that he hit, putting low full tosses away for sixes, and he changed the game,” the Indian skipper had said, in the wake of the 124-run win.
There is a distinct comfort in his voice when Kohli talks about Yuvraj, and it is easy to understand why. Off the field, the two are great friends, and their on-field relationship is equally strong. That’s not to suggest it’s the reason why the southpaw was able to make an ODI comeback in January against England, no. That was down to his Ranji runs (672 runs in eight innings) alone.
It does go to say though that once Yuvraj was in the scheme of things, there was no way he was going to sit on the sidelines.
And so, it wasn’t any surprise really when Yuvraj batted at No. 4 against England. The message sent out was clear – this was Kohli’s (newly crowned ODI skipper then) choice for the Champions Trophy.
This has been a near-miraculous journey for Yuvraj, and only this latter half of it is being referenced here. By March 2014, the flame of his international career seemed doused.
He had struggled to make an impression in ODIs against Australia (at home) and then in South Africa (away), both in 2013-14, and was duly dropped. Later, at the World T20 in Bangladesh, he proved to be the weak link in India’s middle
order as quick runs in the death overs became a massive sore point.
Coming from serious illness, he had rushed back to international cricket in 2012-13. This time around, his sole focus was on fitness, and playing for India only came later. To still be playing in an ICC tournament three years since he was dropped, Yuvraj has revitalised himself in more ways than one. The mere fact that, even at age 35, management trusts him with the No4 spot is proof enough.
On Thursday, then, he will join a select a group of Indian cricketers in playing 300 ODIs.
Kohli added: “It is a magnificent achievement. Obviously you have to be super-skilled and talented to be able to play that many games for your country. No one has ever doubted that aspect and Yuvraj has done it in big tournaments.”
“Personally, in his life too, he has fought bigger battles. It is a proof of the character he possesses and the temperament he has.”