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Yuvraj needs to reinvent himself - Suresh Menon column
by Suresh Menon
Sep 15, 2008
In a couple of months, Yuvraj Singh will be 27 years old. For a cricketer, that is a good age to be. Batsmen are at the peak of their powers, fast bowlers have learnt most of what they are likely to learn; spinners rejoice in the knowledge that their peak is still a season or two away. Sportsmen, once they reach their peak must now concentrate on postponing the downhill slide for as long as possible.

Then it is down to such imponderables as temperament, focus, passion for the game, fitness, discipline and so on. Sunil Gavaskar batted on for a decade after 27; Venkatraghavan was still playing Test cricket at 38 and first class cricket for a few years more.

But at an age when Yuvraj should have been pushing for the India captaincy, it is all beginning to unravel for him. After five years and 23 Tests, he does not find a place in the Rest of India team for the Irani Trophy. With both the veterans and youngsters fighting for the middle order slots in the Indian team, Yuvraj seems to have been squeezed out. Neither senior enough to be protected, nor young enough to be given another chance.

So what went wrong? Those who will reduce everything to technique will point to his weaknesses against the moving as well as the turning ball - it is a double whammy. Others will put it down to his temperament, his lifestyle, his obvious enjoyment of the good things. Yet, the Indian team is full of success stories where one or the other of the handicaps has been overcome.

From the Pataudi era, Indian players, in general, like sportsmen everywhere have found it easy to indulge in the good things. The only difference was whether they were discreet about it or otherwise. Players who are worshipped today as heroes of the past have staggered into Tests nursing hangovers or trying to remember the name of the woman they were with the previous night. Seldom has this affected performance. Yuvraj, who has known from the start how difficult it is to break into the Indian middle order, is probably more disciplined than some of these heroes. Unfortunately, he plays at a time when the media attention is so much greater.

Could his other, more basic problem be sorted out? In 23 Tests, Yuvraj averages 33; away it drops to 29. His average against Australia is 9.14. The question is, did Yuvraj spend enough time in the nets, go back to the drawing board often enough?

Sadly, in our country, once a player makes it to the highest level going back to school is seen as demeaning. Elsewhere, international players go back to their National Academies to sort out technical issues. Indian batsmen work on the theory that one good innings will take care of their future. A century on a flat track against mediocre bowling is always round the corner.

Like the girl in the nursery rhyme, when he is good, Yuvraj is very good, but when he is bad he is horrid. That he is talented, there is no doubt. But sometimes talent can be a curse. Talent alone cannot see a player through. Perhaps this is where the cricket board comes in. Player rehabilitation is not about looking after players following retirement. Those playing and struggling need guidance too. The Board has not known how to handle those who do not fall into a pattern. The Vinod Kamblis, for example, were lost to the game for being different.

With some effort from the Board and a lot of effort from the player, Yuvraj need not end his career at 27. He is crucial to the one-day scheme of things, but he can still be an important Test player. Especially now, with the career of the Fabulous Four winding down.
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