Beleaguered Yuvraj tees off to Sharjah's delight
"I've got a feeling," sang the PA system at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium, not long after Yuvraj Singh had walked in to bat. Before the song could proceed any further, and declare that Thursday night was going to be a good night, the DJ stopped it abruptly. He or she was a Yuvraj fan, perhaps, and didn't want to put a jinx on him.
This was Yuvraj's first innings since that 21-ball 11 in the World T20 final, and his first innings since a group of fans had reacted unreasonably to that 21-ball 11. It was also his first innings for Bangalore, who had paid a not untidy sum of money to buy him at the auction, despite the fact that he hadn't made a half-century in his last 19 IPL innings.
The man at the other end, meanwhile, was Virat Kohli, whom he had denied the strike during that 21-ball 11. Kohli, Bangalore's captain, had played a persuasive role in signing him.
This, then, wasn't just another innings.
Yuvraj couldn't have chosen a more congenial setting in which to begin such an innings. He had the crowd's sympathy, yes, but he would have had that at any stadium; only a tiny fraction of sports fans, surely, are mean enough to revel in a player's house reportedly getting stoned. Sharjah, though, was also showing itself to be a stronghold of Bangalore fans.
In India, it's often hard to get an accurate picture of the extent of home support at the league's venues. At most stadiums, someone has placed a home-team flag on your seat well before you've parked your car. Most emcees, meanwhile, only ask the crowd to cheer for the home team. If you support the other team, you seldom get a chance to voice it. Here, given equal opportunity to cheer for either side, the Sharjah crowd voted with their vocal cords.
Granted, for the most part, the spectators did or chanted whatever the emcee asked them to, no matter how ridiculous it made them look or sound. What they didn't do, though, was chant "Delhiiiiiiiii, Delhi!" Each time the emcee tried to get them to follow his lead, they drowned him out with shouts of "R-C-B! R-C-B!"
It was as much a show of approval for Bangalore as it was a sign of Delhi's lack of appeal. They haven't tasted too much success in past seasons, and, perhaps because of that, haven't retained an easily identifiable core group of star players. For Bangalore, on the other hand, the signing of Yuvraj added yet another highly marketable name to an already swollen roster. It cost them a lot of money to sign him and that may well have caused gaps to form in other areas of their squad, but Sharjah didn't seem too concerned. As soon as Yuvraj had swung Rahul Sharma over long-on for his first six, a bearded man in a red T-shirt held up a hand-drawn banner. "More risk = More profit," it said. "Great bid Mr Mallya."
There is no doubt Bangalore and Yuvraj had all the support they could possibly hope for. It is far too early to say with any certainty, though, that Yuvraj has turned a corner with his unbeaten 52.
At the start of his innings, he was late on a couple of short balls from Mohammed Shami, both of which went whistling off his top edge. Right after that over, Dinesh Karthik, Delhi's captain, took Shami off when he still had an over left. Having survived those few discomfiting deliveries, life became much easier for Yuvraj, with Jimmy Neesham serving up length balls and Rahul Sharma dropping his legbreaks right into his hitting zone.
Sometimes, though, you want bowlers to feed Yuvraj's strengths, just to marvel at the way he strikes the ball. One pick-up shot off Neesham left you missing your TV, left you wanting to watch slow-motion replays from 15 different angles. Since that wasn't possible in the West Stand at Sharjah, you wanted the DJ to at least play the rest of that song.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo