ICC World Cup 2019: Yuvraj Singh picks his finalists, names India’s X-factor
There was no better thrill than watching Yuvraj Singh when he was in the mood. At his peak, he provided the X-factor to the India team.
In the most followed event in Indian cricket history, at the 2011 World Cup, he dazzled with 362 runs including one century and four 50s, took 15 wickets, won four Man-of-the-Match awards and was also adjudged Player of the Tournament. Yuvraj was the star attraction of India’s successful campaign at the 2007 World Twenty20 Cup as well.
In an exclusive conversation with Hindustan Times, Yuvraj, who launched Moneygram’s microsite at a recent event, spoke at length about that 2011 triumph, and his expectations from this World Cup. Edited excerpts:
Going into the 2011 World Cup, what was your state of mind?
I actually wasn’t in that great form batting. I was picking wickets though…I remember getting one 50 in South Africa and two 40s against New Zealand. I remember having a chat with Sachin (Tendulkar). I told him, ‘you know I have been working very hard on my game but I am getting stuck in my 40s and 50s.’ He told me not to worry about the runs. He said that he was confident I would do well under pressure because I had done well in a lot of games.
So, I had a very important chat with him and luckily it just happened. ‘Viru’ (Virender Sehwag) got a big hundred and I didn’t get an opportunity to bat against Bangladesh. I think against England I got to bat up the order, scored 58, started hitting the ball really well and just continued on that good form. And I realised that batting at No. 5 means I can’t just go and play my game. I have to take my time and try and finish the game. It was a very different kind of a responsibility.
I thought the one big mistake I shouldn’t make is hit in the air. Only against West Indies I hit two sixes after I got to a hundred. I just generally didn’t hit the ball in the air at all. That was the thing that I could do from my side — hit everything down the ground, hit everything straight. My gameplan actually worked.
How did the team handle the immense pressure of playing a World Cup at home?
We had a very experienced team. Everybody had an assigned role. We had a very good coach, communication was very good among us. Everybody knew that if I didn’t fire today, others will do it. But everybody had a feeling that ‘if it’s my day I’m going to finish the game.’ The experience in bowling… Bhajji (Harbhajan Singh) was world-class, Zaheer (Khan), Ashish (Nehra)… Guys had played for India for 8-10 years. (Suresh) Raina had played more than a 100 games. We had younger guys like (Ravichandran) Ashwin and Virat (Kohli) just coming in so I just felt that we just had the right balance to win the World Cup.
How do you look at India’s chances this time?
It’s a different ball game now. (Now) five fielders (are) in (the circle); those days there were four. Scores of 260, 270, 280 were competitive scores. These days the competitive scores have become 300-plus. Because of that one fielder. I feel we still have that unit where they can chase anything. And India has been playing really well in the last 2-3 years.
I feel India and England have a very good chance of making it to the final. Australia, yes, since (David) Warner and Steve (Smith) came back; they also have a very good bowling attack. These three teams are pretty much likely to be in the last four.
Who will you pick as the X-factor for this side?
It’s important that Rohit (Sharma) and Virat (Kohli)… Either of them have a good tournament. But I think the X-factor in this World Cup is going to be Hardik (Pandya). He’s currently on form and batting well. And is someone who’s very helpful with the ball. In those conditions if we play two fast bowlers and two spinners, you have Hardik as your third seamer. It gives the right balance to the team. I mean that was the balance for us when we played Champions Trophy with Ashwin and (Ravindra) Jadeja and two fast bowlers and fifth in Hardik.
But it’s up to him to adapt from Twenty20 to 50 overs. And it depends on how we use him.
MS (Dhoni) is in very good form, and at No. 5, 6, Kedar, Hardik, whoever bats, I think it’s a very important stage especially in a World Cup where you will need a run-a-ball or more.
In the Indian batting line-up, are the other batsmen effectively batting around Virat Kohli?
Virat and Rohit (are the best). I’m sure everybody has their own role. Rohit and Shikhar (Dhawan), Virat…If these three fire, you will get big scores. (In) the last 10 overs, Hardik is going to be very important. And MS definitely in the middle (overs) to rotate and take it till the end.
You have seen MS from close. What has changed over the past couple of seasons?
When you have played international cricket for so many years, there will be times when you are not batting well. The best thing is that his mind is very sharp and he knows when to take singles or when to go for big shots. As you get older, you need to work harder on your game and maybe hit more balls or catch more balls.
He’s always been very hard working. I remember in the 2011 World Cup, in seven days we had two off-days. MS would bat all those seven days and we would, at times, feel he was batting a bit too much. He has been very hard-working and that’s why he has been around for so long.
Also, his inputs to Kohli will be a big plus…
Yeah, definitely. He’s been such an experienced captain. There will be these situations where he will be discussing with Virat how to get the best out of the situations.
India have four tough games straight up: South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan. You see it as an advantage or disadvantage?
If you want to be the best in the tournament, you got to beat the best. Simple. It can be hard when you are playing four tough sides at a stretch but that’s the way the format is.
What’s your opinion on the fielding standards of this team?
We have some exceptional fielders: Virat, Jadeja, Kedar, and Hardik. ‘Bhuvi’ is very good off his bowling. We also have a few very good fielders in Kuldeep and Chahal, I don’t see a problem in fielding.
Do you think the IPL was ideal preparation?
Definitely, you get to bowl and bat. There’s less load on your body (bowling four overs). They have to get whatever workload out from the system in the practice matches and they have to rest as well. Good thing is that the weather initially is going to be very good so (the) body will not be under so much stress.