It was a full toss and Yuvraj Singh charged down the track with his bat raised. You thought of a possibility of a six but the bat rotated in his hands just before the moment of impact and the ball only reached as far as mid-on, right into the waiting palms of Rubel Hossain. You couldn't escape the feeling that in one-day cricket, he would have hit it over long-on. Yuvraj let out a weary smile as he walked away. The smile was open to interpretation and there was something poignant about the moment.
It has been said before that Yuvraj doesn't grind his way through tough periods, that he is not willing to look ugly. That unlike MS Dhoni, who has converted himself from an attacking warrior to a foot solider, Yuvraj continues to fall prey to his "natural game". In the second innings in Chittagong, he tried to graft. Rubel pinged him on the neck with a bouncer and hurled quite a few other short ones. It was a flat track and even as Yuvraj was struggling, Laxman seemed to possess ample time to play dismissive pulls. Yuvraj hopped, looked ungainly, and the experience could have hurt his ego but he didn't throw away his wicket. It was a start but he then gave it all away with a soft push straight to short cover.
There are two Yuvrajs. The confident one that turns up for ODIs and the imposter that stutters out for the Tests. And even in ODIs where the ball does something, surprisingly, the same mistakes still persist. Unlike Rahul Dravid, he doesn't move forward quickly towards the ball. Unlike Virender Sehwag, he doesn't stay still and wait for the ball to come. Mostly, he is caught in between those two approaches. The right foot stutters out, he misreads the length or picks the length late, the back foot gets stuck on the leg stump line and the front leg swivels towards leg stump to maintain balance. The bat is already pressing down from the high back lift and he has almost no option but to chase the ball, away from the body. It happened in the tri-series final in Mirpur. It has happened on numerous occasions on seaming tracks. And one is yet to start talking about his much-publicised troubles against quality spin.
Apart from the Bangladesh Tests, India are to play at least eight Tests this year. There are a few youngsters who are pushing for a spot. The noose is slowly tightening on Yuvraj. "When there is pressure on individuals due to a good bench strength, the competition brings the best out of the players," Dhoni said today when asked about the pressure on Yuvraj to hold his Test spot. "It's really good that players are pushing each other to get a slot in the middle order in the longer format. So it's good. The more the competition the better it is." There was no mention of Yuvraj to a direct question but the message was there between the lines.
However, just when you think he is in a real peril, Yuvraj surprises you with a charming innings, like it happened in Bangalore against Pakistan, and against England in Chennai. On such days, everything looks imperious - the high back lift, the astonishingly clean swing of the bat, the gorgeous sense of timing and the sheer audacity to pull of breathtaking shots just makes you gasp. Then, very quickly, the imposter returns. Who will turn up in Mirpur?
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo