Perform or Perish: The curious case of Yuvraj Singh

Last Updated: Wed, Jul 05, 2017 19:05 hrs
kohli, yuvraj

The issue of when to retire from sport is a question that most sportsmen face at their fag end of their career. Human nature being what it is, it is natural that most sportsmen tend to prolong their careers, especially with the remuneration available today.

However, most sportsmen carry on longer than they should and face the ignominy of being dropped from their teams.

It is unfair to attribute the blame solely on the player himself. After all, that is what a player has been doing for most part of his life.

Yuvraj Singh has been one of India's all-time great all-rounder in the shorter formats of the game. However, like all good things come to an end, India need to take a decision about Yuvraj with the 2019 World Cup in mind.

There is no doubt in Yuvraj’s caliber, class and commitment to the team’s cause. He played the entire 2011 World Cup with lung cancer which was only diagnosed after India won the World Cup.

Even after being diagnosed with cancer, he made a brave comeback and fought his way back into the side. This is in no way suggesting that Yuvraj should be viewed through a prism of sentiment alone. He deserves far better than that for the stellar performances he has put in for India.

Yuvraj is currently 35 and will be 37 at the time of commencement of the 2019 World Cup in England. Even Sachin Tendulkar played his last ODI for India at the age of 38.

However, Tendulkar had a great technique to fall back upon whereas Yuvraj relies on hand eye coordination. He is more of a 'See ball hit ball' kind of player and his recent performances doesn't speak high of him.

A decision on whether Yuvraj can play a part in India's 2019 World Cup campaign should be made purely on merit and whether he commands a place in the playing XI on his performances alone.

The Indian squad looks pretty much settled at the moment. Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli are certain to occupy the top three slots in the batting order unless they are laid low by injury or suffer a drastic loss of form.

Hardik Pandya has done enough to more or less assure himself a place in the all-rounder's slot at the number seven position.

That leaves many young players jockeying for the number four, five and six positions in the team. One of these three slots will go to a wicket-keeper whether it is Mahendra Singh Dhoni or the young and rapidly improving Rishabh Pant.

India has played 141 ODIs since the 2011 World Cup final and Yuvraj has featured in just 29 of those. The reasons for this are illness, injury and loss of form. His fitness has also been an issue.

Since his debut on 3rd October 2000 till the final of the 2011 World Cup, Yuvraj had played 274 ODIs and scored 8051 runs at a batting average of 37.62 and taken 109 wickets at a bowling average of 37.24 with an economy rate of 5.04.

After the 2011 World Cup he has played in 29 ODIs and scored just 611 runs at a batting average of 26.56 and taken just two wickets at an economy rate of 6.5. He has bowled just 36 overs in the 29 ODIs.

At his pomp, Yuvraj was a great fielder and was like a live wire on the field. Nowadays, he seems to have lost his spark and looks pretty lethargic on the field and patrols the boundary, rather than fielding at backward point.

Even with his bowling, he has fallen in the pecking order below Kedar Jadhav who is the one Kohli turns to, whenever a stubborn partnership needs to be broken or if one of the main bowlers takes a bit of stick.

Therefore, when judging whether Yuvraj merits a place in the playing XI, the selectors need to judge his contribution with the bat. He is essentially competing for two spots with Jadhav, Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey and maybe even Rishabh Pant and Dinesh Karthik.

Yuvraj batted at the number four position in the recently concluded Champions Trophy and continued to do so in the ongoing ODI series against the West Indies. He can at most be made to bat at the number five position and not lower.

Let us take a look at the stats of batsmen from the top 10 Test playing nations against each other in ODIs, post the 2011 World Cup.

There have been 149 players who have batted at the number four and five positions and their combined average is 36.84 with a century every seven innings.

Yuvraj averages nearly 10 runs less and has scored just one century in his last 29 ODIs. So, his performance has been way lesser than the high standards of the leading batsmen in world cricket in ODIs.

Yuvraj is 37 years old and if we look at the batting stats of players aged 37 or more from the 2003 World Cup onwards, only six players from the top 10 Test playing nations have participated in the World Cup.

Even greats like Mahela Jayawardene and Aravinda De Silva have modest records past 37. Therefore, the odds seem stacked against Yuvraj.

After his match winning fifty against Pakistan in the league match of the Champions Trophy he has registered scores of 7, 23*, 22, 4 and 14. A stalwart like Rahul Dravid has also suggested that India need to make a decision about Yuvraj soon.

Players like Pant, Pandey and even Jadhav needed to given chances to bat higher up the order and their performances needed to be assessed before making a decision on Yuvraj.

Yuvraj's place in the pantheon of all-time great ODI batsmen is fixed. But, if he does not fit into India's plans for the 2019 World Cup he needs to be told that as soon as possible and given the opportunity to retire with dignity and grace.

This would be a fitting reward to an illustrious career.

The author tweets@ravivenkat007

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