On first glance in the under-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka in early 2000, it was clear that Yuvraj Singh was a potentially explosive cricketer. He had a quiet confidence about him that oozed through every controlled smile, and every wanton drive that blasted over the infield.
Yuvraj burst onto the international scene with a typically belligerent 84 against Australia in the ICC KnockOut. The media were quick to go to town with the youngster's performance in that tournament. The 'messiah' had arrived, they proclaimed. Indian cricket had finally found the rejuvenating fresh blood of which it desperately an infusion.
Of course, it did not hurt at all that the tall, strapping lad had a charismatic smile and a huge fan-following. The sponsors flocked to queue up.
All until Yuvraj failed for a few consecutive matches and was dropped from the side. The tune now changed slightly. There was talk of attitude problems, not working hard enough, and even being a flash in the pan. "Nonsense" is what he would say to all that, relaxing after a rigorous net session.
In a candid interview with CricInfo in his hotel room in Bangalore, where he was attending a training camp, Yuvraj talked of the path from debut success to his recent comeback. He will, of course, have more chances to prove his mettle, as he soon flies to the West Indies for the one-dayers.
Of the two knocks against Zimbabwe that cemented your comeback, which would you rate higher?
I think the one in Hyderabad was a better knock. When I went in to bat, the required run-rate was more than six an over. The unbeaten 80 came at a crucial time. Wickets had fallen as well. I did quite well to pull it off there.
How do these two innings compare to the 84 against Australia in the ICC KnockOut?
Obviously the ICC KnockOut is one of my most memorable innings. That was the first match in which I had batted. It is not easy to score like that in your first match. But, keeping that in mind, this comeback was also one of the most crucial stages of my career. It was difficult to make a comeback.
And being dropped after all the hype, what was that like?
It is very tough for any player to be dropped and come back. You should always tell yourself to work hard, go back to the basics, and things will happen for you.
How did you deal with all the criticism you came in for?
It happens with everyone. When you do well, people write good things about you and put you on a pedestal. When you do badly, they naturally write bad things. You have to learn to accept that. I have. I didn't care too much about what the press said.
Support is crucial when a player is out of the side. Who really helped you out?
It was very difficult for me to be out of the team after the South Africa series. I hadn't done very well and was disappointed. I got good runs in the Ranji trophy leagues but could not convert that. I was working hard on my game, and I knew the call would come. My mother was always by my side. She really helped me in my hard times.
What is it like coming in late in the order, when the pressure is on? You seem to thrive in those situations.
Coming at five and six is hard because they are crucial slots. You come in with very few overs left and have to score at a fast rate. It is always going to be a difficult situation. People put you in that slot because they have confidence in you and expect you to do the job. When that is the case, you have to deliver - by hook or by crook.
Every time you go out to bat, you seem to swagger in confidently. How do you manage that?
I always feel that I can make a difference if I stay in for a long time. The coach, John Wright, and captain Sourav Ganguly have given me a lot of confidence. Obviously all the other senior players have also supported me well. And this tells you that you can do it.
Some people say you struggle against the spinners early on.
I don't have any problems, whether it is the spinners or the seamers. When you come in late in the order, you have to be prepared for everything. On different wickets, in different conditions, you have to get going, so it doesn't really make a difference to me. I know what adjustments in technique I need to make.
Is there any difference between the young Yuvraj Singh who made a sensational debut and the one who plays today?
When you are out of the team, you are struggling. It makes you mentally stronger. You also look more carefully at what you've done wrong. Once you know that, it's easier to avoid repeating the same mistakes. There's always a difference when you come back. I made a double hundred in domestic cricket, and I've come out stronger. Yes, there's a bit of difference between that Yuvraj Singh and this one.
So this Yuvraj Singh is more mature, then. What goals have you set for yourself?
As a player, you definitely need to set yourself specific short and long-term goals. I've also set my goals for the next four or five years. But then, it's not really sensible to be discussing them openly. I know what I need to do and hope I can quietly achieve it.