Few things have saddened me more than the steady decline of Yuvraj Singh’s one time sublime cricketing skills. Here was a young batsman who seemed to have the world at his feet. On sheer talent the compactly built left hander had everything going for him.
A natural strokeplayer he had all the shots in the book – and then some. He could innovate and was such a commanding batsman that the bowling never looked more helpless when he was on song.
Capable of putting the best bowlers to the sword, capable of hitting six sixes in an over in a T-20 World Cup match and capable of reaching dizzy heights with the bat the world was Yuvraj’s oyster – as it certainly was when he was adjudged player of the tournament in the 2011 World Cup playing a notable role in India’s victorious campaign.
When Yuvraj first burst upon the scene at the start of the new millennium it was quickly accepted that he would be the leader of the GenNext of Indian batsmen. He would be the key player once the quartet of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly called it a day.
And recognizing his prodigious gifts he was given every chance to prove his worth. First he became one of the leading batsmen in limited overs cricket. Then whenever there was an injury to one of the four stalwarts he was the first to be given the break in Test cricket.
But while he continued to be a tower of strength in ODIs he could not made his place certain in Tests - at least not until he scored an electrifying 169 against Pakistan at Bangalore in 2007. That innings had the experts comparing him to Gary Sobers and Brian Lara and for once the comparisons were not exactly out of place for there was so much of the two greats in Yuvraj’s play – from the stance to the high back lift to the full follow through of the stroke especially when he lofted the ball.
Those taken up by his pyrotechnical display included Hanif Mohammed and the former Pakistan great was among those who compared him to Sobers.
I well remember how the Indian team management tried their utmost to accommodate Yuvraj in the playing eleven on the tour of Australia that followed. The quartet was still around but following that memorable 169 he had to be picked and the result was that Dravid was asked to open the innings with Wasim Jaffer.
Yuvraj paid back this faith of the tour management by getting 17 runs in four innings. Predictably enough he was dropped and it was only after the retirement of Ganguly that he could get back into the side.
This time one thought it would be on a permanent basis but save for the odd occasion when he really exhibited his true qualities – most notably when scoring 85 not out and partnering Tendulkar in the unforgettable successful run chase against England at Chennai in December 2008 he could never really deliver on a consistent basis. The stats against his name – 1900 runs at an average of 33.92 with three centuries in 40 Tests – bear testimony to his inconstancy at the Test level.
All through however he remained one of the stalwarts in limited overs cricket and when he hammered Stuart Broad for six sixes in an over during the inaugural T-20 World Cup in South Africa in 2007 the cricketing world rose to acknowledge the birth of Yuvraj Singh super star. He continued to excel in the two limited overs formats frequently winning matches single handedly. His rising stature and superstar status was confirmed by the player of the tournament award at the 2011 World Cup.
But just as the stage seemed set for Yuvraj to rise further in international cricket the alarming news broke that he was ailing from cancer. It was heart breaking for the stricken person was only in his 30th year and a highly successful sportsman.
Displaying immense courage Yuvraj fought back taking the painful treatment in his stride and from all accounts he seemed fit for the fray last year even as he released his book and spoke about the dreaded disease and how he had faced it squarely at various promos.
Mentally he seemed alert and it only remained to be seen whether physically he was up to it. The selectors recalled him a move that was met with mixed results with many calling it an emotional decision and not a practical one.
It was now left to Yuvraj to deliver but sadly he could not and now does not find a place in any of the three formats. In his last nine Test innings he has got just one half century.
Worse, in his last ten ODI innings he has got only one half century. In his last nine T-20 international innings since his recall again he has only one half century. Even in the ongoing IPL he has been a pale shadow of the once commanding batsman. I am not one with any medical background but a doctor friend of mine says that following rehab after cancer treatment the patient takes a lot of time to recover.
Apparently the body takes a lot of beating during the treatment. If that is indeed the case one can only hope that he makes a complete recovery and comes back yet again for the team can certainly do with a Yuvraj who could still be the Maharaj of Indian cricket.