October 12, 2013

The king of comebacks

The fact that he was on the brink of being pushed out, and running out of time, makes Yuvraj's latest return even sweeter

Aakash Chopra on the perennial comeback man

Comebacks are always fascinating, for there's no better story than one of persistence till a point of cathartic redemption. Yuvraj Singh has made many - in cricket, and in life. But the one he made in Rajkot this week, playing his best T20 knock, against Australia, will surely be a defining one. The fact that he was down and on the brink of being pushed out, and running out of time, made this comeback sweeter.

This wasn't the first time the world saw Yuvraj play a determined, decisive knock. Yet it has been a while since we saw the man in his element. He did show glimpses of his glorious past on his comeback after defeating cancer too, but unfortunately those turned out to be only glimpses. This time, though, it looks a lot different, he looks a lot more resolute.

His knock of 77 not out transported me to the winter of 2004, when he scored a century in each innings of a Duleep Trophy final. I vividly remember Yuvraj playing a defensive prod to a medium-pacer - it was as defensive as it could be, off the front foot with no flourish, with no intent to hit an attacking shot. I stood at the non-striker's end as the ball sped down the ground before the bowler could intercept it in his follow-through. It all happened in such a jiffy that the mid-off fielder could find no time to even attempt to cover the ten yards to his left to try and prevent the four. Yuvraj was in his pomp.

While one can attribute Yuvraj's beautiful timing to a high, whirling backlift, where the bat comes down at just the right time to meet the ball, you can truly admire his extraordinary abilities only if you've played the sport, and especially if you've been a batsman. For that's when you realise that Yuvraj's finesse makes the most arduous shots look like a cakewalk, much like that defensive prod that fetched him four.

The high backlift has been the very essence of his batting, giving him immense power, the power that he wields to such great effect. But that same high backlift, which is your best friend when you're in form, becomes your worst enemy when you're out of it. Batting is all about your eyes being synchronised - seeing the ball released from the bowler's hand - your mind processing the information and deciding how to react, and your body getting into the right position to execute a response. If any part of this chain is not working at its optimum, you're doomed.

Yuvraj is not only picking the length as early as he used to in his heyday, he is also getting into the right positions quickly enough to dispatch deliveries to the fence

Unfortunately this was evident a year ago when Yuvraj was either unable to pick the length and the line of the ball early enough, or wasn't physically fit enough to get into the right positions. Whatever it may have been, short-pitched deliveries were regularly perturbing him, and even some spinners found ways to tether him. Big shots, which he rarely mistimes, were finding the inside- or the outside half of the bat often.

Yuvraj doesn't rely too heavily on moving his feet against the spinners, and makes up for it with strength, an intent to attack, and clarity of thought. But against Saeed Ajmal and James Tredwell earlier this year, even those attributes were clearly absent. Yuvraj clearly looked undercooked back then. His intent had got him back to the field, but his skill was yet to be polished.

This time, though, even though the sample size is only 35 balls, it seems Yuvraj has turned another corner. Not only is he picking the length as early as he used to in his heyday, he is also getting into the right positions quickly enough to dispatch deliveries to the fence.

The other thing that might have gone slightly unnoticed is his running between the wickets. The way Yuvraj ran with MS Dhoni during their 102-run stand was further evidence that he is well and truly back. There's still a minor technical blip in his batting - his head falls a little too much to the off side - but I'm sure that with runs under his belt, it's only a matter of time before he sorts that out too.

The work he has done in France to get back in top physical shape is apparent enough. Now it's up to him to continue to bat this way, for a fit and in-form Yuvraj Singh is integral to India's chances of defending the World Cup in 2015.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

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