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By Sunil Gavaskar
Yuvraj Singh’s return to international cricket consumed the Indian cricket lovers the entire last week. When the first T20 match at Vizag got washed out the excitement built up even more as the fans now had to endure another 48 hours before they could see Yuvraj in India colours again. Yuvi himself was anxious and understandably nervous and couldn’t wait for the weather to clear in Chennai and get back on the field. I don’t think he would have been as anxious and nervous way back in 2000 in Nairobi, Kenya, just before he played his first game for India.
Luckily the clouds cleared and the game could begin. When he came on the field he got a standing ovation which was not only a tribute to his fight, but also an outpouring of affection. Very few sportspersons get such a reaction and Yuvraj will know he is blessed to have such love from Indian fans, many if not all, would have prayed for his successful recovery. Dhoni did the right thing by throwing him the ball quickly and when his first few deliveries landed bang on target it was clear that he had lost nothing in the long gap between his last game for India, and his comeback game. He also found out soon enough how hard the cricket ball can be when Brendon McCullum hit a fierce drive back at him, and it was once again Yuvraj’s reflexes that got his hand to the ball which most others would have struggled to reach. He had to go off the field for attention to the hand.
Still it was his batting that all had come to watch. Only Sachin Tendulkar gets the kind of reception that Yuvraj got. He was a bit slow on the footwork, with the front foot often being rooted in the stance position, but the more time he spent the surer the feet started to move and when he casually flicked Vettori over the midwicket boundary for a huge six, the crowd went wild. Just as India were cruising to a win inexplicably, both he and Dhoni went into their shells and allowed New Zealand to get back in the game. Dhoni is a magnificent finisher and with Yuvi keeping him company, India felt they were still safe. However the script did not have a happy ending as India finished short and allowed the Kiwis to keep their unbeaten record against India in the T20 format to remain intact. They thus ended the tour on a happier note than anticipated, and travel to Sri Lanka for the ICC T20 World Cup with loads of confidence.
India on the other hand will have to take stock and look at their combination. Virender Sehwag’s absence through illness did allow Dhoni to play both Rohit Sharma and Manoj Tiwary, but both did not get a chance to bat, with Sharma getting only two balls to face. The more pressing issue is about what the attack should be. Yuvraj’s return gives the skipper more flexibility and Raina, Sharma and Tiwary can all roll their arms over more than usefully. Batting deep does allow the team to chase big totals, but it also pretty much forces them to field first and that does not make good tactics always especially in knockout games where it is better to put the runs on the board and let the other team feel the pressure of getting them. Of course if rains are expected and the dreaded D/L method is likely to be used then it makes sense to field first.
India have fared quite miserably after the first T20 World Cup which they won and it is pretty much like England, who play so much club football, but are simply unable to put a winning team together for England. India with the IPL plays more T20 cricket than anywhere else in the world and so they should be more experienced, but when it comes to performing for India the franchise players just aren’t able to do it. India’s fielding though is most electric in this form of the game and with Yuvraj back in the team it is even better than it was earlier. This could well make the difference in a low scoring game and with the Lankan pitches not aiding spin as they used to, it could well be the team with a balanced attack that could take the trophy home.
Yuvraj's comeback has only whetted the appetite and as the season unfolds the hope is that he gets stronger and better and gives the thrills that he usually does.
If India wins, that will be the icing on the cake.