On Saturday evening, Yuvraj Singh made a 15-minute appearance at a crowded, heaving bowling alley on Church Street, Bangalore's pub&grub strip, to formally launch a friend's book. Flanked by security and the press of about 100 people waiting for him, he walked into a screaming, shouting space, wearing a red T-shirt that had on it a single word: "Batman".
Less than 24 hours later, he was in another slightly bigger screaming, shouting space, where he managed to be neither Batman nor Robin, neither superstar nor superhero, but the kind of cricketer India needed on the night - Yuvraj Singh, Situation Man. Part-time performer with the ball, who produced more than a side show, and a batsman who left his dazzle in the dressing room because India required something slightly more sober.
India's five-wicket victory over Ireland in Bangalore on Sunday night was hard-earned. If the total of 207 was far less than what Ireland wanted, it was because Yuvraj's unbroken middle-overs spell broke open Ireland's innings at the point when it could have raised its pace. When India chased, runs had to be eked out as if they were water from stone - and it was Yuvraj who kept his head down and his instincts under control, after the top three were gone and an awful run-out had reduced India to 100 for 4.
In an odd statistical quirk, he happened to become the first man in the World Cup's 36-year history replete with star allrounders to take five wickets and score a 50 in a match. Everyone knows about his batting talent, but five wickets would make any bowler happy, whether he chucks pies or not. He said the five-for had brought him the same glow from his first ODI century against Bangladesh.
Yuvraj's bowling is the alter ego of his more public identity, the one the bowling alley folks were waiting for. Menacing backlift meets monstrous bat speed, turning ball becomes into fast-moving object. Yuvraj the bowler trots in like some quieter, unthreatening, apologetic identical twin just looking to get a few things out of the way. A run-up of six or so steps lasts a few seconds, the left arm whirls over like thousands must do on thousands of unremarkable streets and in signature flourish, the left leg pops out in biomechanically unbecoming afterthought. Michael Holding, breathe easy. Never mind poetry in motion, this is not even a nursery rhyme on the move. To a batsman he looks like one of those odds & ends men pulled out by teams to hurry through their overs because the boys really don't want to pay any more Match Referee fines.
Against Ireland, he looped the ball into the air, setting them up like lollipops to be grabbed and gobbled. Ireland's batsmen, trying to get in on a pitch quite unlike the belter against England, only saw the sweeties, not the set-up. Yuvraj said later that the pitch had played slower than even a week ago and against Ireland, he had tried to keep the ball hanging in the air as long as possible. His fractional turn may have induced error after error, in the attempt to both get comfortable - Andrew White and Kevin O'Brien - and then, to get moving. Like captain William Porterfield did after the second drinks break, at a time when Ireland needed glue and not a soft dismissal from their top-scorer. The Alex Cusack dismissal will be the one most remembered, not so much for Yuvraj's sleight of hand, but for being India's most smartly calculated DRS appeal so far.
Just as Yuvraj the bowler had surprised Ireland, Yuvraj the batsman showed all of India his more thoughtful side. He has had a wretched 2010, which left him a messy heap, high on the injury scale and low on form. It is his bowling performances that made up all his good news. Yet, after the game today he said he did not think that his lesser skill had been the source of an increased confidence. "I won't say bowling has made me regain my confidence... whether I take wickets or I don't take wickets, I want to go and score runs. It's important for me that I finished the game for India. It gives me a lot of confidence going into the next match. I'm just happy about how I am hitting the ball."
He has hit it well in Bangalore, his innings of 58 (off 50 balls, including nine fours) against England was the polar opposite of the half-century against Ireland, (50 off 75 balls, including three fours). His best shot, one of only three boundaries, came at the tail end of the Indian innings off a John Mooney full toss. An innings of humility and graft ended with a shot that sounded of regal contempt. It was a reminder of who Yuvraj can still be.
In his fairly cheery post-match media conference he said this last week had brought pleasant reminders. "I am just happy to win the game for India. I remembered that when I had been in the best of my form, I have done that for India in the middle stages of an innings." His role in the India's batting line-up, "to play till the end" whether batting first or chasing, may be the reason he has been able to take his mind off the more distracting side of his game: what it looks like on the outside rather than what it means on the inside. He said, "I might not be scoring at a strike-rate of 100, but it's important for me to finish the game. Hopefully the moment I get my 100 percent strike-rate, I'm sure I'll take my batting to the next level."
Right now, in this World Cup, India will hope they are the collective Yuvraj Singh. One side of their game working smoothly, another scratching around in and around fluency, and living on the belief that one day, when it really matters, everything will come together. Then, it will all look like magic, inspired, pulled out some rabbit's hat, but it will have taken a long and arduous trek to get there.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo