Testing times, but Yuvi’s fighting
Even as the sun shines brightly over Lord’s, Yuvraj Singh is under the weather, his brow furrowed, his eyes intense, his heart heavy. He is painfully alert to the grinding wheels of time close behind him, pondering at what might have been.
“I don’t think I’ve achieved anything,” he says, shaking his head, his voice matching his face in gloom. “Seven years have gone by and I’m just a decent one-day cricketer.”
Decent one-day cricketer? Yuvraj may not be known for his subtlety, but that has to be a classic understatement. Seven years ago, Yuvraj emerged as the next big thing — a man with the gift of the greats, reinforced by his ferocious power.
Then there is the power of the mind — he has indeed established himself as the best finisher of one-dayers in the team, nerves of steel have made him a master in securing victory when the pressure is high.
He averages over 50 in India’s wins, a clear barometer of his importance.
When other people lose their heads, Yuvraj keeps his and plays fearlessly. Then why this disquiet, this resignation, that too at his favourite ground, the home of the game? Yuvraj comes straight to the core of the problem that is making him fret. “I’m not happy with what I’ve done in one-dayers, I really want to do well in Test cricket,” he says.
He will have to wait. The Indian middle-order, brimming with masters with the bat, is proving impossible to break into. Yuvraj had actually broken into the Test team nearly four years ago — his record is not too bad, an average of 33 after 19 Tests is passable. But that has not been enough. He had a horrendous series in the West Indies last year, with 104 runs from seven innings, and that put a pause in his Test career.
The knee injury before the Champions Trophy added to the frustration; he was forced to miss the tour of South Africa.
Yuvraj knows the odds are stacked against him, but he also knows what he must do. “It’s been frustrating, the last couple of years,” he says. “I’ve been in and out, and it doesn’t help your confidence.”
What does he think went wrong? What could he have done to ensure that he stayed in when he got into the Test side? “I haven’t been consistent in the earlier stages of my career,” he says. “I average around 34-35, and I’m sure I can do better than that. I just need to take my opportunities.”
But since he’s being labelled as an ODI specialist, is there anything he needs to tweak in his game? “See, every player has his own way of batting, I have my own way,” he says. “I do know my weak points and, obviously, I need to work on them. At the end of the day, it’s the same ball, same bat, not much difference,” he says. “You’ve got to be positive.”
That’s something the Indian team for the Twenty20 World Cup will also have to be, says Yuvraj. “We’ve played just one Twenty20 international, but it can be pretty unpredictable,” Yuvraj says.
“In 20 overs, any team can beat any other team and you can't make any predictions.”
Yuvraj summarily dismisses the suggestion that the briefest form of the game does not involve cerebral activity, and insists it’s much more than just a batsmen’s festival in which they come out swinging.
“Of course there is strategy involved!” he says forcefully. “You have very different fields, you plan differently. It’s not easy, and you have play good cricket.”
And he wants to do that in Tests again, desperately. “Test cricket is more important, it's the tougher form of the game,” he says. “When you do well in it, you feel comfortable in one-dayers. But all I can do is play whatever cricket I get.”
With all that uncertainty, it can’t be easy to remain motivated, but Yuvraj insists that he manages to do that. “Well, I do it, I do it with my training,” he says. Then, in the context of being in England, he says. “I have friends here… So many of them.
“London is like…” he pauses but no, he doesn’t say ‘Ludhiana’, merely adding: “You go to London so often. But the main aim is to play cricket and I need to work on my game.”
And if there is the need to open the batting, if the middle order can’t be broken into, will he open? “I’m comfortable in the middle, for the last seven years I’ve played in the middle order,” he says placidly.
“And that question has not come up.”
On Thursday afternoon, Yuvraj was all padded up, on his way to the nets for a knock. Clearly, he’s not one for giving up.