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The Yuvraj returns
Had it not been Yuvraj Singh, he would probably have been dropped by now ... It's just the weight of the name that is saving him, " a national selector had said before one of those numerous ODI tournaments that India took part in 2010.
It sounded a bit odd, but it wasn't too far from the truth. The swashbuckling left-hander just hadn't been himself since the IPL in 2010. Nothing was going right from him. For someone who had come so close to the captain's spot not too long ago, he had now, according to rumours, come close to being left out of the side.
They didn't drop him, and in less than a year, they are surely not repenting. The angry prince of Indian cricket has showed the world that one shouldn't meddle with class. Match after match in the World Cup, Yuvi has risen to the occasion, the icing on the cake being his allround effort against Australia in the quarterfinal. He dried the Aussie flow of runs, soaked up all the pressure that the world champions exerted while fielding, didn't bother about the sledging, and came up with a performance that ended a 12-year-long Australian supremacy in the World Cup.
There has never been any doubt about the talent of Yuvraj since his explosive arrival on the international scene in Nairobi (against Australia at the ICC Champions Trophy) a decade back. But it was the mind that was always under scrutiny. On a hot summer evening in Ahmedabad this Thursday, the left-hander showed that he has cleared the cobwebs of the mind and has turned a new leaf. Nothing bothers him anymore but the target at hand.
But even a couple of months ahead of the tournament, there were doubts whether it was worth persisting with the temperamental Punjab lad.
Fitness issues, lack of form and focus - all these brought about the fall of the Prince. The pressure was growing all the time and with the likes of Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina knocking on the doors of selection, there was a time when even a World Cup place looked a little iffy.
MS Dhoni and Yuvi are not known to be the best of friends, but the Indian skipper knows the Punjab lad is a matchwinner on his day. And Dhoni sticks to such players. Just ahead of the World Cup, when it was being debated whether Raina and Kohli be played ahead of Yuvi in the XI, Dhoni stood by the man who played a big role in India's T20 World Cup triumph in 2007.
"It's just a matter of getting a couple of 50s ... If he gets that, I am sure Yuvi will do very well, " Dhoni had said. And the skipper, in the match against the Netherlands, delayed the Indian victory just to allow Yuvi to reach his half-century. Dhoni even insisted on giving Yuvi the No. 4 slot, which he finally got during the West Indies game and made it count with a century. "I always like batting at No. 4, because that allows me more balls to face, " said Yuvraj.
If Dhoni's confidence in him had a lot to do with Yuvraj's turnaround in the World Cup, his bowling too played a vital part in it. Kevin Pietersen had once called Yuvi a 'pie-chucker'. Yuvraj has always tried to roll his arm over, but against a decent batting line-up, his bowling had been canon fodder.
But as his batting dipped, coach Gary Kirsten looked to work on his bowling so that the team management gets enough reasons to retain the player. Yuvi started taking his bowling seriously and it paid dividends. Being a naturally talented cricketer helped and he learnt to give the ball a little bit of air, which took the ball away from the right-hander. On tracks which are a little responsive to spin bowling, Yuvi's left-arm spin became quite a workable fifth-bowling option for Dhoni, especially with the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag refusing to bowl these days due to injury concerns.
"His bowling is always an added advantage ... He lends variety to our spin attack, " Dhoni had said. He was right. In the series against New Zealand, his bowling fetched him a couple of Man of the Match awards. He kept it going in South Africa and right into the World Cup as well.
If bowling helped Yuvi cling on to his place, he also worked hard on his fitness - an issue that he's been battling with for a while. From the end of 2009 to October 2010, Yuvraj broke his fingers thrice, had a cartilage tear in his wrist, was troubled by a recurring knee injury, and suffered a series of neck sprains. There used to be those long rehabilitation processes that made it all the more difficult for the stylist.
But then, Yuvi has always been a natural athlete and that has helped him stay one of the best fielders for India on the park. He still is one of the key men in the offside ring. "I had my share of injuries ... It's not easy to come back from those, but I didn't lose patience. I am happy that things are falling into place now, " he said.
And finally it seems Yuvi has found peace of mind. An ugly high-profile break-up on the emotional front in the beginning of 2008 had taken a heavy toll on the left-hander and since then, barring an odd spark, he had been unable to stay focused. Not that Yuvi is the playboyturned-saint of the Indian team, but his association with his 'guruji' is said to have helped him regain his composure. "I would like to dedicate this MoM award to my mom and guruji, " he had said at the prize distribution ceremony of one of the World Cup matches.
That came as a surprise, but then Yuvraj is known to throw some.
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