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By Partab Ramchand
He is the front runner for the player of the tournament award. Four man of the match awards in seven games is an achievement beyond any other cricketer in World Cup history and to think that these feats have been notched up by a player who sometime ago was thinking about quitting the game. But then Yuvraj Singh has always been mentally strong and has the ability to pick himself from the ground as it were and come back with more than just a bang. And today Yuvraj is verily the Maharaj of Indian cricket.
In fact coming into the World Cup Yuvraj had endured such a long fruitless spell with the bat that questions were being asked about his retention in the ODI side. One could not believe that such doubts were being raised about Yuvraj for whatever his chequered record in Test matches his game was tailor made for limited overs cricket. But the fall in his output was there for all to see and from the Indian viewpoint it was alarming. But Yuvraj symbolizes the adage that form is temporary and class is permanent. Despite there being many claimants to fill the middle order the selectors and the team management kept their faith in the left hander who has class, skill and experience and in the World Cup this faith has been vindicated.
It is not just with the bat that Yuvraj has been performing but by working hard on his bowling he has transformed himself from a part timer into a frontline spinner. He can now be counted upon to bowl the full quota of ten overs and pick up wickets too. In the competition he became the first player to score a half century and finish with a five wicket haul. During the campaign he has topped the 8000-run mark and the 100-wicket mark. All rounder Yuvraj now in his tenth year in international cricket has emerged as a key figure in the Indian campaign.
A natural fighter, Yuvraj came through a bout of dehydration while compiling his hundred against the West Indies at Chennai. He came in when India were 51 for two and took some time to settle down. The in-form Virat Kohli was at the other end but soon Yuvraj matched him in effusive stroke play and quick run production. Ere long they had wrested control and were dominating the bowlers. The two added 122 runs for the third wicket before Kohli was bowled by Ravi Rampaul for 59. By now Yuvaj was dehydrated and suffered from stomach cramps the harsh March sun taking its toll with the stadium being a virtual cauldron. Still he hung on unleashing his trademark drives, pulls and cuts besides his favourite lofted shots. After receiving treatment at the drinks interval Yuvraj got to his century – his first ODI hundred in almost two years - off just 112 balls. He was out to the last ball of the 45th over after nursing the innings through a critical period and his 113 was compiled off only 123 balls laced with ten fours and two sixes. The collapse that followed his dismissal puts his contribution in proper perspective.
But then there should never have been any doubts about his sublime batting approach which has been compared to that of Gary Sobers and Brian Lara. However it is his left arm spin bowling that has emerged the surprise packet of India’s campaign. His sinuously flighted deliveries and subtle change of pace has lured many leading batsmen to their doom beating them in the air and off the pitch too with a fair amount of turn. He is fit to take his place alongside Harbhajan Singh and in fact has upstaged the feisty sardar in the wicket taking act in the World Cup.
The great thing is that his greater bowling responsibilities have not in any way affected his aggressive batting. He is still a batsman who can turn things around with timely strokes that pierce the in field and race to the boundary or lofted hits that clear the ground. Since he is mentally very strong a crisis brings out the best in him. His match winning knock against Australia was a little gem. He refused to be bogged down despite the considerable responsibility on his shoulders. Instead he proceeded to show why he is such a commanding batsman. He handled the pace trio of Brett Lee, Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson with panache, dealt suitably with Shane Watson, David Hussey and Jason Krejza and soon the siege – following the middle order slump - had been lifted. The hunter became the hunted as Yuvraj with timely bursts of aggression wrested the initiative.
With 341 runs at an average of 113.66 and a strike rate of over 86 coupled with eleven wickets – next only to Zaheer Khan’s haul of 17 – Yuvraj is India’s man of the moment. And one can safely predict that his stellar role in India’s campaign is not over yet.