Yuvraj's blast from the past ends in heartbreak
He had come bounding out and was more than halfway to the non-strikers' end before the M Chinnaswamy Stadium realised what was happening. Yuvraj Singh simply wanted in, and the ensuing hours detailed why. The embattled batsman produced two potentially match-winning displays on the same night - 83 vintage runs off 38 balls, and a 4 for 35 of similar yore. There were the effortless pick-up shots over the leg side, the drives through off, sweeps and slog sweeps; there were also the same old loopy innocuous-looking-but-dangerous left-arm offbreaks and a deadly arm ball. However, there was no win in the end.
The big screen flashed Virat Kohli clutching his knees in despair, but the more poignant image was Yuvraj walking away, his shoulders slouched and his resolve reeling from Steven Smith and James Faulkner's punch to the gut.
Yuvraj had been carried by his team for seven matches, his captain vouching for him, his team-mates backing him. Six of his innings had been well under his tournament strike rate of 102. Royal Challengers lost four of those games, and needed an AB de Villiers special to win another. Tonight, for 36 overs, Yuvraj would have seen redemption within his grasp. Cruelly, though, flawed lengths in the final few overs helped Rajasthan Royals take 65 runs off 17 balls, and serve Yuvraj and his team a cold, painful heartbreak.
Prior to the jail break, there was something of a flashback to Durban, seven years ago, when a restless Yuvraj burst onto the field and in the course of six balls wrote his name into cricketing lore. The recent past has not extended the same kindness. The man who played a key role in India's 2011 World Cup triumph froze in the 2014 World T20 final. In the IPL, before this game, he had been slow against pace, clumsy against spin and desolate on the field. Royal Challengers' Rs 14 crore investment seemed to have crashed.
However, on Sunday night, none of Royals' quicks could make Yuvraj hop and their two specialist spinners bowled into his hitting arc. Pravin Tambe, for all his success, was still a rung below international level. Rahul Tewatia was playing only his second T20 game of note. And both of them bowled wrong'uns on Yuvraj's pads.
There had been success for the legspinners with the same plan, but Yuvraj - unlike Chris Gayle and Vijay Zol before him - was reading the googly from the hand and not off the pitch. He got one sweep away, then another and one more, and suddenly the Chinnaswamy was on its feet. It wasn't a cry of "Yuvi, Yuvi" yet, but they got the "R-C-B, R-C-B" chant going.
It is probable that Yuvraj's price tag has been haunting him, but just as clear was how he seemed to have put it out of his mind for tonight. His side was in trouble at 40 for 3. He was one of their last hopes. He had to deliver. And that is where he played with the freedom that has deserted him of late. He possibly did not venture into the "or else" territory. The fans, though, were still cagey. They seemed to hold their breath every time he got on strike and released it only after he got to the other end.
Gayle had come and gone. Virat Kohli had endured a fruitless promotion and Zol's sparkle was quite brief. It was the 11th over, and the crowd was restless. It demanded that Yuvraj get going. "We want six," was the chant around the ground. A young boy was being educated on the nuances of form in cricket as his father tried to temper expectations. Would the same conversation have happened had the other batsman, de Villiers, been on strike?
It didn't matter because, languid as the batsman of old, Yuvraj picked a Tewatia googly and hurled it into the hundreds of outstretched hands beyond the midwicket boundary. And so it began, "Yuvi, Yuvi." And it didn't end. Yuvraj faced only 38 balls, but in that time, the fans realised just why their franchise shelled out Rs 14 crore for him.
Those who hadn't were persuaded by a stand-out bowling performance. He stayed within his limitations, but he strangled the batsman's momentum. He was fierce in his celebrations after flummoxing Watson with an arm ball. If he allowed himself such liberties, that could have been because he envisioned leading Royal Challengers to victory single-handedly. This was Yuvraj's vindication. The DJ then somewhat spoiled what we were trying to savour with a thoughtless belting out of "Singh Is King". No Singh is allowed to do well in India without being made to listen to it.
The bigger spoiler, though, came after he ended his spell, prying out half-centurion Karun Nair in the 14th over. Yuvraj will appreciate having regained his touch, but it will be hard to not brood over what was so near he could taste it: a victorious return to form.
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo