India v England, 1st ODI, Rajkot November 14, 2008

Grace and fire

When on song, there are few batsmen in the modern era who can match Yuvraj Singh for power and placement and the assault in Rajkot was a reminder of his potential

Yuvraj Singh scored 100 of his 138 runs in boundaries © Cricinfo Ltd

On days like this, you realise what a waste of talent Yuvraj Singh can be. He performs below par for months at a time but, when on song, there are few batsmen in the modern era who can match him for power and placement. England are no strangers to Yuvraj's big hitting - just ask Stuart Broad - and today's breathtaking assault in Rajkot, a mix of strength, finesse and improvisation, was a reminder of his potential.

Yuvraj on a roll usually translates to India on a roll - India have won 34 of the 46 matches in which he's gone past 50 - and this incandescent innings had the same result. No bowler was spared as he hit an unbeaten 138 from just 78 balls, with 16 fours and six sixes. His smoothness was astounding; each six struck was more effortless than the last and he pulled off his favoured across-the-line, pick-up shot over midwicket with such delicate touch that you almost forgot the 127-run opening stand forged by India's gung-ho openers.

After a not-so-purple patch, this was the type of game that rusty players so desperately yearn for. "It's been a hard couple of bad months. I didn't have a good last ODI series and I wasn't in the Test side," Yuvraj said. "So I sat down and got back to what I do best. I'm very happy with my effort. I think it's one of the best knocks I've played. The rate I scored at, and that I was able to continue, was satisfying."

Yuvraj has often grumbled about not getting enough overs to bat in ODIs. Despite some patchy form, he was sent in at No. 4 - a spot he has pretty much occupied since late 2007 - and made it count. The characteristic booming drives to the off didn't flow today, as he was hampered by a back injury, and he took time to find his rhythm. The first signs of that rhythm came when Steve Harmison tested him with two bouncers, which Yuvraj, though he took his eyes off them, pulled for consecutive boundaries.

Once strapped into a back brace, though, he started playing an interesting and ultimately devastatingly successful pick-up, half-arc shot that required minimal twists of the bat and relied purely on timing and wristwork. In layman's parlance, it resembled a souped-up golfer's chip shot.

Yuvraj's innings really took off once he got Gautam Gambhir as a runner, for it gave him license to just hit. Some of his shots were outrageous. Aided by powerful wrists, Yuvraj always possessed the ability to flick - or scoop, lap and disdainfully brush, as Broad will attest to - anything on the pads or marginally straight.

Yuvraj can start off in style, but he's also proven he can build an innings. His greatest asset has been his ability to force the pace during the middle overs. In that context, his handling of the third Powerplay - which he entered on 30 from 33 balls - was excellent and gave him the confidence to launch a massive total.

The Powerplay, taken after 34 overs, saw Andrew Flintoff return and Yuvraj welcomed him with a lofted six down the ground. With that shot the fluency was back, the floodgates opened. The boundaries followed, one fiercely cut through point, another heaved over long-on. Harmison - who, with Flintoff bore the brunt of the assault - tried a slower ball and Yuvraj backed away to drive sumptuously down the ground, raising fifty from 38 balls.

By now he had no problems sighting the ball early. Three sixes formed 18 of the 34 runs taken from 18 Flintoff deliveries, while Harmison was taken for 48 from 26. No doubt he had a runner, but seldom has Yuvraj been so prolific. His first fifty took 42 balls, the second 22, and the last 37 required 13. "When he bats like that, there's nothing much the opposition can do," noted Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Top Curve
Yuvraj in doubt for second ODI
  • It is still not clear if Yuvraj Singh will play the second ODI in Indore after he batted through a back injury to score a match-winning century in Rajkot. Yuvraj said he will not play unless he was fully fit. "I felt some problem only while pulling the ball," Yuvraj said. "The team physiotherapist [Nitin Patel] will let you know of my progress." Yuvraj said he felt a twitch in his back while turning for a run in his innings. "It was an injury that happened when I batted and I had not carried it into the match."
  • Kevin Pietersen, the England captain, who had the prerogative to allow Yuvraj a runner said he trusted the batsman's word regarding the injury. "It can happen to any of us," Pietersen said. "He got injured and would not have otherwise called for a runner."
Bottom Curve

The problem with Yuvraj, of course, is that it's a big When. Ever since he sliced and diced his way to a glorious 84 against Steve Waugh's all-conquering Australia in 2000 his career has been marked by inconsistency. It took him 16 matches to cross fifty again, and for every dazzling innings at Lord's, Colombo, Karachi and Sydney, there were periods of scratchy indisposition to fuel his critics. His maiden century came against Bangladesh in April 2003, his next in January 2004. More than a year and a half separated that gem, against Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie in early 2004, from a century against West Indies in August 2005. There were only four fifties in between.

This innings came on the back of one such trough. It had been over a year since his last one-day international hundred. When he was stroking handsome runs against Sri Lanka, South Africa, Pakistan and England in 2005-06, it appeared his batting against spin bowling had improved. Then he went to Australia and looked clueless against Brad Hogg.

In and out of the team and dogged by a persistent knee injury, Yuvraj had only managed three half-centuries this year. He slumped miserably during the one-day series against Sri Lanka, and stumbled through five matches, scoring just 72 runs with a best of 23. His footwork was indecisive; his bat thrust forward like a dangling carrot, and Ajantha Mendis had his number thrice. This innings came as welcome relief, not least for the man himself.

Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • A on November 15, 2008, 12:49 GMT

    I wish the article was written with a positive frame of mind. It would then have been a better article.

  • kiran on November 15, 2008, 9:36 GMT

    congrates to yv,he palyed really well d even though he was suffering from anchels,he played at his best innings so far,once i saw ths faces of eng bowlers broad,flintof they r so much afraid of yv,just their line d lenght syas that.I think the ground is small,but uv understand the conditions very much d play his natural innings,most of his runs came from onside.I think the guys of eng just mis the line D length which costs a 158 run defeat over host.But indian bowlers would mentain the consistency through the entire match.But my peersonnal feeling is thatit is 50% failure of bowlers,50% failure of batsman.Its a deadly pitch so chasing a score of 387 isc not that much difficult,But we would expect big d big innings from one of the opener.

  • saif on November 15, 2008, 7:37 GMT

    That was a very good innings i'd say. Even with fintoff and Harmison, two of the world's fastest bowlers, bowling to him, he smoked them around the park. BUT it is yuvraj we're talking about here, for him to be a good test player he needs to start getting his feet to move. The essentials to being a good test player is footwork, even sehwag has some, but yuvraj had absolutely no footwork at all in that innings. I've become a fan of vijay, the way that he played the australians with sound footwork, he's someone who can make it big. Yuvraj has had alot of opportunities at test level when his form in odis was looking good. But they didn't work in the past and they won't work now.

  • jayaprakash on November 15, 2008, 6:55 GMT

    common guys........ past few months his performance was not good...... so we were saying"inconsistent player etc.," now his performance is good.... please encourage him instead of discouraging him............... well yuvi congrats for your regain.......... do ur best in forthcoming matches also...........

  • Harjit on November 15, 2008, 6:30 GMT

    Mr Sivakumara, are u ok or what? A betsman scoring around 150 at strikerate of 170 and u are saying no quality ? India watsted Sidhu's talent, ignore gambhir for a long time, consistency? Waste is his absense from test, ODIs, 2020s ? He os the future with Dhoni of indian cricket? and m i smelling rac.... here ? Chak de Phatte

  • Varadhachari on November 15, 2008, 5:16 GMT

    Well, all said and done, in today's situation, Yuvi is the only one experienced player among the youngsters to replace Sourav Ganguly in the Test squad. People talk about Rohit Sharma, Pujara, etc, but they have time and age behind them to be put to test. Also talking about temperament for tests, I think Sehwag does not possess the temperament but highly successful. He had been given a lot of chances to succeed and today he is considered as a complete cricketer in all forms. If the same no of chances are given to Yuvi too, he would be successful like Sehwag as their styles are quite similar. And it is also better to replace one left-hander with another one. Yes, Suresh Raina could be another choice, no doubt and he will succeed well. But as Yuvi has played tests before, let us give him one more chance to prove and then decide. I would go for Yuvi against England and Pakistan to test his performance. Consistent chances would yield consistency in the players performance.

  • Harish on November 15, 2008, 3:39 GMT

    Yuvi's innings was a cool and refreshing breeze. But the whole match showed what a hollow event an ODI has turned out to be. I predict the demise of ODIs in just about 2-3 years. Spurious talent is the king in this format. The only place they will survive is India - where matches can be played to full houses in C&D centres. An ODI is still the biggest thing in places like Cuttack, Guwahati, Ranchi etc. But what a bore. Just cannot think of wasting a whole day in front of the TV when you know the best cricketers need not be the best ODI players. And small grounds like Rajkot will kill matches where just say 250 runs can produce a competitve game.

  • Sukhvinder on November 15, 2008, 2:38 GMT

    Yuvi has proven to other countries that he has the skill,power and elegance to shame other cricketing nations with his dangerous stroke play. Yuvi should play his normal game even if he was put into test cricket.

  • V on November 14, 2008, 20:43 GMT

    Yuvaraj can never be a quality Test player in different types of pitches. He may shine in India like he did against Pak last time. India lost in India because of him when Rahul was forced to open and Sehwag was not in the team. That was due to Yuvi's inclusion.

  • Naresh on November 14, 2008, 20:06 GMT

    As good as Yuvraj's innings was - and it was no doubt very good - it all felt so meaningless. Bowlers of the class of Flintoff running in on a flat deck on a tiny ground with a lightning-quick outfield, bowling quite a few good balls and almost always decent balls - and being dispatched with disdain... This was no fun. I'm a big Indian supporter, and I liked it because India was the team scoring the runs - but it really did feel very hollow. We have to live through seven of these jokes, and only two test matches - kudos to the administrators! They have cricket's best interests at heart!

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