He sent fans of his incredible cricketing talent on a roller-coaster ride in the past year or so but, on the evidence of his showing in the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 so far, it is clear that Yuvraj Singh himself has been on a fascinating inwards journey, one that has seen him emerge calmer, more mature and more self-assured than he has ever been.
More than the 341 runs that he has scored so far in the World Cup, it is the manner in which he has scored them that offers us insight into this calming journey. Of the six innings he has played, he has failed to cross the minor milestone of the half-century just once, falling for 12 in that game against South Africa in Nagpur.
Clearly, he has enjoyed being given responsibility and has responded brilliantly, the 11 wickets that he has claimed being of significant value to the home side. But all this would not have been possible had he not understood that the journey inwards to rediscover that cricket was the best form of expressing his unquenched passion for life.
One of the true tests of a sportsman’s character is how well he recovers from being in the dumps, it can be said without fear of contradiction – or the charge of being biased – that YuvrajSingh has redeemed himself and regained his place in the hearts of many fans who were quickly finding new heroes to idolise.
Of course, while he had to deal with the demons plaguing his career by himself, he needed some friendly support too. Some of it came from skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni who believes Yuvraj Singh is a big match player and performs well in the big tournaments and in the highly-rated bilateral series.
And there has been much support from the man he called grandfather – Sachin Tendulkar. There is no doubt that Tendulkar thinks highly of Yuvraj Singh’s natural talent and makes it a point to share his wisdom.
Perhaps he would not have been driven to do the soul-searching had he not been dropped from the Asia Cup squad in June 2010. Come to think of it, Suresh Raina, Cheteshwar Punjara and perhaps even Virat Kohli nudged ahead of him in the Test match stakes, leaving the 29-year-old to wonder where he went wrong.
Was he paying the price for being dismissed by Muttiah Muralitharan twice in the Galle Test match in July last year? Or was he simply a victim of perception that he was lackadaisical in his approach to playing for India, neglecting his fitness and not being focussed on the preparation needed to compete?
Perhaps it was a bit of all this and more.
Yet, in January this year, when Yuvraj Singh made just one half-century in five one-day internationals in South Africa, some wondered why he was being persisted with and why he was picked to be a part of India’s World Cup campaign. To them, he was a spent force who was searching for the form that made watching him at the crease such an enjoyable pursuit.
Around that time, this writer picked Yuvraj Singh as the stand out performer for India at the World Cup. Read that piece here. It is a risk, in the best of times, picking one player from a squad that boasts of men like Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Suresh Raina, Dhoni and Yusuf Pathan, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh.
So what was it about Yuvraj Singh that made this writer stick his neck out at a time when he was still some way from cementing his place in the team. Simply stated, it was his ability to hold the middle-order together or provide the thrust at the finish. He may have slowed down a bit on the field after he suffered a knee injury some years ago but he can still deliver 10 economical overs of his own, thus giving Dhoni the luxury of going into a game with just four specialist bowlers.
“Of course, I am a great fan of Yuvraj Singh as he bats at No. 4. He can change the way he needs to bat according to the demand. And his bowling comes as a big asset, especially since we play with four bowlers and he does the job of the fifth bowler,” Dhoni said about the lynchpin when talking to the media before the team’s league game against the Netherlands in Delhi.
Indeed, his return to the collective consciousness of the nation’s cricket fans has not been easy but it has been worthwhile for Yuvraj Singh himself. Indeed, it is good to see him score runs, get wickets and put that extra effort in the fielding department also. But above all, it is great to see him enjoy his cricket all over again.
The Hindi version of this piece first appeared in a leading newspaper, Prabhat Khabar