Author : Sougat Chakravartty
Yuvraj Singh has played some memorable innings in his career
To put it simply, the Punjab dasher wants to get back into the national squad.
No, that’s not quite correct. He wants to storm back into the Indian team – and the only way to do that is to bring out the heavy artillery (read top-quality performances).
On a comeback trail from a life-threatening illness that nearly derailed his career post the World Cup triumph, Yuvraj Singh clearly means business. No self-respecting cricketer can digest being dropped from international duty for an abysmally long period of time, and the 31-year-old is living proof of that.
He returned for the 2012 ICC World Twenty20, doing well with the ball, but the willow, somehow, remained fairly quiet as the Indians were eliminated from the tournament.
In the IPL too, a back injury forced him to miss a large number of games, and his side ended up with the wooden spoon again. Weight issues severely limited his fielding – one of his key strengths.
He finally put his foot down. Enough was enough. Desperation was palpably etched on his face, though he tried to remain as calm as possible in public. He jetted off to France with fellow discard Zaheer Khan, and under the watchful eyes of European high-performance trainer Tim Exeter, spent six grueling weeks priming his body into top-flight physical shape.
Then, back home, he trained hard at the NCA, perfecting his abilities with the willow, smoothening out the flaws and focusing on being mentally tough to handle the rigours of cricket.
Luck smiled upon him when he was chosen to lead the India ‘A’ team for three unofficial ODIs and a single Twenty20 against West Indies ‘A’. On Sunday, everyone was treated to a dazzling spectacle from the southpaw, leading to speculation about the time it would take for him to return to the national fold.
Here’s a look at the special knocks from the Punjabi Hurricane in his limited overs career:
Special mention: 72 runs off 36 balls vs Pakistan (Ahmedabad, December 2012)
Into his 3rd month of the comeback from a rare germ-cell cancer, Yuvraj launched a blistering assault on the Pakistani bowling after the giant left-armer Mohammad Irfan struck him on the toe with a searing yorker – the batsman saw red, and proceeded to simply murder the rest of the attack.
Runs cascaded from his blade like powerful, gushing waterfalls as he repaired the earlier damage by the Pakistani bowlers in the company of skipper MS Dhoni.
He spared no one, not even the wily Ajmal, who bled plenty in the penultimate over as the rampaging prince blasted three huge sixes in next to no time. His innings laid the platform for an 11-run win, thus squaring the two-match series.
10. 84 vs Australia (ICC Knockout Trophy, Nairobi, 2000)
Yuvraj Singh vs Australia against Nairobi
India came into the tournament with the spectre of match-fixing looming large over them. They handed debuts to two new faces – youngsters who would go on to become vital cogs of the side within the next decade.
18-year-old Yuvraj Singh stood tall among the rest, treating the Australian bowlers with scant respect as he played some breathtaking strokes all over the wicket.
Showing no sign of nervousness in his first international innings, the left-hander took cue from Sachin Tendulkar’s early blitz on Glenn McGrath, and played a very composed innings, running hard between the wickets and displaying fluency when scoring boundaries.
He was fortunate enough to survive an edge off McGrath that flew past Mark Waugh when the batsman was on 45. Older middle-order stalwart Robin Singh guided the youngster briefly, and his 84 took India to 265.
His spirited effort even inspired Venkatesh Prasad to hit a six off the last delivery!
Yuvraj was electrifying in the field as he held a snorter off Prasad’s bowling to dismiss Ian Harvey before running out the dangerous Michael Bevan.
His efforts in the field galvanized the squad, and Australia eventually crumbled, losing by 20 runs and getting eliminated from the tournament.
9. 69 vs England (NatWest final, Lord’s Cricket Ground, 2002)
Yuvraj Singh formed a match-winning partnership with Mohammad Kaif
It was turning out to be a familiar Indian performance – wayward bowling, lackadaisical fielding and a quick collapse in the middle. India had lost nine one-day finals, and were looking on course to add one more to that unwanted kitty.
England rocketed away to 325, riding on splendid centuries from the graceful Marcus Trescothick and the aggressive Nasser Hussain.
India got off the blocks rapidly as well, with Ganguly and Sehwag raising a century stand for the first wicket. However, within the next 40 runs, the visitors lost five wickets – the fall of Tendulkar prompting multitudes of Indian fans to switch off their television sets.
But no one had counted on the two twenty-something cricketers who were still at the crease. Yuvraj and Mohammad Kaif raced like gazelles on the pitch, milking the ones and twos, before opening up with the big shots.
The southpaw, in particular, was quick with his hands, depositing left-arm spinner Ashley Giles into the stands almost cavalierly.
Their stand was worth 121 runs when Yuvraj eventually top edged a sweep to Alex Tudor, but Kaif carried on and secured a famous victory – made even more memorable by Ganguly’s shirt-waving act from the Lord’s balcony.
Yuvraj’s innings taught his side one thing: Never Say Die!
8. 110 vs West Indies (Colombo, 2005)
Yuvraj Singh raises his hand as he celebrates scoring a half century (50 runs) during the one day international match between India and the West Indies
It was a phase when Yuvraj was getting the starts, but couldn’t go on to convert them. Rage and frustration were boiling up inside him, and his vulnerabilities to spin were reaching alarming proportions.
Then came the match against the West Indies in the Indian Oil Cup tournament, and Yuvraj found an outlet for his anger. He stood tall and whacked the stuffing out of the Caribbean bowlers, battling through fatigue and cramps in draining match conditions.
In the process, he reached yet another century, and attracted attention by gesticulating angrily towards the dressing room – apparently indicating his displeasure at coach Greg Chappell’s criticism of his batting.
The southpaw re-established his old partnership with Kaif, and the two added 165 runs in 178 balls, rescuing the team from a shaky 51/4.
Yuvraj departed soon after reaching his hundred, but he did enough to help his side to a winning total; despite Denesh Ramdin’s heroics, West Indies lost by just 7 runs.
7. 107* vs Pakistan (Karachi, 2006)
Yuvraj Singh (R) waves his bat and helmet after scoring century (100 rns) against Pakistan as his teammate Mahendra Singh Dhoni (L) looks on in the fifth and last One Day International (ODI) match at The National Cricket Stadium in Karachi
This innings had all the makings of audacity and cleverness, and it was made even more beautiful because India were able to complete a 4-1 annihilation of their arch-rivals in their own backyard.
Helped by half-centuries from Mohammad Yousuf and Younus Khan – the latter benefiting from some wayward bowling at the death – Pakistan posted a challenging 288 in their 50 overs.
Rahul Dravid, captaining the side and opening with Gautam Gambhir, scored a half-century, but clever bowling from Rao Iftikhar Anjum and Yasir Arafat slowed down the scoring.
After both openers fell, Yuvraj took the centre stage along with the promoted MS Dhoni, and together they launched a blistering counter-attack.
The southpaw was all about timing and fluent strokeplay as he dispatched the ball to the fence fourteen times, without once resorting to the aerial route, although he was dropped once on 64.
Cool as a cucumber and steady as a rock, Yuvraj raced away to his first ODI century against the Men in Green with an assortment of powerful jabs, uppercuts and solid punches – hampered by a pulled hamstring.
Dhoni’s uninhibited, incandescent power hitting took the pressure off him, and India romped home by eight wickets.
6. 118 and 4/28 vs England (Indore, 2008)
Yuvraj Singh celebrates his century – 100 runs – during the second One Day International (ODI) match between England and India in Indore
A back strain had troubled the dashing left-hander in the previous game at Rajkot, forcing him to play with a brace; he still managed to hammer an unbeaten 138 in just 78 balls that time.
In the second match at Indore, the southpaw came in with his side in trouble at 29/3, and proceeded to play a controlled innings, settling down quickly before unfurling his shots.
He advanced the score rapidly with a flurry of pulls and drives that left England captain Kevin Pietersen bereft of ideas. With Gautam Gambhir, he raised 134 for the fourth wicket, then scored a rapid 43 with Dhoni, completing his tenth ODI hundred in the process.
He became Stuart Broad’s fourth victim of the match, but late hitting from Yusuf Pathan took India to 292.
After Flintoff and Pietersen had taken the bowlers to the cleaners during the batting powerplay, the left-arm spin of the Punjab dasher removed both batsmen, effectively derailing England’s march towards the target.
He also dismissed opener Matt Prior and Owais Shah, finishing with a four-wicket haul as India took the game by 54 runs to go 2-0 up in the series.
5. 2/44 & 57 vs Australia (Ahmedabad, Second Quarter Final, World Cup 2011)
Yuvraj Singh celebrates after beating Australia during the quarter-final match of The ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 between India and Australia
Ricky Ponting, playing in what turned out to be his last World Cup , struck a superb century as he guided Australia to a competitive total of 260. Yuvraj, however, foiled his victory plans with a superb all-round performance that enabled India to come up trumps as they humbled the defending champions by five wickets.
The left-arm spinner sent the entrenched Brad Haddin back to the pavilion after a 70-run stand with the Aussie skipper, then took out Michael Clarke courtesy an awful shot and a smart catch from Zaheer Khan, finishing with 2/44 in his full spell.
He then returned to score a vital half-century and hit the winning runs, exulting in delight as the spectators erupted in ecstasy, setting up a semi-final showdown with Pakistan.
4. 70 vs Australia (Durban, Second Semi Final, 2007 World T20)
Yuvraj Singh of India hits to mid wicket with Adam Gilchrists of Australia looking on during the ICC Twenty20 Cricket World Championship Semi Final match between India and Australia
The young left-hander had more than a point to prove when he took guard against Australia in the second semi-final of the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup. He had had a horrid run at the 50-over World Cup in the Caribbean, and was one of the key players blamed for the debacle.
He responded to his critics in style, dismantling the Aussie bowling in much the same way as he had flayed the English a couple of matches before.
Off the second ball he faced, sent down by Stuart Clark, he executed a pull that landed into the deep square leg stands. From then on, the hits flowed in torrents from his bat as he piloted India to a score of 188 in 20 overs; the highlight of his innings was a flick over deep backward square off Brett Lee which measured 119 metres, the longest of the tournament.
Yuvraj underlined his importance in the side with a quicksilver catch to send back the dangerous Mike Hussey, and India cantered to victory by 15 runs.
3. 58 vs England (Durban, 2007 World T20)
Yuvraj Singh hits six sixes off Stuart Broad of England in one over for his 58 runs off 16 balls during the ICC Twenty20 Cricket World Championship Super Eights match between England and India
Andrew Flintoff’s heated exchange with the fiery Punjab player backfired on his side big time as the left-hander proceeded to exhibit a ferocious display of power hitting at Kingsmead on a cool September evening at the first ever Twenty20 World Cup against England.
Stuart Broad didn’t know what lay in store for him, and at the end of his spell, looked like a kid who had seen too many monsters under the bed.
Yuvraj, in those six deliveries, hammered a record 36 runs or, to put it in simple terms, he hit a huge six off every single ball of the over. Broad bowled short, Yuvraj flicked; when he bowled full, the left-hander took his right foot out of the way and sent the ball into the stands.
His display of clean hitting was such that captain Collingwood was left scratching his head, Flintoff bemused, and Broad on the verge of tears.
For the record, India posted a 200-plus score, winning the game by 18 runs.
2. 103 vs South Africa (Hyderabad, 2005)
Yuvraj Singh raises his bat as he celebrates after he scored a century during the first One Day International (ODI) match against South Africa at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad
Yuvraj scored three centuries in this season, and all three came under high-pressure situations. This one also stands out for the fact that it was a carefully crafted innings, bereft of the kind of dazzle that usually accompanies the stylish batsman’s approach to the crease.
India had been pegged back by the initial burst from South Africa’s pace attack as Ntini, Pollock and Nel reduced them to 35/5 in the 12th over.
However, Yuvraj dropped anchor at one end, combining with Irfan Pathan for a 75-run stand to bring some normalcy back into the innings, then added quick runs with Dhoni and Agarkar, bringing up his century in the process.
He was the ninth man out, falling after holding the innings together till the 48th over. Unfortunately, his watchful knock couldn’t prevent India from losing by five wickets.
1. 139 vs Australia (Sydney, VB Series, January 2004)
Yuvraj Singh celebrates reaching his century during the one day international match against Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Sydney, 22 January 2004.
If there was ever an innings so sublime, so rock-solid and yet had a hint of strokeful defiance, it was the 22-year-old’s magnificent knock against Australia in the seventh match of the 2004 VB Series.
Early strikes by Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie pushed India on the backfoot, but Australia’s perennial thorn VVS Laxman stabilized the innings in the company of the young left-hander as they blunted the bowling attack with a combination of dour defence and attacking strokeplay.
Yuvraj hit the ball with amazing precision, rotating the strike and egging on his slower senior partner to keep the scorecard ticking. He finally exploded in the penultimate over, slamming Ian Harvey for 22 runs, finishing with 139 as India posted 296/4.
Rain reduced the game to 34 overs for Australia’s chase, and Gilchrist’s power blast, plenty of twists and turns and a final full-toss hit for six left the young Indian side a dejected lot.
It did not give India a win, but it did show the world the immense amount of talent that Yuvraj Singh possessed.
For the sake of the fans, and for the greater good of Indian cricket, it is imperative that he gets back into the national squad soon.