It almost seems wrong to question a player seeped so deep in India’s modern cricketing history. And as Indians, we tend to have a strong sense of wrong and right. Questioning Yuvraj Singh, even after a perilous four off 12 deliveries seems wrong. Which is why, both on air and on twitter, the bane of all jokes and ridicule was not Yuvraj, it was Manish Pandey.
It took Yuvraj six deliveries to get off the mark – but it can be argued, what are six deliveries for Yuvraj? Didn’t he dismiss six deliveries for six sixes? Against these very Englishmen?
That was September 19, 2007. This was January 29, 2017. That was Kingsmead, Durban, South Africa. This was VCAS, Nagpur, India. That was Yuvraj’s third T20 international match. This his 57th. The two are separated by nearly 10 years.
In the minds of Ravi Shastri and twitter, this gap doesn’t exist. India’s cricketing lore extends to forever, and much as it is part of that magnificent first World T20 victory, it is part of India’s selection. Not just for yesterday, and the match before that, but for every World T20s that India wants to rekindle the past. It’s on call after all.
Ironically, in that fateful World T20 2014 final, at Mirpur in Bangladesh, (as in yesterday’s match) India was at 64 for two when Yuvraj Singh froze at the crease. He came in the 11th over, stayed stuck till the 19th – added 11 off 21 deliveries, no fours, no sixes. At the other end was Virat Kohli, who smashed 77 off 54 deliveries.
Here too, at the other end was a batsman in top gear, who smashed a 70 odd. This just highlighted, again, how much at sea Yuvraj can be in the shortest format. While ODIs give Yuvraj the chance to warm his cricketing engines before he can tee off, doing the same in a T20 proves match losing, more often than not.
One look at the runs’ graphs from 2014, it’s easy to tell when Yuvraj was on strike: in the 11th over when 1 run was scored, in the 15th when 2 runs were scored, in the 17th and 18th overs, when four runs were scored.
Yesterday, when Yuvraj came on to bat, his old nemesis, an off spinner was bowling. There he was the champion T20 slayer of yore, the one-day master, all tangled up in blue.
Sometimes, the visuals convey so much, it’s pointless to add a word. Perhaps that’s why they were quiet in commentary. Against Moeen Ali, Yuvraj Singh was like a puppet on a string.
In his brief innings that appeared woefully long, he was dismissed twice in the seven balls he faced off Ali – once not given by the umpire, when he collapsed at the crease in knots; and the second time, when the umpire did him and India a favour by raising the finger.
But it was Manish Pandey whose wicket India and the commentators wanted. Almost oblivious to the tough batting conditions, Shastri & Co made no bones about wanting MS Dhoni in the middle. They somehow restrained themselves from not saying, "Pandey should get out and do us all a favour".
As for Pandey, he continued taking singles, giving the strike back to KL Rahul. Unlike Yuvraj who did not score off his first six deliveries, Pandey took a single off each of his first nine deliveries.
In all, Pandey didn’t score off just 3 deliveries of the 26 he faced. Yuvraj didn’t score off 9 deliveries of the 12 that he faced.
It can be argued that apart from KL Rahul, no batsman appeared in on this pitch, and by taking those singles down to long on, Pandey was exercising the best option for India – getting the boundary hitter on strike.
But that was lost on everyone. After the lore of Yuvraj, they wanted the lore of Dhoni on strike. Dhoni made five off seven. There were five singles in that. But the commentators will tell you, repeatedly, that Dhoni needs time to get his eye in and should have been sent earlier instead of Pandey.
For them, there’s only one answer: Dhoni is yet to score a half century in T20Is for India. His highest score is 48*.
It’s time India collectively stops living in ODIs when they’re playing T20s. It can only do them good.
But 58 off 16 deliveries, not easy to let go, even if it was way back in 2007. And the first ball he faced that day, he didn’t score off either. Sometimes, it’s the six deliveries of separation between Yuvraj and us that we refuse to let go off.