Among the biggest mysteries of the whole wide world, ranging from who did 9/11 to the Bermuda Triangle, one’s not sure where to place the following in terms of its importance of debate-
“Who really is India’s quintessential all-rounder, in the post- Kapil Dev era?”
But what one can say is that from the onset of 2002 to 2008- Yuvraj Singh’s return from international 50-over cricket would inspire applause from even Jacques Kallis, and perhaps even Sir Sobers.
5075 of his 8700 plus ODI runs came in that period of purple patch that included 32 of his 52 fifties and 8 of his 14 hundreds.
It would take him just 180 appearances, some crazy hitting, defying the likes of everyone and anyone- whether Shoaib or Lee, Gul or Murali, Anderson or Broad- to prove that perhaps he was all that India had been looking for but never ready to acknowledge.
The period leading out to 2011 World Cup, a tournament where Yuvraj’s heroic status became legendary would would include some fluent scores with his strike rate never for once, slipping below 70- the bare minimum you’d expect from a quality batsman.
During this somewhat sedentary, somewhat dormant period, he’d fire arguably the finest inning by a left hander at number four against England.
That unbeaten 138 off just 78 balls, a knock that pushed Rajkot to its feat, inflamed an English attack featuring a world-class quartet of Broad, Anderson, Flintoff, and Harmison, and reminded a country ever in awe of a Lara, Ponting, Sanga, and in the later years, Shane Watson- who the real boss was.
For a batsman who made beating the blue out of the English a near career-specialisation, his remarkable match-winning fifty in the Nat-West victory of 2002 serving a prime example, it wasn’t that Yuvraj was uncomfortable against the others. He’d be severe against Johnson and won’t spare Steyn blazing attacks from his willow.
In the inaugural ICC World T20, a time where Pollock, Ntini, Sangakkara, Chanderpaul, Kallis and Younis Khan were still very much in the thick of things, it was Yuvraj who stamped his signature on the game by thinning Broad, smoking six sixes in as many balls, a world record that stands undefeated to this day.
To a country that to this day bows down in front of the god of batting, Tendulkar- and rightly so- apart from praying to millions of deities, it was Yuvraj who lifted even the God when during the 2011 World Cup he would produce a masterclass of all-round excellence.
He’d take a match-winning fifer, that 5-31, a shining example of his 15 wickets in a tournament, where despite showing signs of discomfort, his bat would ooze 362 runs, including 1 ton and 4 fifties.
When it seemed he was failing against big opponents like Pakistan- team against whom we’d have loved to see him in action this coming Sunday- Yuvraj would beat the living daylights out of West Indies and Australia, his unbeaten fifty against the latter leaving Lee and Johnson huffing and puffing.
But above his heroics on the cricket field that Yuvraj remained an ardent optimist, an eternal battler, someone who defeated cancer, a sickening disease that defeats its surprised sufferers nearly each passing day, made him in a league of his own.
When Yuvi came back to the testing waters of international cricket, having stayed away for a few years in the running, post 2011’s astonishing success, he did to cricket what Niki Lauda did to Formula 1, in sporting the game’s greatest comeback. It was as if in place of the deadly Nurburgring of Germany, someone had placed a life-threatened landmine on the 22 yards.
Yet, Yuvraj Singh came out of a literal bed-ridden state of existence to revive his fledgling career, and with it, hopes of those who sought in his fluent batting, the purpose of cricket.
But make no mistake. He wasn’t and isn’t a Gayle. He didn’t achieve anything substantial in Test Cricket. There are no triples. He was no Lara or Hayden either. Akin to his famous contemporaries, he didn’t register his name in glorious record books.
But guess what?
None were able to throw themselves at the cricket ball anywhere on the field- be it point, cover, gully or the outfield- effect run-outs, roll the arm over when required, take excellent return catches and send the ball regularly into the stands, doing all of it in a single encounter.
But then not everyone was or could be Yuvraj Singh, right?
Here was a man who stood unaffected and calmly when most around him would lose their heads. Pressure situation on? Bring on Yuvraj Singh, you’d utter and with confidence.
Here was a man whose presence offered a reassurance as much of the team’s core structure changed. The unit boasting of Ganguly, Sachin, Dravid, Zaheer Laxman and Harbhajan would soon become one featuring Rohit, Shikhar, Dhoni, and Kohli with Yuvraj being the common, unchanging phenomenon.
As Indian cricket marches ahead playing daring, unabashedly passionate cricket a thought must go out to the man who gave so much to the sport and asked so little for himself in return, perhaps nothing more than the dancing beats to which his fluent footwork would add a lot of grace – isn’t it?
Champions there are many but few live up to being more than a song of the same name. You know where to place Yuvraj Singh, don’t you?