Last year, before heading to Sri Lanka for the previous ODI series, Yuvraj Singh called on Sunil Joshi in Bangalore for tips on how to tackle Ajantha Mendis. Joshi complied, mimicking the grip and flicking the tennis ball across to Yuvraj. The time constraints didn't allow for a lengthy practice but it showed that Yuvraj was seriously thinking about preparing for what he perceived to be his chief threat.
He didn't succeed; he was mesmerized by Mendis' variations and repeatedly succumbed to the new sensation. He returned home to find he had lost his place in the Test squad for the series against Australia. His first action at the time, he said after Tuesday's century, was to hit the gym.
"I felt I was a bit overweight in the last series and I knew I should be in top fitness," Yuvraj said. He also worked on his front-foot technique: he was taking his right foot a touch late and couldn't adjust quickly if the length was different from what he perceived it to be and ended up losing balance and following the ball.
He hit peak form in the England ODI series but the Mendis threat was always round the corner. Criticism hurt but also motivated him. "What better joy than proving the critics wrong," he said. He sought Sachin Tendulkar's help to tackle the Mendis threat. "He actually gave me plans to play Mendis in this series. I can't tell you what the plans were but whatever he told me was really helpful."
That explained his celebrations after reaching his century on Tuesday, making a point of acknowledging Tendulkar, who was on his feet applauding in the dressing room.
For all his celebration, though, the contest doesn't really have a winner yet. Yuvraj has faced 48 balls from Mendis in the three ODIs, scoring 38 runs, including a six. That's not any conclusive proof but there are clear signs of progress. While that six would have given him great thrill, what would have satisfied him are the 15 singles. Previously clueless, Yuvraj is now beginning to show he can stay in there and defend Mendis. In the last game, in the batting Powerplay, he rotated the strike to Virender Sehwag, who went after Mendis and Muttiah Muralitharan.
It's learnt that the team is trying to play Mendis as a mediumpacer. Another key tactic is to not press the front foot across but to take it straight adjacent to the line. Play with the bat and not the pad is the mantra. Another factor is that the ball has spun a little in the second half but has been slow; it has not skidded on for Mendis as he would have liked to do. In the Asia Cup, and even in some games in Sri Lanka, the pitch was doing more under the lights and the ball would really skid from Mendis. It hasn't happened so far. Mendis will now have to adjust.
Yuvraj? He has prospered and now has the confidence needed to take on a class spinner. "Doubts are created by the media," he said on Tuesday." I never had doubts. Myself nor the team had any doubts on me. I just had a few bad games. I wanted to prove what goes round comes around."