July 13, 2002: Natwest Series 2002, Final, India vs England
India – 133/4 in 21 overs in reply to England’s 326.
India’s experienced batsmen are back in the pavilion. In walks the 20 year old Yuvraj Singh. He starts off nervously with leg byes off Ashley Giles and then watches in horror as India slump to 147/5. But then, confidence takes center-stage and in the company of the 21 year old Mohammad Kaif, Yuvraj lifts India from shambles and sets the tone for a famous victory. Harsha Bhogle rejoices in the commentary box: “This young man here is playing the innings of his life!”
March 24, 2011: ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, Quarter-final, India vs Australia
India – 143/3 in 28.3 overs in reply to Australia’s 260.
In comes the in-form batsman Yuvraj. There is no nervousness this time. Slams his first ball to the midwicket fence and then in the company of Raina, never really loses sight of the run-rate. Thrashes a scorcher from Brett Lee to the cover boundary, let’s out a mighty roar, flashes his blade in the air, comes down on his knees and displays raw emotion. India canter home with 5 wickets in hand and 14 balls to spare.
April 6, 2014: ICC World T20, Final, India vs Sri Lanka
India – 64/2 in 10.3 overs batting first.
A struggling and out of form Yuvraj Singh comes to the crease. Prods and Plonks at deliveries outside off stump. Tries a slog sweep unsuccessfully. Comes down the wicket and gets beaten. Defends awkwardly to innocuous deliveries. Gets rapped on the pads numerous times. Makes a dispiriting 11 runs off 21 balls, not before failing to give the strike to his in-form batting partner and sucking the momentum out of the innings. India reach a paltry 130. Game over.
“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
At this point, nobody knows this better than Yuvraj Singh. For a man who has conquered some staggering peaks and seen a few crushing blows, it is an irony that the game which had given him a reason to fight and rise above a deadly disease should send him crashing into cricketing oblivion. Make no mistake, his India career is far from over. But gauging by the reactions of the fans, media and experts, a ‘fourth’ comeback in two years now might be next to impossible.
It has been reiterated by people over the years that cricket is an unpredictable game and that factor makes it all the more interesting. But unpredictability can get on to your nerves, especially if you are an emotional Indian fan. Rewind to 1996 and the infamous India vs Sri Lanka World cup match which ended abruptly, with Clive Lloyd, the match referee awarding the game to Sri Lanka as it was highly risky to continue when the crowd was unruly and the stands were set on fire.
Fast forward to 2006: the shocking incident when Sachin Tendulkar was ‘booed’ off his home ground -Wankhede for underperforming. Fans in India have always been vocal with their emotions and this time around, things don’t seem to be rather different.
Reactions from the fans on Yuvraj’s style of play on night of the final have been rather mixed. While some of them have come out in support of the dashing southpaw, others have lambasted him mercilessly. Stray incidents of stone pelting by angry cricket fans on Yuvraj’s home have also been reported. While that is utterly condemnable, it is not at all surprising.
So is Yuvraj the reason for India’s defeat?
Cricket is a team sport. While it is true that singular moments are decisive in a crunch match, it is also naïve to entirely blame individual performances. Yes, his scratchy innings was an ordeal to watch and certainly had some effect on the outcome, but then, a lot of other things went wrong for India.
It is actually pretty hard to predict how the match would have turned out, had he struck the ball well or got out early or at least given much of the strike to his partner, Virat Kohli, who was setting himself up for a flourish at the death. But before the criticism pours in, there are a few factors that need to be considered.
Yuvraj Singh was dropped from the Asia Cup ODI squad a few weeks back. But the selectors deemed it plausible to draft him into the T20 squad for an ICC event and interestingly, a World Cup at that. Now, that’s an awful lot of faith to be shown on a batsman, who wasn’t even in the reckoning for the 50 over format. His domestic returns prior to the tournament have also been uninspiring and did not warrant a natural selection.
M.S.Dhoni is known as man who leads by instinct and a ‘gut feeling’ and that approach has held him in good stead for a long time now. While his decision to promote Yuvraj ahead of the in-form Raina might have been tactical, it is most certainly debatable. But then, Dhoni trusted his trump card of 2007 and 2011 to repeat his magic but the magician seemed to have run out of tricks.
Cricket is, after all, a sport. A team can attempt to explicate all their plans for weeks together, but a flawless execution is never assured. After being the driving force behind two world cup titles, it seems as though that the Yuvraj Singh of yore has gone off the radar. Is he past his prime? Maybe. You never know, for cricket is a funny game and form is a fickle companion.
As Sachin Tendulkar so sensibly put it : “You can criticize Yuvraj, but do not crucify him.”
But then, as disappointed Yuvraj fans will tell you, cricket, in all its glory, is a great leveller.