Top Performer - Yuvraj Singh September 5, 2007

Happy return

After a not-quite-purple patch, Yuvraj Singh is back, and how. By Jamie Alter



Blocker and basher: both sides of Yuvraj have been on display in the NatWest series © Getty Images

There have been countless times when Yuvraj Singh has looked torn between "Damn this" and "Oh hell, not again", but thankfully for India he seems to be figuring out the balance between the two. Two contrasting innings this past week, on the back of 49 from 53 balls in Bristol and 45 from 39 in Birmingham at the start of the one-day series against England indicate yet again how much of a difference his batting makes to India when he's consistent.

Both his 70s this past week were significant for the way they suited the needs of the situation. In the fourth match at Old Trafford India were 32 for 3 after 12 overs, and Yuvraj was welcomed by a hostile Andrew Flintoff. His first 17 deliveries were against Flintoff and he managed just two runs, beaten repeatedly and subjected to a nasty bouncer. He didn't take the risk of hitting out, but rather continued cautiously against Paul Collingwood and Monty Panesar. His first boundary did not come until his 39th delivery, and it took him into double figures. With Sachin Tendulkar he stitched together a crucial stand of 71 in nearly 18 overs, indicating again that he can hang around and graft.

Flintoff was ushered back on and bounced and beat Yuvraj again, even drawing an outside edge for four that the 'keeper didn't go for. It wasn't pretty cricket but Yuvraj hung on, forced to curb his natural exuberance. After Tendulkar's departure there were no sizeable contributions and Yuvraj's presence at the crease was critical.

Once Flintoff was seen off, Yuvraj slowly opened up with twos into the gaps on the off side. After one stifling over from Panesar he decided he'd seen enough, taking 16 off Stuart Broad's eighth over. He finally fell to Broad for 71 from 104 balls; subtract those runs from the total and India's fate would have been worse.

Later in the evening there was more aggression from Yuvraj, this time in the form of lip service. Ian Bell walked out to an unbelievably hostile reception from Yuvraj and Dinesh Karthik, and though England prevailed in a thriller, it was that brief passage of sizzling cricket that sparked something inside India.

It was in England, back in 2002, that Yuvraj showed signs of maturity in the middle order. There have been highs and lows since, but five summers from a fantastic Lord's evening, it is heartening to see Yuvraj mesh aggression with caution to produce what is among the most consistent runs in a series he has had so far. Instead of bemoaning the fact that he warmed the bench during the Test series against England, he took his one-day opportunities with both hands. There really is no better way to stay in the game than by force of deeds and Yuvraj is again showing that he belongs at this level after a troublesome end to 2006 and a shaky start to this year. India needed someone to stand up and be counted, and Yuvraj has done this in four out of five games so far.

At Old Trafford, the scene of India's revival in the series, it was the other side of Yuvraj on display. He walked in at 150 for 2 after Tendulkar and Ganguly had set the tone with an opening stand of 116 and, with Gautam Gambhir for company, added 94 runs at a good clip.

His first scoring shot was trademark: Broad served up full on the pads and the ball was duly sent to fine leg for four. His second boundary, a pleasing thump through the covers, took him past 5000 one-day runs, but he was awarded a life when on ten as the umpire failed to spot Matt Prior's catch off Panesar.

Yuvraj's clean striking has been a treat and one cannot but feel that he is best suited up the order. India need a lead-off man at No. 3 who can be an attacking catalyst

That's cricket, said Yuvraj, and cut Panesar hard to backward point and then drove him firmly between cover and point. He was especially good against Panesar's left-arm spin - as most left-hand batsmen have been so far - planting his front foot out and timing drives to perfection.

Panesar tossed it up a tad too much and craned his neck to see the ball disappear over midwicket for six. Next ball, same shot, but for four. Broad and Jon Lewis also felt the power of Yuvraj's bat during the final overs before he was well held on the boundary for 72 from 57 balls.

It was devastating hitting, and a fine example of his ability to cash in on a great start while, maintaining the run-rate over a period, and then blast at the death.

Yuvraj's clean striking has been a treat and one cannot but feel that he is best suited up the order. India need a lead-off man at No. 3 who can be an attacking catalyst, and Yuvraj should be that person. Like Sourav Ganguly he remains an awesome timer of the ball and each of his innings in this series - the four-ball duck in the opener excepted - have showcased his worth to this Indian side. There were signature bent-knee drives and flat-batted swipes over midwicket, deft flicks, diving stops, and plenty of verbal aggression.

Of his 30 one-day half-centuries, 23 have resulted in wins for India. He now has 5063 runs from 181 matches, at an average of 36.42.

Yuvraj sounded his revival with an all-round display that clinched an Indian victory over South Africa in Ireland, and the way he's been going in England bodes well for India ahead of a season that still includes 14 ODIs, and a little something called the ICC World Twenty20. If Yuvraj carries on his form, or takes it to a higher level against Australia and Pakistan, then he is in for a heck of a ride, with all of India riding shotgun.

Jamie Alter is an editorial assistant on Cricinfo

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