Awaiting the promise
Three one-dayers against South Africa at Belfast, a one-off against Pakistan at Glasgow, seven against England at the end of the summer, seven against Australia, five against Pakistan (both at home) and a tri-series, in Australia, involving the hosts and World Cup finalists, Sri Lanka. India's one-day roster is a most challenging one and unless their batsmen step up to the plate, which they couldn't do for most of last season, there would be plenty of heartbreak.
India's batting line-up currently sports distinct shades. There's Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid at one end of the spectrum, batsmen already assured of greatness and trying to finish their careers on a high; there are others, like Dinesh Karthik and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who've shown tremendous potential and trying to kick on; there are youngsters, like Robin Uthappa and Rohit Sharma, finding their way; and there's Gautam Gambhir trying to prove that he can cut the mustard at the international level after all.
And then there's Yuvraj Singh. He can't be termed a youngster anymore, seven years of experience takes away that luxury, neither can he be termed 'great', not as yet, not by a long way. He's not struggling for a place but he's not carrying the batting either. He's shown what he's capable of, finishing off matches with ferocity, but he's often infuriated by not doing it consistently enough.
Yuvraj on a roll usually translates to India on a roll. In the 34 games where he's made at least 50, India have won 26. Between November 9, 2005 and May 26, 2006, when India reeled off a record number of wins, Yuvraj was king. He averaged 70.5 in 22 innings during that period, rattling three centuries and seven fifties. Seventeen of those innings were from No.4 and 5 and he was one of the few batsmen who wasn't shuffled up and down the order in the period of "experimentation". The flip side, though, was that 17 of those innings were in the sub-continent and one continued to wait for that definitive season when he would dazzle abroad as well.
|And then there's Yuvraj Singh. He can't be termed a youngster anymore, seven years of experience takes away that luxury, neither can he be termed 'great', not as yet, not by a long way. He's not struggling for a place but he's not carrying the batting either. He's shown what he's capable of, finishing off matches with ferocity, but he's often infuriated by not doing it consistently enough|
He cracked two consecutive fifties in India's tour to the Caribbean last year, reeling off 93 and 52, but there was little of note on the long tour. It was the start of a start-stop phase that proved, in the words of Sukhwinder Bawa, Yuvraj's long-time coach, "one of the most frustrating periods". Injury dogged him in the Caribbean, a poor series followed at Kuala Lumpur, before a knee injury sustained during a session of kho-kho, on the eve of Champions Trophy clash against Australia, put him out of action for three months. "He watched a lot of India's cricket on television and itched to get back. He didn't want to miss the World Cup at any cost. It's that desire which made him recover quickly. It was a serious injury but he's come through well."
He's been in the news for his off-field remarks too. He veered to an extreme on the Greg Chappell issue, even being warned by the board for making comments to the media. Chappell himself hadn't endeared himself to him by telling a journalist : "The problem with Yuvraj is that he believes he is a star when he is only a rising one".
Soon he was upstaged by Dhoni, a relative newbie, for the vice-captain's slot. "The vice-captaincy choice is strange," says Bawa, "but that won't deter Yuvraj. I've always said he has the potential to be India's future captain and I still think that's very likely. I once said he would captain India in the 2011 World Cup and maintain that even now."
Yuvraj is yet to seal his Test spot - some feel he isn't Test material, others think he just hasn't got too many chances at that level - but it's the one-day arena where he must fly. India have struggled with a finisher, someone who can up the rate or steer a chase and it's him, along with Dhoni, who needs to stay in there and finish the job. If he needs a sounding board, there's always Robin Singh, the current fielding coach, who could nudge or biff, as the situation demanded, and by that wonderfully maximised his limited ability.
Extended success in Ireland, England, Australia and home will confirm that Yuvraj is indeed the flagbearer for the next crop of batsmen, a batch that needs to blossom fast if India wish to be ready for the impending departure of a golden generation.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo