A wake-up call for Yuvraj Singh
His sweet timing has earned him most of his paycheques, but it seems to have gone off during what has somehow become the worst phase of his career.
A night before he was dropped for the first time from the one-day side since cementing his place, news channels had Yuvraj Singh dancing with a pop star. Now that picture and video are all over, on channels, channels' websites, and other websites. As if dancing is a crime. That, however, goes with the image we have of him: an irresponsible brat not serious about his game. Convenient, but often unfair.
A night before he was dropped, Star Cricket ran the highlights of the Lord's final from 2002 when this 20-year-old, along with Mohammad Kaif, was providing Indian limited-overs cricket with the final missing pieces. He flew across at point to almost pull off the most outrageous of catches. He dropped the ball at his feet and ran. With Kaif he took an overthrow off a soft ricochet from Alec Stewart's gloves. He looked lithe.
He now has a dodgy shoulder and knee; the latter needs surgery, which he has been putting off since 2006. Still, he has managed to remain a single-handed match-winner in one-day cricket. Add some canny left-arm spin, and he's been MS Dhoni's go-to man until recently. Yuvraj didn't disappoint either. What he brought to the side is not taught in coaching clinics, the ability to run away with matches before you can spell momentum. In as late as 2008, he was put under pressure when not picked for Irani Cup, with youngsters - Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli - breathing down his neck. He turned it around spectacularly, walloping England and continuing that form until the Champions Trophy last year.
Since then he has had to pull out of three series. He perhaps rushed back from a wrist injury to play in the IPL: he had missed the ODI series against South Africa barely a week before that. The Yuvraj that came back looked bulkier around the waist. He has played 11 innings for an average of 24.7 since that Champions Trophy; not in itself a statistic that warrants a drop, which is what makes this an interesting choice.
The selectors, as usual, won't even say if they have dropped him or if he is injured. However, since the BCCI release gives a reason for resting Sachin Tendulkar and not Yuvraj, it is pretty clear the latter has been dropped. "I'm not going to speak about any individual player," said the ever-mysterious chairman of selectors, K Srikkanth. "A lot of stress was given on the fitness of a player. Fitness and fielding are very important. In recent past, we lost some matches or struggled in some matches because of poor fielding. So the selectors put lot of stress on fielding."
Yuvraj the batsman still has more quality than Raina, Kohli and Rohit. There is no way India can have thrown him out of their World Cup plans, but if a message was to be sent it had to be sent early enough. Ideally India will want to start zoning in on a XV by the time Australia visit for an ODI series in November.
If the selectors thought his fitness was bringing the rest of the team down, there were two ways to go about it: keep him in the side and put him through a tough regime, or go for the old kick up the backside. Perhaps the selectors felt they had tried the first and it didn't work. It is a move that can be debated, but can also be understood. Srikkanth has known Yuvraj from his Under-19 days, and one can hope he knows best how to rescue this match-winner.
For Yuvraj, though, it must come as a harsh indictment. To be dropped for the first time, and that too on fitness issues. And at the age of 28. There is already a school of thought that a batsman of his talent should have worked harder and made himself a Test career. Only last week he said in an interview that he hoped his average run didn't continue into Tests. Now even his ODI place is not certain.
Yuvraj the batsman is not known to fight his way through a slump. He either hits out of it or gets out. He lives by aggression, dies by it, which is part of his charm. Now, though, is time for Yuvraj the athlete to slog it out, because there is no easy way out. There is every chance India will come back to him at least once before the World Cup. How ready he is then, and after that, might just define his career.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo