Yuvraj's injury leaves India with Pandey v Negi dilemma
Fifty-two runs at an average of 13.00. Three overs, 19 runs, one wicket. One twisted ankle. At 34, these might well be the last set of numbers generated by Yuvraj Singh at an ICC event. A modest set of numbers for a limited-overs great, but they do not reveal the importance of some of his contributions, his batting in partnership with Virat Kohli easing India through pressure situations against Pakistan and Australia, and his three overs against Australia helping India drag their way back into a must-win game.
Ravi Shastri, India's team director, highlighted those three overs when asked what impact Yuvraj's injury would have on India's plans for Thursday's semi-final against West Indies at the Wankhede Stadium.
"It will have an impact because he's had his moments," Shastri said. "I thought his three overs were brilliant in the last game. That really put the brakes on the scoring and allowed us to come back into the game. After the first four overs it was a no-contest, because at one stage it looked like [Australia would score] 200-plus, which would have been very difficult to chase on that surface. So he will be missed. [It's] unfortunate. It's an injury that happened during the game. Looking to take off [for a run], he did his ankle in, and I believe it's a minor tear in the ankle."
India have played the same eleven right through the World T20, and Yuvraj's injury will force them into changing their combination for the first time. They have three possible replacements, none of them exactly like-for-like. Ajinkya Rahane is viewed as a back-up for India's top three, and not as a middle-order batsman. Pawan Negi bats left-handed and bowls left-arm spin, like Yuvraj, but is a bits-and-pieces allrounder rather than a specialist batsman who bowls part-time. Manish Pandey, who has replaced Yuvraj in India's squad, is a middle-order batsman who doesn't really offer a bowling option.
Shastri hinted that India might need a bowling option.
"We've not decided [who will replace Yuvraj] because Manish has just joined the party yesterday," Shastri said. "We'll take a good look at everything in the nets and see what our best options will be for tomorrow's game. We'll have to keep those overs in mind."
India's practice session began soon after Shastri's press conference. The players occupied three of the Wankhede's practice pitches, two on the eastern side of the ground and one on the west. As if on a conveyor belt, their batsmen moved from east to west, facing the quick bowlers first, then the spinners, and then - after a break for water and electrolytes - throwdowns. This was their order: Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Kohli, Suresh Raina, Pandey, MS Dhoni, Hardik Pandya, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh, Negi.
Negi batted as late as he did because he had been bowling for around 20 minutes to Raina, Pandey, Dhoni and Pandya. And while Harbhajan only got to face a set of net bowlers at the seamers' net, Bhuvneshwar Kumar was summoned up for a second bowling stint when Negi came in to bat.
Rahane wasn't part of this sequence: he was the first batsman to face throwdowns, but did not spend any time at either the seamers' or spinners' nets.
From all this, it seemed safe to assume the choice was between Pandey and Negi, two entirely different cricketers.
Pandey is a proper batsman with a 50-plus first-class average and a reputation for scoring runs in crunch situations, particularly in steep run-chases: whether it's a Ranji Trophy final , an IPL final, or an ODI against Australia. He can play his shots, but his T20 strike rate is 115.84, which is less even than Rahane's.
Negi is a T20 specialist - he has played 57 T20s, but only three first-class matches and 19 List A games - who can hit big in the lower middle order. He has a strike rate of 134.92, and hits a four or six roughly once every six balls. He has taken 47 wickets at 26.06, while maintaining an economy rate of 7.38.
The fact that he can bowl, and left-arm spin at that, might tilt the choice Negi's way, given that everyone in West Indies' batting line-up bats right-handed apart from Chris Gayle and Sulieman Benn. But that may not be a significant factor considering the Wankhede's short boundaries, particularly if its pitch is as flat as it was in the early part of the tournament. And given the iffy form of the top order barring Kohli, India might value the batting pedigree of Pandey over Negi's utility value. Either way, they have a difficult choice to make on Thursday morning.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo