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Yuvraj front runner for Test spot

After blowing England away with his hurricane hitting despite a bad back, Yuvraj Singh has bounced back strongly into contention as the man most likely to take over the spot left vacant by Sourav Ganguly.The English Challenge

cricket Updated: Nov 15, 2008 20:14 IST

After blowing England away with his hurricane hitting despite a bad back, Yuvraj Singh has bounced back strongly into contention as the man most likely to take over the spot left vacant by the retirement of Sourav Ganguly in the Indian Test middle-order.

Yuvraj came into the first of seven ODIs here yesterday with his confidence a bit low, as he admitted at the post-match media conference, following his lean stretch in domestic cricket.

"I was a bit nervous as I had not scored many runs over the last few weeks. But the blazing start provided by Viru and Gambhir allowed me to play quietly in the beginning. The fact that Suresh Raina was playing shots at the other end also eased the pressure on me.

"It gave me time to settle down and in getting to know what the wicket was about," he said.

"I did not go into the match today with the intention of proving anything to anyone other than myself. I wanted to prove to myself that I was good enough to play at this level," he declared after admitting that he was disappointed for being ignored for the Test team against Australia.

By the time he finished the game in India's favour with an incredible, unbeaten 138, not many doubts would have remained in the minds of the vast majority of Indian fans that he's the front runner to take up Ganguly's slot.

Taking full advantage of the electric start given by Sehwag and Gambhir, who put on a century stand at six an over, the Punjab left-hander simply plundered the strong England pace attack and cut it to shreds with six sixes and 16 fours.

England skipper Kevin Pietersen admitted after the match that Yuvraj's batting was fabulous.

"Yuvraj played an absolutely fantastic innings. He hit even good balls for sixes," Pietersen said after tasting defeat for the first time as the England captain since taking over the reins in the last English summer from the out-of-form Michael Vaughan.

Former national selector Anshuman Gaekwad says if he was on the current panel, Yuvraj would be his first choice to fill in the slot vacated by Ganguly.

"Definitely, I would choose him ahead of all other claimants. He is the man best suited for the job. His left-handedness is also an advantage as he will replace another left-hander in the line-up," the 56-year-old former India opener told PTI today.

Gaekwad, who played 40 Tests between 1975 and 1984, also said the 26-year-old player has already proved his worth at the Test level, besides other internationals, while other contenders like Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina and S Badrinath will have to wait for their turns.

"One has to appreciate the way he played yesterday. He has also proved himself in the Test and ODIs. Others have to prove themselves and have not done as much as Yurvaj has. He is way ahead," the former India coach emphasised.

Yuvraj's Test career has seen a lot of ups and downs and his recent one-day record also resembles a yo-yo. After being one of the star performers in the Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa, he scored a Test century against Pakistan in Bangalore, his third ton and all against India's arch-rivals.

But the stylish batsman went off the boil on India's tour of Australia and lost his Test spot.

He was moderately successful in the only other chance he got later -- against South Africa in the third and last Test in Kanpur in April -- but was not given a look-in against Australia in any of the recent four Tests.

Yuvraj was totally ignored despite hitting a blazing hundred against Ricky Ponting's men in the four-day warm-up game at Hyderabad prior to the series for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.

He has played only 23 Tests since making his debut against New Zealand at his home ground in Mohali five years ago, an indication not only of his inconsistency but also the difficulty to break into the steely middle order thus far comprising the 'Fab Four'.

Yuvraj has had a modest run at Test level to date, having accumulated just over a thousand runs at a little above 32 per innings average.

He has simply not justified his own potential thus far in the longer version of the game. The retirement of Ganguly has now thrown up a new opportunity to Yuvraj to cement his place, if selected, as the graceful Bengal stalwart's long-term replacement.

The selectors will have to take the call on Yuvraj when announcing the team for the first of two Tests against England commencing in Ahmedabad on December 11.

Prior to that he has a chance to impress them further in the remaining six one-day internationals against England ahead of the Test rubber.