Is this the end of the road for Yuvraj Singh or will he bounce back as he once did remarkably after fighting a bout with cancer? Now that Team India has finished the Sri Lanka series on the highest ever note possible in a first whitewash of an away series in 85 years, the focus shifts back to the limited-overs game. The World Cup is less than two years away and it’s time to take a couple of big decisions now rather than later. The first is on the future of Yuvraj, as classy a match winner as any in the international short game.
A day after the selectors bit the bullet and ruled him out of the ODIs in Sri Lanka, the news was leaked that Yuvraj had failed a speed and endurance test at the NCA (along with Suresh Raina) and that was the reason why he was excluded. This is entirely believable and the think tank can hardly be faulted for insisting on the highest fitness levels for the ODI team. It’s no secret that the sharper and shorter games demand much higher fitness levels and there is no point relaxing them on sentimental grounds and then paying the price or making excuses.
In his prime, Yuvraj was the finest of one-day cricketers. Sparkling right from his debut in Africa back at the start of the millennium, Yuvi was the knee’s bees in the trade. Who can forget his six sixes in an over of Stuart Broad in the first ever T20 worlds? His contribution to the 2011 world Cup triumph was invaluable as he made the gutsiest half century to win the quarter-final against Australia, which was the virtual final, as the two teams were the best in the tournament.
There was always an enviable air of arrogance to his batting, right from the princely and high back lift down to the flourish of the finish in which his signal of intent to ‘murder’ the bowling was transmitted leaving not an iota of doubt. Put him in a Test match situation and he could almost like a novice while he tried to settle down. But wake him up from his bed and put him in an ODI and he could smack the first ball he faced for a mighty six down the ground with the aplomb of a pedigree batsman, with style to boot.
Time waits for no one and it’s hard to see Yuvraj be the dominant figure in England in 2019 that he was in 2011 in India. He is not the ‘Octopus’ either in the circle as he used to be when younger. The new norms on fitness may have ruled him out right away. It appears some challenging yardsticks are being applied now on the seniors too, which is good. The suspicion is Ravichandran Ashwin’s county stint has less to do with his gaining English experience at this stage in his career as it may have to do with a warning being issued to the all-rounder that he has to look seriously at his one-day form if he wants to make it to the World Cup.
“Perform or perish” and “shape up or ship out” are the new slogans and we know where they are coming from. This was probably the very reason why the new management team of Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli, or vice versa, came into existence. They would have to make these kind of early calls on the likely composition of the 2019 team to the world Cup so that messages sink in and targeted players improve soon or give up the dream of being in a big event again.
It does appear now that a fitter and younger team will be there in England. This is a forward looking policy and India sentimentality must be shown the door if Team India is to be give the best shot at the crown that was out of reach the last time out because of Australia’s brilliance and New Zealand’s adventurous mode of play under Brendon McCullum. Today’s ODI’s depend as much on power of sustained hitting as in acrobatic fielding on the line against the big hits. To do this it takes young blood and alert bodies.