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Yuvraj can no longer take his place for granted
by Partab Ramchand
Feb 14, 2008
Yuvraj Singh is fast learning that cricket, like life, can be a great leveler and that the transition from hero to zero can be swift. He will also probably learn that the transition back from zero to hero will be time consuming requiring a lot of patience, perseverance and a strong will.

As if his scores of 0, 12, 5 and 0 in the Tests were not bad enough Yuvraj has now repeatedly failed in a format in which he has excelled – limited overs cricket. Scores of 2, 3 and 6 can mean only one thing – a break from the game and time for some deep introspection for the prodigiously talented 26-year-old Indian vice-captain.

The joke doing the rounds is that a young fan arrives in Australia and asks where he can find Yuvraj. ``Anywhere but at the wicket’’ is the answer. To be candid I have been disappointed with his no-show. In his painfully short stays there has been a lack of everything – application, determination, concentration, temperament, technique.

After his disappointing show in the Test matches I wondered whether in the back of his mind the thought that the team composition had been changed to accommodate him wore him down mentally. I reckoned that this put some sort of pressure on him to perform and he was but a shadow of the natural stroke playing batsman we have seen lambasting bowlers not only in limited overs cricket in which he excels but also now and then in the longer version of the game.

But then I was sure that being mentally strong he would shrug it off once the Commonwealth Bank tri series got underway. He has a sky high reputation in the shorter versions of the game and we all sat back confident that the fours and sixes would flow from his bat in gay profusion against the hapless bowlers from Australia and Sri Lanka. On the contrary it is Yuvraj who has looked as helpless as a butterfly in a gale as he has just been swept aside having faced just 28 balls in three matches.

Has success gone to Yuvraj’s head? If this is the case then it is not for the first time that he has been affected by the heady success syndrome. When he burst upon the scene in Nairobi with an electrifying 84 against Australia in 2000 he was immediately put on a pedestal. Within months having just crossed 19 he signed a lucrative Pepsi contract. Not unexpectedly he was not yet ready to handle all this and his career nosedived. He lost his place in the ODI squad but then Yuvraj is also a fighter and he did fight his way back. In the early years of the new millennium he was an integral part of the one day squad but with the Big Four around he would have to bide his time before booking a berth in the middle order in the Test team.

The truth is that over the last four years whenever he has got a look-in thanks to one superstar being injured or another being dropped Yuvraj despite the odd brilliant knock that brings out his class in full measure has not really consolidated his place. Australia presented the best chance. His majestic 169 against Pakistan at Bangalore late last year had the critics raving. The pro-Yuvraj arguments started in real earnest. He has to be accommodated they said even if the Big Four are playing and even if it meant a readjustment in the batting order. So we had Rahul Dravid offering to open while VVS Laxman was sent in at No 3 all in order to slot in Yuvraj at No 6. And what did the 26-year-old do in repaying his debt? He managed 17 runs in four innings.

Suddenly Yuvraj is just not in the zone, as the expression goes. To me all this is quite inexplicable. The cynics might argue that it is yet another case of the heady success syndrome. Only a few months back he was fussed about and feted as the biggest hero of the Twenty20 World Cup triumph particularly for his feat of hitting Stuart Broad for six sixes in an over in the game against England. Expensive gifts and cash awards came his way with sponsors making a beeline to sign him up for endorsements. Somehow he seemed to have shrugged of all this to keep his focus on the game which he showed with that blistering 169. His swashbuckling skills had the critics raving about him. ``Shades of Lara’’ said some. ``Brings back memories of Sobers’’ gushed others. Actually the critics should have reigned themselves in keeping in mind the benign nature of the Chinnaswamy stadium pitch as also the lacklustre Pakistan bowling.

The fact remains that Yuvraj is ambitious. When he was out for 169 he was irked making it clear that his target was 200. He has also said more than once that he wants to be a better Test batsman. He certainly will have to better his current Test record – 1018 runs from 22 Tests at an average of 32.83 – if he will have to live up to his image of the leader of the Generation Next of Indian batsman in the next couple of years once the Big Four have called it a day. 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 Kapil Dev in an interview last year.

I am not sure if Yuvraj is aware of this responsibility that will be his in the near future. If not he should be made aware of it. And to show that he is ready to shoulder the considerable task and be the first to take the baton from the Fab Four he has got to be among the runs now. Yuvraj is too good a batsman to be languishing among the low scores. He is a batsman born to rule, to dominate the bowlers, to send the ball to all parts of the ground, to hit it hard, high and handsomely. Keeping his feet firmly planted on Mother Earth will help and once he finds his true touch believe me it will be a day to rejoice for Indian cricket.

Right now though he has to turn his sagging career around - and he had better hurry. The young Indian team is doing rather well despite Yuvraj’s poor form and this is because others in the middle order have been contributing. Rohit Sharma has been a revelation, skipper Dhoni has been in the right aggressive vein and Gautam Gambhir has been among the runs. There are several other claimants in Robin Uthappa, Suresh Raina and Dinesh Karthik. In the form that he is Yuvraj can no longer take his place for granted and this is not something that could have been said not too long ago.

 
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