Santhosh Kumar is halfway through his engineering degree in his hometown of Visakhapatnam. The young man, however, dragged himself away from college on Tuesday as he simply had to be at the Dr YS Rajasekhara Reddy ACA-VDCA Stadium. For hours, he waited in the hot sun, watching India practice, but keenly observing one man. The player in question looked leaner and fitter than in recent times, and after a controlled spell in the practice nets, walked out to the main ground to have a few unfettered swings, clattering the ball for huge sixes. Yuvraj Singh, however, knows that it is not just his ardent fans who are watching closely.
This is a World Cup year, and though Yuvraj is the cornerstone of the ODI team, times have not been good. Injuries to knee, shoulder, wrist and fingers have led to a drop in form and his eventual axing from the Test team. In 50-over cricket, though, India’s selectors know that dropping a player of his ability is not the answer: India need Yuvraj to do well.
In a team that is usually top-heavy, with Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag operating up front, Yuvraj occupies the pivotal No. 4 spot. It is he who’s called upon to control the game in the middle overs, and it is he who can be best relied upon to produce the big hits in the end overs. Add to this the fact that India traditionally play one bowler less, and with Yuvraj’s ability to bowl restricting slow left-arm that can strangle important wickets, you have a player who could be the engine room of your team.
In many ways, the single most important thing India can hope to learn from this series is just how strong Yuvraj is at the moment. M.S. Dhoni certainly believed that Wednesday’s clash could be revealing. “As I have always said, our batting has revolved around him. He’s the kind of player who can change gears at any point and take control of the game,” said Dhoni. “He has played over 250 ODIs which means he has got a lot of experience behind him. We’re expecting him to score in this game.”
The Australians are led by Michael Clarke, a man who does a very similar job to Yuvraj – batting in the top order and chipping in with left-arm spin, and he underscored the importance of contributing in more than one department. “In this game, you do have ups and downs,” said Clarke, looking back at his own dry run in the Tests. “You try to help the team succeed. In these ODIs, I will try to score runs, and if I bowl, I’ll look for wickets. The idea is to try and contribute towards the team’s cause.”
Dhoni believed that for Yuvraj, when one facet got going, the other would automatically get a lift. “If you do well in batting, it reflects in your bowling and vice versa,” said Dhoni. What he left unsaid was that a similar relationship existed between Yuvraj and the team. If the left-hander did well, chances are all would be well with the bigger picture. That’s what the team wants in the run-up to the World Cup.