Hyderabad: Yuvraj Singh is an enigma who has not only frustrated fans of his talent like me, but I dare say he himself too. After 14 years he has been unable to seal a place in the side and questions are now being asked whether he can make another comeback at all.
When he burst on the scene in circa 2000, Yuvraj was arguably the most exciting talent in India, matched only by perhaps Virender Sehwag who came a couple of years later. A prolific performer in the under-19 age group, he was widely — and justifiably then — hailed as arguably the most naturally gifted player since Sachin Tendulkar.
He had panache and style; the gift of timing and also power to go with it — and a brilliant fielder to boot. Those who saw him in his early years predicted a long and productive career for Yuvraj. My own estimation was at least 8000 Test and 10000 ODI runs.
After 14 years, he has 8329 ODI runs, which is not bad, but only 1900 in Tests, which is staggeringly poor for a player of his caliber. Inexplicably, his career has moved in fits and bursts.
When he has been in form, he has been destructive. Alas, more often than not, he has struggled for consistency and relinquished his place in the side every now and then — in Tests now almost permanently.
By common consensus, he is a terrific match-winner in limited overs cricket. His batting in the 2007 T20 World Cup was exhilarating, especially the six sixes in an over from Stuart Broad which set the cricket world ablaze. He was also the fulcrum of the team which won the 2011 World Cup, succeeding with both bat and ball.
For all that, his form has been frustratingly flip-flop form in the last couple of years. True, he suffered from a debilitating ailment after the World Cup which would have finished off the career of a less hardy player — both in body and mind. But while his comeback was heroic, his performances since then have been lukewarm.
The last 3-4 months have been particularly shallow for Yuvraj has squandered several opportunities, especially in the ODI series against Australia. He was unfortunate to get only one match in South Africa, but in a short series, he should have been on his guard.
It can be argued with some justification that Yuvraj has done no worse than Suresh Raina who finds himself on the flight to New Zealand later this month. Indeed rumours abound that is only because Raina enjoys captain Dhoni’s benevolence.
Not being a conspiracy theorist, I hope this is untrue. My information is Raina made the squad by the skin of his teeth — and his future hangs by a slender thread. In a toss up between the two, Yuvraj lost out. My preference would have been the latter (subject to fitness), but I am not a selector.
That said, the more unfortunate in my opinion are Pragyan Ojha and Gautam Gambhir for not being on the New Zealand tour. The moot question, however, is whether this spells the end for Yuvraj or acts as a trigger for another, stronger comeback.
I wouldn’t write him off just yet. At 32, Yuvraj is not long in the tooth. The 2015 World Cup is a marquee tournament that he must aim for. India is still looking for an all-rounder and there is still more than 15 months for that event. But the formation of the squad will begin to take shape now.
Given India’s struggles overseas — and the fact that so many tours are planned in this year — I believe an opportunity could come his way again. An in-form Yuvraj would be first choice for any selection committee. But he has to score runs. Heavily. Getting into the side won’t be easy considering the competition from younger players. Does he have the hunger and ambition still? Only one man can answer that.