World T20 news March 25, 2014

The Yuvraj conundrum

Yuvraj Singh is making his third comeback since recovering from cancer, but with the breakneck and pressure-filled T20 being the only format he has to make a case for a permanent place, he has looked woefully short of confidence

As Suresh Raina hit the winning run off Marlon Samuels, the Indian dug-out hugged and high-fived their successive win in the World T20.

There was celebratory joy, but there was also a hint of relief, for India had taken a simple chase to the final over. As MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli clasped hands, Yuvraj Singh walked out. He had just taken off his gear but still wore a part disenchanted, part blank look; his eyes distant, and in sharp contrast to the jubilation around him.

Yuvraj had walked in with 23 needed off 32, consumed 19 of those for his 10 runs and had fallen dabbing a turner straight to slip. One ball later Raina ended the match.

Against Pakistan, he missed a full delivery and was bowled second ball. In both matches, he put down what could have been costly misses - Chris Gayle and Mohammad Hafeez - but India created and converted more chances soon after. His solitary over in the tournament so far went for 13.

Cricket is a game that lends itself easily to analysis, and unfortunately, to over-analysis as well. India are only two games into their campaign in a format where often, any analysis can be over-analysis. It is readily possible to argue in Yuvraj's favour: Anyone can miss a full and straight one early in his innings, especially in the T20 format which requires heavy hitting.

Yuvraj might only have wanted some time in the middle, knowing that India had plenty of deliveries left to put West Indies away, and aware that such an opportunity rarely comes in T20s. Already, many other players have spilled high catches in Mirpur, and there could be a larger reason for it. The height and positioning of the floodlights is being talked about as a possible factor. And for all his deeds with the ball in the past, Yuvraj is and has always been a part-time bowler, and it was only one over anyway.

It is the sum of all these instances, though, that invites concern. This is already Yuvraj's third comeback (of sorts) since recovering from cancer. The first time he was rushed into the 2012 World T20 having played very little competitive cricket and seemed lacking in match fitness. The second comeback also started in the shortest format, with a much leaner Yuvraj carving a match-winning, unbeaten 77 off 35 against Australia in Rajkot in October last year, before struggling in the one-dayers. The third comeback is not strict in definition, for India didn't played any T20s between the Rajkot one and the World T20.

In both the previous phases, Yuvraj has lost his place in one format each. He hasn't played a Test since December 2012, and an ODI since December 2013, missing the tour of New Zealand and the Asia Cup.

The confidence does not seem to be there. It shows in the way he has looked forlorn on the boundary after those drops instead of showing some anger or disappointment.

At the moment, T20 is the only format he has to make his case and it can be misleading for watchers to take cues from. It can also be ruthless on the player, with everything happening so fast, leaving little time to gather your thoughts. Even more so, considering it is a world event.

With bat, ball, on the field, even in the nets, Yuvraj has just not looked comfortable. The confidence does not seem to be there. It shows in the way he has looked forlorn on the boundary after those drops instead of showing some anger or disappointment. He knows, and the world knows, there is so much riding for him on this World T20. Maybe it is the pressure of that knowledge, that this is all he has left for now, at the international stage at least, that is shackling him down.

As any captain would, MS Dhoni backed his senior player after the West Indies match. "Yuvraj is the best player in T20s. Right now he is not in that good a rhythm you can say. It is a bit tough, he has been dropped from ODIs and is coming back in T20s, there is a bit of pressure on the individual. You can say it is a short format and you can go in and express yourself, but when an individual comes into the team, there is some pressure on him.

"It takes one-two matches but we are only hoping if he gets a good flow, a good game, we all know the kind of match-winner he is and he can really turn the game around on his own," Dhoni said. "I am glad he got a bit of time because it will only settle his nerves. We all know how dangerous he can be once he gets going, he will give many more victories. If Yuvi comes back, if he bats really well, he is a good asset to have a No 4."

India can arguably afford to give Yuvraj one more match in the tournament. It should ideally help that their next one is against Bangladesh and not Australia. They will be relieved if Yuvraj comes good in that. If not, they will be in a quandary against Australia. They look good to make the semi-final, and would not want to go in with a short-on-confidence Yuvraj or a short-on-match-practice Ajinkya Rahane.

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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