Yuvraj makes promising return
It was not his defining innings. Yet it carried a lot of meaning - for him and for India. Yuvraj Singh was returning to Test cricket after a year-long hiatus in his fitful eight-year career in the longer form of the game. As the Man of the 2011 World Cup, and India's heartbeat in the tournament, walked into a sunny Trent Bridge arena, the English fans, led by the boisterous Barmy Army parked inside the Fox Road stand, started jeering. Used to taunts from much larger crowds in India, Yuvraj walked onto the field languidly. From afar, his body language suggested he would rather be sitting and sipping English tea in the beautiful dressing-room balcony.
Andrew Strauss crowded Yuvraj with four slips, a gully, point and a short leg. Immediately, James Anderson piped out two absolute jaffas that beat Yuvraj and had him jumping and rolling his eyes. "Welcome back to Test cricket," Anderson and Co. might have jibed. Off his fifth delivery, against Stuart Broad, he played softly into the hands of Kevin Pietersen at gully. Luckily the man who had labelled Yuvraj as a "pie chucker" let the easiest offering of the day slip through.
Tim Bresnan replaced Anderson, and he and Broad tried hurrying up Yuvraj with seam movement and surprise bounce. But as the minutes passed, Yuvraj settled down.
For a man coming out of the cold, Yuvraj showed an amazing ability to time the ball whenever he thought he could hit it. This was his first international match after the World Cup; he missed out on the Caribbean trip because of a lung infection he picked up during the IPL.
His position in the squad had raised a few eyebrows especially since he has never been an automatic selection in Tests over the years. He has made eight comebacks in as many years, destined to do the 12th-man duties whenever he returned. But as witnessed during the World Cup, there is a certain calmness to Yuvraj these days. Viewed wrongly, it could be judged as being aloof. But in fact he has worked hard to understand his game and his shortcomings. He has probably started accepting them and that has allowed him to move on.
Today he did not let those early hurdles stop him. With the sun out and the ball old, he understood Graeme Swann, who had not bowled till the second session, would be given the ball. England might have been confident considering the world's No.1 spinner has a terrific record against left-handers. That and Yuvraj's well-recorded troubles facing spin gave hope to the hosts.
It was also a critical time for India. After the quick departures of Sachin Tendulkar and Suresh Raina, Rahul Dravid needed a man who could stand his ground and not get drawn into erroneous strokes. An angry Dravid had charged over to Yuvraj after Pietersen's spill and advised him.
Swann's entry only eased Yuvraj's nerves as he played with freedom both on the back foot as well as on the up. His timing was perfect as he unleashed a wide array of strokes - the sweep, the powerful cut, the flowing cover drive through silly mid-off and cover. A pull over midwicket for four off Swann took Yuvraj to a brisk fifty. Dravid, this time, joined the crowd in their applause and congratulated Yuvraj, showing how much confidence he had derived from, and had in, Yuvraj.
"After we lost Sachin there was some pressure, and then we lost Suresh. I thought Yuvraj played really well and that partnership was really good," Dravid said at the end of the day. "We knew that 60-80 over period before the new ball was crucial and there was not much help for the spinners. So we needed to cash in and Yuvraj played some shots and got to a good score."
Former West Indies fast bowler Michael Holding felt England had missed a trick by not persisting with the fast men against Yuvraj. His reasoning was that Yuvraj had shown he was suspect against the moving ball and at times against the fast, short delivery. Yuvraj, though, did not panic as Raina had during his brief stint at the crease. In fact, after the early jitters, Yuvraj became more assured about which balls to leave and when to go for his shots. With Dravid at the other end, he understood how to construct an innings and not throw away a start.
Yuvraj's 128-run partnership with Dravid seemed to have put India on course for a total of 400, a score that would have put England under the cosh. That did not happen. But in those 132 minutes, Yuvraj showed he belonged. He showed he could adapt and learn quickly from his mistakes. It was a partnership that has kept India in the game and given them a slight edge.
If India go on to level the series, Yuvraj will definitely provide a headache for the team management. But they won't mind it.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo