September 7, 2012

Waiting for Yuvi

A long-awaited comeback is at hand. How will it pan out?

Ostensibly Saturday's match in Visakhapatnam will be between India and New Zealand. I suspect though that 21 of the 22 players on the field will find themselves largely irrelevant as everyone gets engulfed by the hugely emotional return of Yuvraj Singh to a cricket ground.

Though sport is normally played hard, by people unwilling to concede an inch, you can never divorce it from emotion. And I'm sure it will be that way when Yuvraj takes the field, for his sheer presence, a tribute to what modern medicine and the human spirit can combine to achieve, will stir the feelings like few events in cricket have in recent times. It will tug at the heart. New Zealand will seek to get him out first ball but they will be moved too.

It was an unusual selection, though, for Yuvraj hasn't played a game since chemotherapy ate at his strength but, by all accounts, left his resolve untouched. Ordinarily you would have thought that he needed a couple of games to show if the strength had returned and if he was hitting a ball well enough to keep another player out. It was clearly an emotional selection but also one of solidarity with someone who had played outstandingly for India. I don't think either Australia or, in the present dispensation, England would have picked him as quickly but Indians are an emotional people and you will hardly find anyone contesting his selection.

If Yuvraj is indeed fit and on his way to being the player he was, he changes the balance of the Indian team completely. He did that at the World Cup, when he became the allrounder India were looking for. By doing that he gave India an extra slow-bowling option and allowed a batsman to play at No. 7. In T20 cricket he only needs to bowl four overs, or even three or two.

I will also be watching to see how MS Dhoni handles him. Will he straightaway slot him in at No. 4, which is where he belonged in T20 cricket? Will he slot him in as the fifth bowler straightaway? Or will he let him ease his way in? Knowing Dhoni, I won't be surprised if Yuvraj bowls the first over!

That said, I will be very interested in seeing how he approaches playing for India again. He could get caught up in the moment, play the dramatic hero back from the brink, try too hard to make a statement - indeed, try too hard to prove that he is back to being the player he was. It's a tough one but I hope he doesn't, because then his head could be full of a million thoughts swirling uncontrollably, the mind jumping from one objective to the other and fatally letting the present disappear. Nobody will let him forget the significance of the moment but, peculiarly, he will need to if he has to make the best of it.

I remember talking to Nasser Hussain a couple of years ago about handling pressure, and he spoke of how the very best realise they need to do something special and yet are able to treat the moment like any other. I'm sure surgeons have to do that as they approach a life-saving procedure, engulfed by an overwhelming need to be perfect and yet not letting the pressure come in the way of achieving perfection: of knowing it is important and yet pretending it isn't. Lawyers probably need to feel that way on big days, and I know television anchors need to.

Alternatively, Yuvraj can be the kid on the park, just enjoying chasing a ball and hitting it and looking at every moment as another chance. He can play with freedom, look pressure in the eye and say to it, "Go some other place. I am only playing cricket." Keith Miller said famously after the war that pressure was a Messerschmitt up your backside, that playing cricket was just a celebration.

I hope Yuvraj looks at the rest of his playing career as a celebration, as a lifeline thrown his way. I don't know if he will ever be as good as he was, if he can get your heart racing again by the majesty of his strokeplay. But if he can play like he belongs, that's all he needs - he will tell the world a great story.

I will expect nothing from him, just will him on.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here