It would be easy to shrug off - or maybe even laugh at - Hanif Mohammed's assertion that Yuvraj Singh reminded him of Gary Sobers. After all can any left-hander be compared to Sobers except perhaps Brian Lara? But while Lara rivaled Sobers in both style and substance, even Yuvraj will admit that he has fallen considerably short in the latter category.
It would be easy to shrug off – or maybe even laugh at – Hanif Mohammed’s assertion that Yuvraj Singh reminded him of Gary Sobers. After all, can any left-hander be compared to Sobers except perhaps Brian Lara? But while Lara rivaled Sobers in both style and substance, Yuvraj has fallen considerably short in the latter category. As regards style, this is not the first time that Yuvraj has been talked of in the same breath as Sobers. When he scored that majestic 169 against Pakistan at Bangalore late last year, even experienced observers of the game gushed that there were shades of Sobers and Lara in his style and approach. That confident - almost swaggering - manner, the free slowing strokes, the classical high back lift and full follow through when he drove or played the lofted shots were indeed reminiscent of the two Caribbean legends.
Hanif should know what he is talking about. For one thing, the 73-year-old Pakistani legend is not given to hyperbole. Second, his knowledge of the game and its players cannot be questioned. Moreover, he played against Sobers in the West Indies and in Pakistan during the late fifties. Hanif spent considerable hours in the field watching Sobers compile his record score of 365 not out at Kingston in 1958 after he himself had played one of the game’s immortal knocks a couple of Tests earlier – 337 for which he batted 973 minutes.
Therefore, Hanif's view that there exist stark similarities between the styles of both left-handers cannot be shrugged off. Hanif says that he was reminded of Sobers after he saw Yuvraj hit six sixes in an over off Stuart Broad in the ICC World Twenty20 last year. Sobers was, in fact the first to achieve this feat in first-class cricket in 1968. He has lavished praise on the mercurial Indian left-hander, adding that he has become a fan of the stylish batsman. "He is so talented. His approach to a delivery, his adjustment to the ball reminds me of Sobers. I am a great fan of Sobers and Yuvraj's style is similar to Sobers," Hanif is quoted to have said in an interview to a television channel.
Prodigiously gifted, Yuvraj has been promising great things for a long time now. But while he certainly has made a mark in the shorter versions of the game, his Test record is anything but enviable. He has reason to feel aggrieved for not having cemented a place for himself in the test squad. True, it is not easy to force yourself in when the competition is a quartet that comprises Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman. Despite that, Yuvraj is no ordinary talent. Ever since that dramatic entry at Nairobi in October 2000 against Australia,he has been destined for greatness.
Nearly eight years later, it can be said that he has fallen well short of this exalted status thanks to a moderate Test record, even though he has played 23 matches since his debut almost five years ago. An average of 32.8 does no credit for a batsman of Yuvraj’s class and ability. Compare this with his ODI record which shows him having a highly impressive average of 36.5 even while maintaining a high strike rate of 87.1. Clearly, there are missing pieces in the Yuvraj jigsaw puzzle.
Yuvraj has the natural talent to have better figures in the longer version of the game as well, but despite having been given opportunities, he has not been able to cash in on them. The tour of Australia last winter is a case in point. To accommodate Yuvraj in the side, the team management pushed Dravid to open the batting. This was the ultimate acknowledgement of his class and potential greatness. But a strangely diffident Yuvraj struggled for a pathetic return of 17 runs in four innings – including two ducks – and predictably enough he had to be shown the door again. But he will have to do much better if he is to live up to his image of the leader of the Generation Next of Indian batsman. Kapil Dev, for one, has already spoken quite candidly on the subject and has said that the likes of Yuvraj and Dhoni
should take up more responsibility. “The two are the leaders of the younger brigade and should be the first to take the baton from the senior pros. They are the future of Indian cricket and the size of their task is considerable”, said the former Indian captain in an interview last year.
Yuvraj himself has admitted that Test cricket is the pinnacle of the game and he would like to excel in it. He is too good a batsman to be languishing on the sidelines. But life presents very few opportunities, and this applies even to the prodigiously gifted. Yuvraj Singh's time to shine is now. Keeping his feet firmly planted on Mother Earth will help. Still only 26, Yuvraj will only be doing justice to himself by not joining the long list of sportspersons who could never convert their sporting potential to greatness.