'Yuvraj has proved a lot of critics wrong'
Yuvraj Singh has answered questions over his fitness with a double-century against Central Zone in his first first-class match since recovering from cancer, according to two men who watched the innings closely. Shikhar Dhawan, Yuvraj's North Zone captain, said no one could play such a long knock without being fit. Ajay Mehra, the former first-class cricketer who is working as a commentator on the game in Hyderabad, said Yuvraj had proved a lot of critics wrong with his performance. His former India team-mate and opposition captain, Mohammad Kaif, said Yuvraj had displayed impeccable timing through most of the innings*.
Yuvraj's innings lasted over five-and-a-half hours and he took the field after lunch on the second day during Central Zone's innings, standing in the slip cordon for most of the day. Dhawan, who made 121 and batted for over 20 overs with Yuvraj during their third-wicket partnership, praised his senior partner's mental strength.
"I felt really good for Yuvi paaji," Dhawan told ESPNcricinfo. "He is such a motivation for all youngsters. It was a classy innings. I loved seeing him from the other end. The way he came in and started batting, I [laughing] told him he had almost finished the game. He is a very strong man mentally.
"If someone is scoring a double-century, he has to be fit. He was running very fast during the innings. We ran several quick singles and threes."
Yuvraj was selected for the recently concluded World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka without having played any competitive match since November 2011, though he trained at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore. He showed signs of rustiness in Sri Lanka and he looked tired after running twos and sharp singles, leading former players to question the timing of his comeback.
Dhawan, who also trained at the NCA when Yuvraj did, spoke about the effort he had put into his preparation at that time. "I trained with him in the NCA as well before he went to Sri Lanka for the World Twenty20. Even then, he was sprinting hard with high intensity. Of course, it takes time for things to get together for one in a match."
Mehra said Yuvraj had the option of taking some more time off the field but it was good to see that he had chosen to turn out for North Zone in the Duleep Trophy. "It was a test for him," Mehra said. "He was playing the longer format for the first time since recovering from cancer and he has proved a lot of critics wrong. He could have easily opted out of the Duleep Trophy. He could have said that he wanted some time to get fitter. What was good to see was the way he slogged it out in the middle. He looked very determined and focused. It was pleasing to see the way he applied himself.
"There is nothing like match practice. The more he plays, the more he will improve. He has worked hard on his fitness and is looking much better than he did during the World Twenty20."
Kaif, while also expressing disappointment at the runs coming against his team, praised Yuvraj's "impressive" showing. "The hallmark of this particular innings in Hyderabad was his timing - one of his strengths over the years. When he times the ball well he becomes a completely different batsman and that is what he did during his long stay at the wicket over the first two days of the [match]," Kaif said in the Indian Express. "What was as impressive as the number of runs Yuvraj scored was the fact that he was able to bat over five hours across two days and he must be very pleased with his level of fitness, which is key when you play the longer versions of the game.
Though he scored a large number of runs in boundaries on way to his double hundred he also showed that he could sprint between the wickets. At different points in the game he did steal quick singles."
*05:53 GMT, October 16: This story has been updated with the Mohammad Kaif quotes
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo