When the first ball of the first Test against Australia is sent down at Mohali, Yuvraj Singh will not be at home, literally or figuratively.
Since he announced himself on the international stage in emphatic fashion almost exactly a decade ago, Yuvraj has been a certainty in limited overs cricket, and fought desperately to cement a place in the Test team. But a packed middle-order meant that he never had a serious chance of being a Test regular, until Sourav Ganguly retired in 2008.
In his first Test as something other than a replacement, when he wasn't batting to keep his place, Yuvraj rattled off an unbeaten 85, partnering Sachin Tendulkar in one of the great chases of all time as India made 387 in the fourth innings to beat England in Chennai. Tendulkar, who made 103 and shared a 163-run partnership with Yuvraj, was uncharacteristically blunt when asked about his partner at the end of the match. “People have been talking about whether
Yuvraj is a Test player or not and I think those are just loose statements,” said Tendulkar. “Anyone can have a bad phase but that doesn't mean he is not capable of scoring runs at Test level.”
When Yuvraj followed the Chennai innings with 86 in the next Test at Mohali, his fans believed that a corner had been turned and that the left-hander had finally arrived in Test cricket. But it didn’t pan out that way. In the nine Tests Yuvraj has played since that series, he's made a total of 377 runs, with a highest score of 68. The last year has been particularly difficult, with unconnected injuries and illnesses making it impossible for him to take the field with any kind of confidence or poise. Yuvraj's ODI form has slipped, and his omission from the Test squad should not come as a shock to anyone.
While the selectors would have taken the travails of the last year into account, you get the feeling that the doubts run deeper. Yuvraj has played 34 Tests in all, spread out liberally over seven years, often with long gaps between appearances. His average of 35 does no justice whatsoever to the unquestionable talent he has. The question the selectors would have had to answer was whether Yuvraj had done enough to convince them that he belonged, his current form notwithstanding. Clearly, they believe that the time had come to set him down gently, giving Cheteshwar Pujara, who has scored runs in domestic cricket, a chance to stake a claim.
As someone who is used to being in the limelight, Yuvraj will be in unfamiliar territory come October 1. With a Test match taking place in his home city, he'll be leading Rest of India in the Irani Trophy game in Jaipur. For the first time in a decade, the challenge before Yuvraj will not be to prove that he belongs to Tests, but rather to find his way back to the Indian team, a place many thought was his for the taking.