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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Vikash on October 16, 2013, 5:32 GMT

    Do you guys believe in "Value-for-Money" thing?? I will tell you one thing, start thinking of your dream one-day team for INDIA and you will know how important this man is. You leave no. 5 spot (which is Yuvi's position undoubtedly) , just think about no.6 spot and the man comes in there is MSD, Now you have to go back and think about your options, you will also choose yuvi. Its like sahrukh's romantic movies man, he will spread his arm and the WOO girls will come out. Man, dada gave birth to him but MSD nurtured him. The two can chase any thing down. Perfect finishers!!!! I bet these two will be in my grandson's dream team also. Please do not talk about technique , technique is on vacation after sachin and dravid. You want to see beautiful batting watch the videos of so-many-players. These two will show you how to finish matches, they comes into the ground with silent crowd and unsolved two-variable linear equation and when they leave its just high decibels there. !!!

  • Stephen on October 13, 2013, 20:52 GMT

    Yuvraj's comeback from Cancer is an inspiring story but I really fail to see what the hype is about as a player. His test record defines mediocre and the idea that a man with 26 first class wickets in 15 years can be called an "all rounder" by anyone is laughable.

  • Santosh Kumar on October 13, 2013, 17:30 GMT

    Definitely a gifted player and true fighter. The amazing thing is he is a big match player. I, however, beg to differ it was his best T20 innings. The 70 off 30 balls innings in WC 2007 semifinal was by far his best and one of the best T20 innings ever. As far as T20 and ODI are concerned, Yuvi is perfect!! He however should aim for one of the two open spots in Test team (He needs work on his technique, specially outside off stump and shortish stuffs for that matter though). I'm not convinced about Jaddu's test skills. Yuvi'd be much better all rounder in Test in my opinion.

  • Vinod on October 13, 2013, 7:31 GMT

    "when he was not well he won a world cup for india" :-)

  • Dummy4 on October 13, 2013, 7:27 GMT

    One of the greatest fighters and cricketers in the world. He is the true star of Indian cricket

  • Ivan on October 13, 2013, 2:09 GMT

    Yuvi has a gift which few others have in world cricket. His clean hitting ability. India is harnessing this well I think and we should make sure he is managed well so he can peak at the 2015 WC which we will be defending. If he plays tests he can be an asset there too - remember than in his comeback games against England he got two fifties - if they had been hundreds, it would have been outstanding. But even if he doesn't play tests his contribution to Indian wins is second to none - the T20 WC and the 2011 WC had Yuvi's imprint all over them.

  • Shaan on October 13, 2013, 1:32 GMT

    Those who r criticizing Yuvi.. First say that is there and batsman after in the world after Yuvraj who can play like Chris Gayle.. No.. Even he strikes better than Gayle.. And infact he is more dangerous than one i d world.. Just look his intensity when he play.. Have You wonder what he would have done if he get chance to play as a opener.. Gayle record may vanish.. And Even everyone enjoyed that kind of sixes after 9 months.. Between these months India were winning the matches.. But there was not so much of entertain without Yuvi.Gambhir and Sehwag.. And now only Yuvi is entertaining alone.. So what would have happen if Gambhir or Sehwag joins in d team instead of lazy NOHIT SHARMA

  • Dummy4 on October 12, 2013, 19:35 GMT

    Guys - it is not the # of runs Yuvaraj scored OR the shots he executed, but the way Yuvaraj was carrying himself in that game that give us hope that the original Yuvi might be back. If that is the result of a 3 month stint at France, I would suggest that the BCCI sponsors a similar stint for Sehwag. If Sehwag's fitnes improves & he regains his hand-eye co-ordination. Sehwag & Dhawan opening together....just imagine !

  • sam on October 12, 2013, 18:27 GMT

    Akash since you want to focus on his technique let me tell you a bit about his footwork against the moving ball. It is non-existent! Thats why he has struggled against swinging ball, seaming ball as well as really top-quality spin (except the couple of times he got on top of Murali). He is the first Indian batsman who is more comfortable to play the sweep rather than dancing down the track and playing it mid-off or mid-on. Also weakness outside off and weakness against well thought of surprise quick bouncer (Some bowlers overdo the bouncer, I am not talking about them).

  • Android on October 12, 2013, 17:27 GMT

    While Akash chose to focus on technique, what really stood out was the strength of character, the determination and an almost eerie calmness. I don't know where the zen like demeanour came from. A new Yuvi perhaps!! Yet to be proven on seaming wickets though.

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