No shaking off the albatross for Yuvraj
On Friday, Shivam Sharma came on as Kings XI Punjab's third-change bowler to deliver his first over in senior cricket. After conceding a single to AB de Villiers off his first ball, he bowled five successive deliveries to Yuvraj Singh.
For four of those five deliveries, Yuvraj failed to put bat on ball. Twice he was beaten by turn while trying to defend. Once he missed a sweep and survived a loud lbw shout. The one ball he did manage to connect with popped into the off side off the leading edge of his bat.
It was a troubling innings from a troubled player. It came to an end in Shivam's next over, with an edge to slip off an attempted slog over the leg side. After that 11-ball torment, Yuvraj's stats for the IPL season looked like this: 144 runs in eight innings at an average of 20.57 and a strike rate of 102.12.
Right through the season, Yuvraj has struggled for fluency, struggled to hit the gaps. He sits in 27th place among the highest run-getters list for the season, but he's 10th on the list of batsmen who have faced the most dot balls.
Among those ten batsmen, all of whom have faced 70 or more dot balls this season, only Virender Sehwag (3.17 dots per over) has played out dot balls more frequently than Yuvraj (3.06 dots per over). But Sehwag has hit a four or six once every 5.14 balls. Yuvraj's corresponding rate is once every 8.29 balls. Only David Warner has found the boundary less frequently (once every 10 balls). But he has only played out 2.20 dot balls every over.
These are clear signs that Yuvraj is struggling for form. It could happen to anyone. But Yuvraj carries the burden of his Rs 14 crore ($2.33 million) price tag. He didn't ask for it, but it hangs like Coleridge's albatross around his neck.
You might say his situation is comparable to that of Fernando Torres when he arrived at Chelsea for £50 million three years ago and scored just one goal in 18 appearances in his first season there. But Chelsea's ability to spend money on other players wasn't restricted by the extravagant transfer fee they paid for Torres. They already had a squad full of big names, to which Torres was merely one expensive addition.
Royal Challengers Bangalore, on the other hand, had Rs. 30.5 crore left to spend after retaining Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers. They had to build more than three-quarters of a full squad with that amount. They splashed 46% of it on one player, Yuvraj. It was clearly bound to impact how the rest of their squad shaped up.
Yuvraj is clearly in terrible form, and it might be best for both himself and his team if they leave him out of the next few games. Considering how much they spent on him, though, doing so would be an admission of botched auction strategy. There's no harm in admitting a mistake, but who would Royal Challengers bring in, considering the thinness of their squad? Looking through the names in it, there's only one that stands out. He is a left-hand batsman, like Yuvraj, and he is an India Under-19 star, like Yuvraj was. There is no guarantee Vijay Zol will bat like that fresh-faced, teenage Yuvraj, but you would have to think he would do better than Yuvraj's current avatar.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo