Yuvraj hopes ton sparks new beginning
Hours after marking his comeback to competitive cricket after four months with a century that set up India A's comprehensive 77-run win over West Indies A in Bangalore, Yuvraj Singh looked a relieved man. Perhaps the elation of blasting 123 off 89 balls against what he termed an "international attack" hadn't sunk in. Looking considerably lighter, and feeling like he had a massive load off his shoulders, Yuvraj hoped this knock would spark a new beginning.
Yuvraj came into this game having not played since the IPL in May. However, his road to a comeback started before that in January, when he last played for India. Ignored in the interim due to poor form and fitness, Yuvraj sought to get his fitness back with a rigorous program in France. He was given a lifeline by the selectors when named captain of the limited-overs squads in the ongoing matches against West Indies A. Expectations were high, and he delivered with a brutal century.
"I always had the belief that when I'm feeling well from inside, when I'm feeling mentally good, I'm going to do well," Yuvraj said. "It's taken a lot of time because the body has gone through a lot. You just can't go through such a disease (cancer) and come back and say 'okay, I'm going to be a 100%.'
"It's just getting better and better with every off-season I've spent. I'm just happy with the way I hit the ball today and hopefully I can carry on this form in the coming months."
Yuvraj said he paid a lot of attention to his fitness over the last few months, and credited his stints in France and the National Cricket Academy for getting him back on track.
"The doctors said it would take me about a year to get fully fit. My body's improved a lot. I was focused on training, where I had my weaknesses, on my lung capacity, my diet, in my off-season with Zak [Zaheer Khan]," Yuvraj said. "And, Tim Exeter, whom we trained with (in France), has done wonders for me and Zak in terms of getting back." Yuvraj walked in in the 12th over after India had lost two wickets for 47.
Despite the match being reduced to 42 overs, Yuvraj didn't let the pressure of the run-rate get to him, and bided his time initially. He scored his first boundary off the 39th ball he faced, and accelerated once he passed his half-century. He needed just 20 balls to get from fifty to his century, and by the time he was dismissed, he had smashed eight fours and seven sixes.
Asked if he was a bit too cautious initially, Yuvraj said the pacing of his knock was not too dissimilar from any of his other international centuries. The last time Yuvraj passed three figures was in a Ranji match against Madhya Pradesh last December.
"I've been working on my batting and skills in the last couple of weeks. I just wanted to take some time at the start and attack when I needed to," Yuvraj said. "I think most of my centuries are like this only. Take a few balls to get to 30-35, and then try and up the tempo."
Yuvraj shared stands of 100 and 125 with Mandeep Singh and Yusuf Pathan respectively, and the partnerships were crucial in propelling India A to a commanding total after the West Indies seamers made life tough for the top order. Mandeep was positive in his 67, looking for boundaries while Yuvraj looked to settle in. Yuvraj credited the younger Mandeep for taking the pressure off him.
"Once a batsmen batting with you is set, it allows you to take a bit of time in the middle. It was a fresh wicket, it was doing a bit in the first couple of overs. Robin [Uthappa] and Mandy [Mandeep], they gave us a good start. It allowed me and Yusuf to cash in in the end. Mandy dominating at that time really helped me take my time and get settled in."
He also praised the opposition's bowling attack, who were not as bad as their figures suggested. "I think it was a complete international attack," Yuvraj said. "[Andre] Russell has obviously played for West Indies, Ronsford Beaton - that kid looks really special. He looks the future of West Indies fast bowling. He reminded me of Curtly Ambrose. Obviously, Curtly was great. I think he has a lot of potential, and I think they had a very good attack."
Having failed to make the cut for the three unofficial Tests, Yuvraj said he was happy living for the moment. "Look, I got an opportunity to play. I don't know about four-day cricket; Test matches. I'm just happy I'm playing."
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo