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The coming of age of Yuvraj

'He seems to have reached a new level on this tour. He has matured," said Dravid in Yuvraj's praise.

india Updated: Feb 14, 2006 19:50 IST

The current tour of Pakistan has seen the coming of age of talented youngster Yuvraj Singh who has been one of the success stories for India in both Tests and one-day internationals.

The Punjab left-hander has always been "a very good player", as Indian skipper Rahul Dravid put it simply on Monday after his team's fantastic five-wicket victory over Pakistan in the third one-dayer at Lahore's Gaddafi Stadium.

However, the packed middle order has restricted the player's appearances to only 17 Tests in the seven years since he made a sensational start to his career at Nairobi in the ICC Champions Trophy event.

But at the same time, the 24-year-old player, son of former Test cricketer Yograj who failed to fulfill his early potential after arriving on the scene along with the great Kapil Dev, has represented the country in 140 ODIs.

In fact the 17 Tests that the left-hander has played includes six since December 2005 -- three against Sri Lanka in India's last home series and three in the recently concluded Test series in Pakistan.

The Chandigarh-born has certainly cemented his position in the one-dayers with his brilliant fielding inside the circle, especially at point, and superb finishing prowess while batting in the bottom half.

But it has taken years for him to rightfully say that he has arrived as a force in Test cricket too. However, on the current tour, his contribution has been second to none.

In fact, Dravid said in Yuvraj's praise that "he seems to have reached a new level on this tour. He has matured".

It is not empty talk as Yuvraj's recent deeds back his skipper's words.

The youngster cracked a timely 75 against Sri Lanka after coming in to bat when India were 34 for three in the second innings of the third Test at Ahmedabad.

That innings ensured that India did not waste the advantage of a 192-run first innings lead they had secured over the islanders and paved the way for the eventual 259-run victory.

Yuvraj had come into the match under great pressure after the controversial axing of former captain Sourav Ganguly, who had groomed him initially, after the second Test at Delhi and the Punjab batsman really rose to the occasion with that innings of his.

In the series here as well, Yuvraj was criticised for the way he fell to the bait of Mohammed Asif in the drawn second Test by hooking the Pakistan bowler down the throat of Danish Kaneria at long leg after making only 4. This was the only time he got a chance to bat in the first two Tests.

But when the chips were down in trying, seam-friendly conditions in the deciding clash at Karachi, Yuvraj came up with fine knocks of 45 in the visitors' first innings total of 238 and 122 in the second when the next best Indian score was 37 by his one-time mentor Ganguly.

These two knocks gave him enormous confidence and even though India lost the Karachi match and the Test series 0-1, Yuvraj's display against odds was appreciated. In fact he has averaged plus-50 in the last five Tests with one century and three half centuries to boot.

The self-belief that he gained from the two knocks in Karachi was reflected in the following three one-day games in all of which he has performed impressively.

In the first match, he made 39 off 28 balls and in the second his unbeaten knock of 82 off 89 balls with eight fours and two sixes finished off the home team challenge.

On Mondayin Lahore, he again came up with another gem, 79 not out off 87 balls with ten fours, and more importantly batted according to the need of the hour during his two century stands with Sachin Tendulkar and M S Dhoni.

Dravid admitted after the match that Yuvraj had showed great cricketing sense during his partnerships.

"He was more aggressive with Tendulkar at the other end but when Dhoni came on to bat, he allowed the latter to take up that role."

Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq also praised Yuvraj's performance on the tour so far by saying, "whoever is in form is an important wicket for us. Yuvraj is in great form and we have to get him out early."

Yuvraj has averaged in the higher 50s in the last 14 ODIs since the seven-match series against Sri Lanka, with one century and four half centuries to his credit, an indication of how much he has progressed of late.

His performance with the bat as well as in the field would be crucial to India's fortunes in the last two one-dayers scheduled to be held here on February 16 and in Karachi on February 19.

First Published: Feb 14, 2006 19:50 IST