ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

India v Ireland, Group B, World Cup 2011, Bangalore

India's situation man

The stand-out feature of Yuvraj Singh's performance against Ireland was his adaptability. He proved more than a part-timer on a turning track, and a mature guide in India's tough chase

Sharda Ugra at the Chinnaswamy Stadium

March 6, 2011

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On Saturday evening, Yuvraj Singh made a 15-minute appearance at a crowded, heaving bowling alley on Church Street, Bangalore's pub&grub strip, to formally launch a friend's book. Flanked by security and the press of about 100 people waiting for him, he walked into a screaming, shouting space, wearing a red T-shirt that had on it a single word: "Batman".

Less than 24 hours later, he was in another slightly bigger screaming, shouting space, where he managed to be neither Batman nor Robin, neither superstar nor superhero, but the kind of cricketer India needed on the night - Yuvraj Singh, Situation Man. Part-time performer with the ball, who produced more than a side show, and a batsman who left his dazzle in the dressing room because India required something slightly more sober.

India's five-wicket victory over Ireland in Bangalore on Sunday night was hard-earned. If the total of 207 was far less than what Ireland wanted, it was because Yuvraj's unbroken middle-overs spell broke open Ireland's innings at the point when it could have raised its pace. When India chased, runs had to be eked out as if they were water from stone - and it was Yuvraj who kept his head down and his instincts under control, after the top three were gone and an awful run-out had reduced India to 100 for 4.

In an odd statistical quirk, he happened to become the first man in the World Cup's 36-year history replete with star allrounders to take five wickets and score a 50 in a match. Everyone knows about his batting talent, but five wickets would make any bowler happy, whether he chucks pies or not. He said the five-for had brought him the same glow from his first ODI century against Bangladesh.

Yuvraj Singh sends down a flighted one, India v Ireland, Group B, World Cup 2011, Bangalore, March 6, 2011
That flighted ball: A deceptive lollipop © Associated Press

Yuvraj's bowling is the alter ego of his more public identity, the one the bowling alley folks were waiting for. Menacing backlift meets monstrous bat speed, turning ball becomes into fast-moving object. Yuvraj the bowler trots in like some quieter, unthreatening, apologetic identical twin just looking to get a few things out of the way. A run-up of six or so steps lasts a few seconds, the left arm whirls over like thousands must do on thousands of unremarkable streets and in signature flourish, the left leg pops out in biomechanically unbecoming afterthought. Michael Holding, breathe easy. Never mind poetry in motion, this is not even a nursery rhyme on the move. To a batsman he looks like one of those odds & ends men pulled out by teams to hurry through their overs because the boys really don't want to pay any more Match Referee fines.

Against Ireland, he looped the ball into the air, setting them up like lollipops to be grabbed and gobbled. Ireland's batsmen, trying to get in on a pitch quite unlike the belter against England, only saw the sweeties, not the set-up. Yuvraj said later that the pitch had played slower than even a week ago and against Ireland, he had tried to keep the ball hanging in the air as long as possible. His fractional turn may have induced error after error, in the attempt to both get comfortable - Andrew White and Kevin O'Brien - and then, to get moving. Like captain William Porterfield did after the second drinks break, at a time when Ireland needed glue and not a soft dismissal from their top-scorer. The Alex Cusack dismissal will be the one most remembered, not so much for Yuvraj's sleight of hand, but for being India's most smartly calculated DRS appeal so far.

Just as Yuvraj the bowler had surprised Ireland, Yuvraj the batsman showed all of India his more thoughtful side. He has had a wretched 2010, which left him a messy heap, high on the injury scale and low on form. It is his bowling performances that made up all his good news. Yet, after the game today he said he did not think that his lesser skill had been the source of an increased confidence. "I won't say bowling has made me regain my confidence... whether I take wickets or I don't take wickets, I want to go and score runs. It's important for me that I finished the game for India. It gives me a lot of confidence going into the next match. I'm just happy about how I am hitting the ball."

He has hit it well in Bangalore, his innings of 58 (off 50 balls, including nine fours) against England was the polar opposite of the half-century against Ireland, (50 off 75 balls, including three fours). His best shot, one of only three boundaries, came at the tail end of the Indian innings off a John Mooney full toss. An innings of humility and graft ended with a shot that sounded of regal contempt. It was a reminder of who Yuvraj can still be.

In his fairly cheery post-match media conference he said this last week had brought pleasant reminders. "I am just happy to win the game for India. I remembered that when I had been in the best of my form, I have done that for India in the middle stages of an innings." His role in the India's batting line-up, "to play till the end" whether batting first or chasing, may be the reason he has been able to take his mind off the more distracting side of his game: what it looks like on the outside rather than what it means on the inside. He said, "I might not be scoring at a strike-rate of 100, but it's important for me to finish the game. Hopefully the moment I get my 100 percent strike-rate, I'm sure I'll take my batting to the next level."

Right now, in this World Cup, India will hope they are the collective Yuvraj Singh. One side of their game working smoothly, another scratching around in and around fluency, and living on the belief that one day, when it really matters, everything will come together. Then, it will all look like magic, inspired, pulled out some rabbit's hat, but it will have taken a long and arduous trek to get there.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Comments: 53 
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Posted by praveenkumar on (March 8, 2011, 3:19 GMT)

hw funny is dat sachin is playing for records..its the biggest joke i hav ever heard ..if it is true he has to play in the newzeland series to improve his records where he did not want to play...those who dt know abt these facts plz hav a look

sachin made 30 centuries where india won the matches 2003 world cup sharjah 2004SCG AUSTRALIA there are many to quote

please dt comment on sachin...SACHIN THE GOD OF CRICKET

Posted by dilip on (March 7, 2011, 21:46 GMT)

Yuvraj had a lot of natural talent. What was missing was his commitment to the game. The glitz and glamour surrounding the game distracted him and saw him lose his place in the Indian Test squad. This shock and the emergence ofRaina, Pujara & Kohli added to the fact that another discard, Zaheer, had rehabilitated himself so well must have provided a motivation for Yuvraj to improve. India is looking for a genuine all rounder and if Yuvraj can take his bowling to another level he could be the missing link in the side. He could play the role of Ravi Sastri who was essentially a batting all rounder but could be an effective spinner. With Harbhajan just rolling his arm over and not trying to improve his craft, India cannot just depend on the overworked Zaheer to get the country over the line time and again!

Posted by Bheem on (March 7, 2011, 19:28 GMT)

@zfkhan...Tendulkar is an opener...his job is to give a good start...and he did that by handling the pressure of 24/2 and putting on 63 with Kohli. Why should Tendulkar have to score 50% of India's runs (if you say he should bat till the very end) for India to win? What is the job of the other 6 batsmen? Tendulkar has made more match-winning contributions in ODIs than any other player from anywhere (and has over 60 MoM awards)... but this is a team game... and just like Australian sides of the past, every player has to contribute for the team to win. (As we saw vs England... Tendulkar made a terrific hundred ... but the bowlers let India down)

Posted by shital on (March 7, 2011, 18:31 GMT)

If nothing else, Yuvi+Pathan presents enough threat as Afridi, MGJohnson, Kallis etc does for their teams. Lets keep pieces of puzzle in place and get ready for QF. Against Netherlands, we can drop Munaf, Chavala and get Nehra, Ashwin. Can possibly rest one batsman for Raina to be ready in case. Batting is set, only worry is who bowls 20-30 overs after Zaheer.

Posted by Atul on (March 7, 2011, 17:35 GMT)

@zfkhan - this such a boring and meaningless discussion to bring down Tendulkar's role over n over again. Pls remember, his role is not a finisher role. But he is an opener. Whatvr he is doing at this stage of his career is unbelievable and historical and consider him as a bonus to india's team til he keeps playing. Yuvi and Pathan comes in after 5th position, so they r most suited to do finisher's role. How diffclt it cud be to understand a simple thing!

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 7, 2011, 15:54 GMT)

@zfkhan comparison with pathan is baseless. Sachin starts in position 1; Pathan comes in much lower in the order and his very purpose is to go for the shots. Sachin's purpose in the top order is to build the innings and then go for the shots once the base is secure.

Posted by Srikanth on (March 7, 2011, 15:19 GMT)

It was an inspirational performance from Yuvi. I would like to see dhoni opening the bowling zaheer and ashwin if he is picked or yusuf. SA used botha and robin peterson in the recent matches. since our bowling dept is a bit weak when compared to other teams. if nehra isn't fit i think going for ashwin is better choice rather than playing piyush who does spin his leg breaks that well. the playing 11 shd be Sachin, Veeru, Gambhir, Kohli, Yuvi, Dhoni, Pathan, Harbhajan,Zaheer, Munaf,Ashwin/Nehra...

Posted by sasi on (March 7, 2011, 15:15 GMT)

There are days to come when India has to face real quick bowling bouncing above hip level. That is when SRT, Viru & Gautham needs to pull their socks & perform.

Posted by vikram on (March 7, 2011, 15:14 GMT)

Great win for INIDA. I don't understand Y DHONI is keen to include Chawala, his economy per over is below par. Yuvi did it again. He saved INDIA. Spin is the key for INDIA. Ashwin should get a chance now; I have seen enough of Chawala. If INDIA makes to semi-finals, WORLD CUP IS OURS. INIDA please put some effort towards your bowling & fielding. PLEASE WIN THIS WORLD CUP FOR INDIA.

Posted by siva on (March 7, 2011, 15:12 GMT)

Though Yuvraj has done good, his batting lacked the explosiveness that he used to have. For some unknown reason, he just did not use his power and without that, it is difficult for India to fight the bigger opponents. Its enough for him to do the practice in matches.

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