It’s been 17 years. The ICC KnockOut Trophy has mutated into the ICC Champions Trophy. But Yuvraj Singh is still coming out and dismantling bowling attacks, changing the course of games. From living up to expectations in Nairobi to proving them wrong at Edgbaston, he’s still winning matches for India.
Yuvraj Singh


It’s 2000. The match is delicately poised when he walks in, this languid youngster about whose talents so many glowing reviews had come from the Under-19 level. It’s 90 for 3 in the 19th over, a considerable slowdown from 66 for no loss in 11.3 overs. 


The young man is walking out to bat for the first time in international cricket, but you wouldn’t know if you saw him. Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee – bring them all on. All of them are dispatched to the fences, the bat flowing like a stiff breeze on a summer’s day.
 

It’s 2017. The match is in balance when he walks in. It’s 192 for 2 in the 37th over, healthy enough but a slowdown from 157 for 1 in 28 overs. The veteran has walked out with several people wondering if he deserves to be in the XI. You wouldn’t know it if you saw him. Hasan Ali has troubled the batsmen, he’s no trouble for the veteran. Wahab Riaz … it’s a no-contest. Mohammad Amir has been the sharpest of the Pakistan bowlers, but not nearly sharp enough for him.


It’s been 17 years. The ICC KnockOut Trophy has mutated into the ICC Champions Trophy. But Yuvraj Singh is still coming out and dismantling bowling attacks, changing the course of games. From living up to expectations in Nairobi to proving them wrong at Edgbaston, he’s still winning matches for India.


And when he steps on the field for the Champions Trophy 2017 semifinal against Bangladesh on Thursday (June 15), it will be for the 300th time in an ODI. It’s a landmark only four Indians have achieved before him – Mohammad Azharuddin, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly.


None of those illustrious names, though, have had quite the rollercoaster to the moment that Yuvraj has had. None of them have also got two world trophy medals, both coming after a tour de force, Man of the Tournament performance.


“I think a big achievement for me to finish on 300 games. It’s a huge honour. When I started playing, I was happy playing just one game for India,” reflected Yuvraj at Edgbaston on Wednesday. “That would have been a big achievement for me. But it’s come a long way, there have been ups and downs, and I’m proud of myself that I have come through, still managed to get to 300. At one stage I was thinking whether or not I will play again or not, but here I am.


“It’s a big achievement for me, but I am not focussing on myself or anything special as team is more important. We need to focus on the semifinal and our plans. Bangladesh have been playing really well in the tournament and we want to work towards our plans to win the game, rather than focussing on my 300th game.”


The game has changed since Yuvraj padded up all those years ago. He was then the most fleet-footed among Indian fielders, the harbinger of a new generation. Today he’s considerably down in the fielding pecking order, a natural progression in a young, hungry team. “The game has evolved, fitness levels have evolved. 


The game has become much more fast-paced,” he acknowledged. “I think to play for India is not that difficult, but to sustain it is tough. You need to have the determination to never give up, and believe in yourself. Self-belief is very important because when things are not going well for you, people have their own opinion… So at that time it’s very important to believe yourself, that you’ve done it in the past, and now is the time you can do it again.”


Yuvraj himself considers the ability to fight on his biggest asset. “I think the biggest quality would be never to give up, keep pushing no matter what obstacles come in your life,” he said. “I think that’s what I can give to the younger guys: never to back down. Keep working the same way whether you are having a good time or a bad time. Be consistent, be persistent.

“Definitely I’d like to be seen as a fighter. A lot of people can actually get inspired, not to give up.”


Yuvraj Singh

What interests me with Yuvraj is for a man who can hit the ball as far as anyone in the world, how he still works – in training – on shape and bat path and not over-hitting: Simon Helmot. © BCCI



He is of course not talking of merely on the field, but on his years out of the game and recovery post cancer, including an incredible comeback to the Indian team. That comeback, though, didn’t happen by accident. Yuvraj wanted it. Yuvraj worked for it.


“I’ve been playing domestic cricket for the last three years. I didn’t miss any of my domestic games except for when I got married,” he pointed out. “That was the reason I could spend a lot of time on the ground. I was batting well, I was fielding for two days, and it’s important that as you get older, you need to push harder on the field. That’s the reason I was able to come back and play here.”


It’s not just Yuvraj’s words either. Simon Helmot, the assistant coach with Sunrisers Hyderabad – Yuvraj’s latest Indian Premier League team – said the amount of work the allrounder put in was incredible. “Yuvrai is a wonderful person to work with, especially in a training environment. He’s very giving to younger players and to his peers. I feel that was something he was especially positive with this year at Sunrisers,” said Helmot.


“What interests me with Yuvraj is for a man who can hit the ball as far as anyone in the world, how he still works – in training – on shape and bat path and not over-hitting. It’s interesting for a person who is one of the most powerful hitters in the game … he’s very methodical, he works on his technique. There’s a real clear understanding of the method of batting and how to construct an innings and that’s where Yuvraj has shown how valuable he is, especially in white-ball cricket.”


And he’s not just shown it, he’s come back and proved that a place in the starting XI is his by right. The innings against Pakistan prompted Virat Kohli to gush about the ‘beautiful’ Yuvraj, the man who could strike the ball only the way he could.


Kohli was similarly effusive about the man he often looked to for guidance and mentorship in his early days on the eve of his landmark moment. “He’s achieved tremendous things for India. Two Man of the Tournaments in World Cups, India winning both, is a very special achievement,” said the Indian captain. “And personally in his life, as well, he’s fought with bigger battles and that’s a proof of the character that he possesses and the temperament that he has.


“His contribution to Indian cricket has been outstanding. He’s been a total match-winner for India, won us so many big tournaments and big series, and this is just a testimony to the kind of talent he possesses. You obviously need to have all those things in place to be able to play 300 games for India, and I congratulate him. I wish him all the very best, and hopefully he can play a lot more for us and get in those match-winning performances all over again, and I hope tomorrow is a special one for him.”


It will have to be pretty special if it has to top the three knocks Yuvraj picked as his favourite ones in his ODI journey. “Definitely the 2011 World Cup quarterfinal against Australia,” he said, before pausing a bit to select others from an overflowing portfolio. “Then my debut game against Australia. The NatWest final in 2002 would be third.”


In 2000, the Indian team wore a bit of a fresh look with Azharuddin banned from the team. When Yuvraj walked in, the wickets that had fallen were those of Tendulkar, Ganguly and Dravid. Just like he did on his debut, Yuvraj is walking in after those four. Then it was only on a cricket field. Now it will be into history.



Source:WisdenIndia
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