Yuvraj Singh's year started ignominiously, with a sleepwalking performance at the Sydney Cricket Ground. When he was dropped ahead of India's famous victory in Perth, no one raised a voice. One of the prodigals of the Indian game had been given his chance, and he had blown it. What a difference 12 months makes, though. With Sourav Ganguly now gone, and having played his part in the most remarkable of run chases in Chennai, Yuvraj doesn't need to look over his shoulder, and the confidence with which he batted on the fourth evening went a long way towards eliminating the slim possibility of an Indian defeat.
Home turf hasn't meant happy hunting ground for Yuvraj. This is his third Test at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium and the 27 he made in the first innings was his highest score. When he came to the crease midway through the final session, India were just 231 ahead, and the English bowlers had slowed the run flow to a trickle.
After his repeated run-ins with Kevin Pietersen, who stood at leg slip while Yuvraj took guard, there was also the prospect of a few verbal googlies being tossed his way. Yuvraj says he looked forward to it. "Sometimes it fires you up, sometimes it backfires," he said. "When you are chatted to, it makes you stronger, more focused. I really don't mind the chat.
"I actually look forward to it because I think it brings out the best in me. It backfired in the first innings in Chennai, in the second it made me stronger. It's healthy competition out there, no bad-mouthing. Both the teams are trying to punch the opposition to win the game, so it's healthy competition."
Healthy or not, it spurred Yuvraj into playing some fine strokes. The run-blockade was eased, and India finished the day in an extremely comfortable position. "It depends on the weather tomorrow," Yuvraj said when asked about the prospects of an Indian victory. "There's a disadvantage there because of the weather, we could lose a couple of hours. Hopefully, we'll get the maximum possible overs and we'll be able to get some runs and bowl them out."
Given the two stunning chases cricket has seen over the past week, there were no thoughts on what constituted a safe target. "On the last day, any target is difficult to get," he said. "For us in Chennai, 387 was tough to get, and I'm sure we'll set them a tough target."
Chennai was a huge innings for Yuvraj in more ways than one, though he insisted that the gremlins of doubt hadn't been keeping him awake at night. "I never thought that I didn't belong to this arena because I have three Test hundreds," he said. "It's all media speculation, or I don't know what goes on. I never had a doubt and I just wanted to spend some time in the middle and I knew the runs will come. If you work hard on your game, the runs will come. That's what happened in the second innings."
|"I never thought that I didn't belong to this arena because I have three Test hundreds," Yuvraj said. "It's all media speculation … If you work hard on your game, the runs will come"|
Following Virender Sehwag's run-out soon after lunch, India appeared to have lost their way for the remainder of the session, but Yuvraj was adamant that this was no one-trick team. "When Viru starts off and gets a partnership, we get into a very good position early on," he said. "But if we lose a few wickets, we need to get a partnership. Gautam and I have had a good one and it has brought the game towards us.
"We're not depending on any particular person. Sometimes it's Viru, sometimes it's Gautam. Rahul has shown what a class player he is. Mahi batted so well in the first innings in Chennai. So it's not anyone particular, it's the whole team. It's just that the team is gelling very well, enjoying each other's success.
"I think with Gary Kirsten and Paddy Upton, the atmosphere in the team is good. We enjoy what we do. If we're under pressure, we know we have a bunch of guys who can come up with match-winning knocks or spells. Our bowling has been exceptional. Along with Harbhajan, Zaheer has been the frontline bowler and Ishant is doing well, so we have a great all-round bunch of players."
The man who leads came in for more than his fair share of praise. "First, he [Dhoni] is very cool-headed, that's the best part about him. When he took up captaincy, nobody knew that he could do a great job. He always has a Plan B. Like when England were batting, we got a few wickets, and then KP and Freddie got a few runs and he slowed down the game. The moment we had two wickets, we pounced on the batsmen. He's always thinking, he's always asking for suggestions from everyone."
And what of throwing pies? Pietersen was far from amused when Dhoni brought Yuvraj on for the third over on Sunday morning, and he let his feelings be known after the day's play. "When I got up in the morning, I read the paper, and I said 'what does this [pie-chucker] mean?' So I asked a few people there what it meant, and they said it meant a 'useless kind of bowler'. It shows KP hates getting out to me. Well, a useless bowler getting him out many times would be because of useless batting, I'd say! But that's okay.
"He's a phenomenal player and batted like a champion. He's got 15 hundreds in 40-odd matches - that's phenomenal. But he tried to get under my skin in the last game and that brought out the best in me. I tried the same and it brought out the best in him. So it's good competition in the field. But I don't have a habit of washing dirty linen in the open, in public. But I like the name, eh?"
If he can get a few more runs on Tuesday morning and play his part in another Indian victory, Yuvraj, who cheekily offered Pietersen some bowling tips, won't particularly care what the English call him. When you've come back from oblivion and the team's winning, nothing else matters.