India v Pakistan, 3rd Test, Bangalore, 1st day December 8, 2007

A touch of Brian Lara

Yuvraj Singh's 169 was outstanding both for the manner in which he scored the runs and for the situation in which they came
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Each one of Yuvraj Singh's three Test centuries has come under trying circumstances against their old rivals Pakistan © AFP

Perhaps the best compliment for Yuvraj Singh, who played one of the finest innings under pressure you can hope to see, would be that he had a touch of Brian Lara. There was the same high backlift, with the bat flowing down from the eye level, the quick hands, malleable wrists, sensational timing and perfect placement. To top it all, there was the part that couldn't be seen, only sensed: the ability to create a bubble where the external factors - a fresh pitch with a tinge of green, the hole that his team was in when he walked in, and the fact that he was playing for Test spot - ceased to matter.

Yuvraj and Sourav Ganguly, for whom no praise can be too high, did for India what Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman have long been renowned for doing, but it will be no discredit to Ganguly to say Yuvraj's brilliance shaded his second successive hundred. Not that he would have grudged it a whit: his eyes shone brighter when he celebrated his team-mate's century than when he reached his own. No one present at the ground, even his opponents, could stay untouched by the breathtaking majesty of this innings.

At lunch, India would have felt a touch despondent. They had won the toss and chosen to bat knowing that the pitch, which had been under covers for the best part of the last few days, would be soft and offer seam movement. But given their reliance on spin, in the absence of a full-strength pace bowling attack, it was the only option available. Pakistan's bowlers wasted the first hour somewhat by either spraying the ball wide or bowling too short, but Yasir Arafat changed the course by introducing commonsense, and bowling close to the stumps. At 61 for 4, India were in the danger of having to bowl with the second new ball of the day.

Two significant things happened after lunch. Shoaib Akhtar - is he Pakistan's biggest match-winner or their biggest liability? - went off clutching his back. Far more importantly for India, Yuvraj batted like a dream. He was hit on the head once and played and missed outside off-stump a couple of times, and there was an edge off Danish Kaneria that Younis Khan put down but, rather than being intimidated by the situation, he chose to trust his game. He melted the pressure by allowing himself the freedom to play his strokes and by tea it was the bowling side that looked hunted.

Yuvraj's driving on the offside was sensational, both off the front and back foot, and the bowlers were clueless about what length to bowl to him. Some cover drives were played with the full flourish of the bat and some were punched exquisitely. Initially, Mohammed Sami and Arafat tried to cramp him by bowling straight and he either punched them down the ground or picked them through midwicket, generating velocity with his back-lift and wrists. Ganguly kept him company by piercing the offside either side of the cover fielder and the 127 runs they scored in the middle session changed the course of the innings.

After tea, Pakistan were reduced to damage control. Sami sought to deny Yuvraj by bowling a couple of feet outside off stump while Kaneria chose to bowl his googlies from outside leg. And two men were stationed behind square on the leg side for the top-edge to the occasional bouncer. Yuvraj refused to be baited but neither did he slow down. He stayed away from the wide balls but put away everything in driving range. When the sweeper was posted at cover, he still managed to hit the ball wide of him; his only pull was hit through midwicket, all along the ground. As the day progressed and the pitch eased, fours became inevitable, irrespective of the bowler and the field. At the end of his innings, his wagon wheel offered evidence of his all-round domination: 92 on the onside, 77 on the off, 50 between point and cover, 37 between square leg and midwicket. Ten of his 28 fours were hit though cover and five through midwicket.

Despite his outstanding run in the shorter version of the game, doubts have lingered over the suitability of his technique and temperament for Tests. Yuvraj has banished those misgivings with an innings of such force and pedigree that to keep him out would be a brave decision - and may ultimately be a foolish one

The innings was littered with dazzling strokes but a couple will stay in the mind. The first was a mere push, perhaps a defensive jab, at a full ball from Sami; such was the balance and timing that the ball sped past a bemused mid-on fielder to the boundary. The second was a back-foot cover drive to a ball from Arafat that deserved nothing more than a dead bat. By then, though, Yuvraj was long past his hundred and the merit of the ball had ceased to be of consequence. At that supreme moment, you felt in awe of the batsman but it was difficult not to feel sorry for the bowler.

To Indian fans who have long been riled by the tendency of Pakistan's batsmen to reserve their best for India - Zaheer Abbas and Javed Miandad have been succeeded by Kamran Akmal (three of his four Test hundreds against India) and Salman Butt (all his four one-day hundreds) - Yuvraj's third Test century against the old enemy would seem soothing retribution. That might be missing the story, because of far more significance is another common thread: each of these centuries have come when his team was in desperate trouble. On a green top at Lahore in 2004, India were 94 for 4 and 147 for 7; at Karachi in 2006, they were 74 for 4 and Mohammed Asif was in the middle of a dream spell, having knocked out Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman in quick succession. To each crisis Yuvraj has offered his fulsome and natural brilliance. His stroke-making has always exceptional, but his three Test centuries have demonstrated that he has that special ability to play them all when the chips are down.

His latest hundred has given the Indian management a happy headache. They will have one hell of a decision to make when they sit down to pick the team for the next Test, in Australia. Despite his outstanding run in the shorter version of the game, doubts have lingered over the suitability of his technique and temperament for cricket's most challenging form. Yuvraj has banished those misgivings with an innings of such force and pedigree that to keep him out would be a brave decision - and may ultimately be a foolish one.

There is plenty left in this Test yet, but Yuvraj's innings is potentially series-clinching for India. For himself, it could turn out to be career-changing.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nayaksai on December 12, 2007, 22:43 GMT

    IT WAS GRAEME POLLOCK ALL the way. If anybody asks how G. Pollock use to bat you cansafely say like Yuvi batted during his 169. Barry Richards once said fielders were redundant when Graeme batted and might as well keep stones. Hit a stone no run otherwise a boundary. That's how great Graeme was!!! Yuvi is similar. verry similar! Unlike Lara or Sobers there's not that much finesse in playing square but like Graeme those powerful arms and shoulders bludgen the ball anywhere from point to midwicket. very few deflections but plenty of Power driving!! Unbelievable timing . Hardly any risks(Unlike Clive Lloyd of similar power!). Graeme Pollock's technique was very tight and superior to everybody. Full forward or well back. Yuvi will do good to emulate.

  • RahulNEHRU on December 12, 2007, 22:03 GMT

    I have one complaint for Yuvraj...he is too good! He is well balanced at the crease and watches the ball greatly. His drives were executed with great accuracy and has brilliant placement. One complaint truly would be that he slacks attention from the non-strikers end. Sourav faced a googly which spun from the footmark into him from Kaneria, two overs later, Yuvraj faced a similar which almost had him trapped and resultantly played a defensive shot off the back foot which almost exposed his wicket even more. I believe that he should face the spinners on the full rather than trusting such a pitch.

    His re-entry to the test side should also encourage him to take his bowling seriously. His left arm orthodox should cause problems in Australia. Apart from Micheal Clarke, there are very few similar bowlers there. He should cause some problems if he takes it seriously.

  • gopir on December 12, 2007, 10:17 GMT

    Yuvraj's innings was timely and brilliant. However, one must not forget the fact that the Pakistan bowling was hopeless. Would Yuvraj play as well against a bowling attack consisting of Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson & Stuart Clark on bouncy Australian pitches? The Indian middle order quartet has shown that it has plenty of batting left in it and performed with great distinction on their last tour to Australia. The only way to include Yuvraj is for Dravid or Yuvraj himself to open the batting with Jaffer.

  • maharishi on December 11, 2007, 13:56 GMT

    yes, its pleasure to watch his batting .yuvraj should have been used more by india and take advantage of his batting in both form of the games, of course he has a capability to reach with brian lara's brilliance. time has come now that india should not wasted yuvi's talent by sitting out.

  • jayadeep_nair on December 11, 2007, 10:17 GMT

    Well its not fare enough to keep out a batsman of Yuvraj's calibre from any form of the playing eleven,as far as its cricket! How come a strokemaker of his class does'nt find a place in the squad? Perhaps the team think tank is hinting at the "problem of plenty", which is hard to digest.Dravid,Sachin, Ganguly and Laxman would pick themselves,in the middle order considering their form in the longer version of the game.Then the ploy would be, to go for a make shift opener in dravid along with Jaffer folowed by Laxman ,Sachin,Ganguly and Yuvraj.This would give the inform players a chance to get themselves picked, rather than out of form Dinesh karthik coming in as opener. the probable palying XI for the forth coming Australian tour: jaffer,dravid,laxman,sachin,ganguly,yuvraj,dhoni,pathan/munaf,kumble,zaheer and R.P singh.

  • Achint on December 11, 2007, 7:12 GMT

    That was elegance personified. Yuvraj's ton was more Aussie than what Brian Lara would hae played. The ferocity with which he counter-attacked Pakistan is only seen from Kangaroos, especially Andrew Symonds or Adam Gilchrist. There looks like only one solution to the 'happy headache' that Indian selectors have. Open with Dravid and get Yuvi at number six.

  • Nipun on December 11, 2007, 5:51 GMT

    Yuvraj did score a superb hundred in trying conditions,but it is difficult to see how he would get into the playing eleven.The middle order is sealed for good-with Dravid,Tendulkar,Ganguly,Laxman & Dhoni.Yuvraj has to open if he is to play regularly,otherwise I don't see any reasons for dismantling this middle order.I am in favour for Kartik to open-the odd failure in 1 series is acceptable.Ordinary people should remember that they would be the 1st ones to shout about getting Yuvraj out of the team when he is out of form-so keep that in consideration before speaking ! The example is in Australia itself-lets have a look at how Brad Hodge was given a long run even though he wasn't in the best of form against India in the recent ODi series-so why can't Indian selectors follow the same strategy,when they themselves speak of following the Aussie method ???

  • neilc263 on December 10, 2007, 18:49 GMT

    Yuvraj an elegant player with enough talent to become the best player in afew years. He has most certainly shown his quality. He had passion, agression, timing, style and momentum to overjoy the watchers. Fantastic innings. Yuvraj,you beauty!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Only bad point, needs stamina for test matches.

    He mite not be as good as Lara in a few years but overall hes one class act

  • SHIRIN on December 10, 2007, 13:07 GMT

    This elegant left hander is living upto his name! with all his brilliant performances he's shown that he is a 'Yuvraj' in the real sense. with all that vigour, passion and maturity, he has proved his worth in all formats of the game now. its only a matter of time now for the selectors to crown this 'Yuvraj' by presenting him a steady place in the terst team.

  • Ashutosh on December 10, 2007, 8:05 GMT

    Congrats to Yuvraj for compiling a positive and stroke-filled century against a second-string and depleted attack of a weak Pak outfit. But, when u get a half-volley, u still have to put it away - full marks to Yuvraj for taking the half chance in no small measure. What really bugs me is why Dravid's name gets bandied whenever a tough role needs to be executed - an opener in Tests or the finisher in ODIs. As it is, he's lost his place in the ODIs bcoz of the 'constant change' in his batting position. He's himself partly to blame - he should've taken care of himself, when he was the captain, by batting in the 'safe zone' of nos.1,2,3 & 4 rather than in the 'Kaif zone' of nos. 5,6 & 7. To accommodate Yuvraj in the line-up, i think Ganguly should be promoted to open the innings with Jaffer. Ganguly has loads of ODI experience as an opener & will give us a left-right opening pair.

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