Yuvraj fulfils weight of expectations
'Matter of one innings'. 'Matter of one innings'. They kept saying it, and we kept hearing it. Didn't come against Pakistan. Didn't come against West Indies. Didn't get a chance to come against Bangladesh.
Australia was the last chance. This had to be that one innings. And Yuvraj Singh made it count. Their senior batsman finding some form has to be the biggest takeaway for the Indians from this game, although they would have also been delighted with how their spinners confounded a batting line-up for the fourth successive time in the tournament.
Probably as much as Yuvraj wanted to succeed, India also dearly wanted him to. They did what they could in training, giving him several short, sharp stints of batting practice one day, a solo, longer one the other. During their training session before the Australia match, Yuvraj had an extended batting workout, fielding coach Trevor Penny's sidearm device giving him plenty of throwdowns. MS Dhoni usually watches his players practise from a distance, and does not get too involved, but this time, he stood right behind the single stump at the bowlers' end, watching Yuvraj closely.
Australia was to be the final opportunity before the knockouts, and Dhoni wanted to make sure his premier player was getting the most attention. After seeing him time a few drives and defend solidly, Dhoni even bowled a few offbreaks to Yuvraj.
India had also thrown their weight behind Yuvraj publicly. 'We all know what he can do once he gets going,' was the refrain. But even the best batsmen can stutter and stumble when they are out of touch, and when they are under pressure. That Yuvraj was feeling the pressure was evident. You did not need to see the way he had batted, particularly against West Indies, to realise that. It came across even in the way he was carrying himself on the field - brooding and seemingly occupied with himself. It came across when he reflected in disappointment at his struggle against West Indies even as his team-mates nearby celebrated India's second win of the tournament.
Till the time he whipped Brad Hodge to the deep midwicket boundary, Yuvraj was quite nervy. There were two close run-out calls where he slipped on the pitch, there were plays-and-misses against both spin and pace. Yuvraj was on 13 off 21 when he came down the track to Hodge. He then realised he was nowhere near the pitch. He stopped, adjusted his bat-swing and whipped it, against the turn. There was a fielder at long-on, but it was timed too well and had too much power - the combination that is the hallmark of Yuvraj when he is in flow.
Now he needed some fortune. James Muirhead provided him successive short balls that sat up and were smacked for sixes over deep midwicket. Early in his innings, Yuvraj had tried to do hit a Glenn Maxwell short ball but had missed it completely. That phase was over now, the nerves had been put away, and the confidence had been restored considerably.
Dhoni said with a smile that it was one question less that he would have to answer in press conferences now that Yuvraj had rediscovered his touch. "Yuvi's innings was brilliant," Dhoni said. "The way he paced his innings, and the best part was that an innings like this was needed for him, where he can be expressive and just be himself. It was an ideal opportunity today. He went and played a few deliveries and then he expressed himself. We all know the kind of batsman he is. He can clear any ground in the world and it does not matter whether it is a fast bowler or a spinner bowling. Initially he may struggle for the first five or seven deliveries. It is your good luck if you get him out, if not, he will take you out of the game."
It was also India's good luck that Yuvraj came good just in time for the semi-finals. Dhoni probably might not be bowling offbreaks to him in the nets again anytime soon.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo