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Eye on India: Yuvraj Singh not a long-term solution but enjoy his swansong while it lasts

In this week's Eye on India column, Dileep Premachandran focuses on India's comeback king Yuvraj Singh.
Yuvraj Singh celebrates his century for India against England on Thursday. Adnan Abidi / Reuters
Yuvraj Singh celebrates his century for India against England on Thursday. Adnan Abidi / Reuters

A little perspective first. When Yuvraj Singh first batted in an international match, at the ICC Knockout – precursor to the Champions Trophy – in October 2000, Virat Kohli was an 11 year old that few outside of Rajkumar Sharma’s West Delhi Cricket Academy were even aware of.

MS Dhoni was about to be posted to Kharagpur Railway Station as a Travelling Ticket Examiner. Hardik Pandya, the latest all-round option in the Indian side, was seven.

That morning at the Gymkhana Club Ground in Nairobi, Yuvraj betrayed no signs of beginner’s nerves.

“In his first international innings, 18-year-old Yuvraj Singh displayed astonishing poise, thrashing Australia’s star-studded attack for 84 from 80 balls,” said the Wisden Almanack.

“No other batsman reached 40 ... Yuvraj, whose father Yograj played one Test for India, was in the thick of things again, taking a marvellous catch off [Ian] Harvey and running out [Michael] Bevan with a direct hit.”

His 150 on Thursday was his first three-figure knock for India in nearly six years, since an epic 2011 World Cup campaign where he outshone even Sachin Tendulkar.

It was his second match in Indian ODI colours since being dropped at the end of 2013, and a fitting riposte to those that had queried his selection after some indifferent efforts in the Twenty20 format.

Over 16 T20 innings in 2014 and 2016 – years that saw India fall tantalisingly short – Yuvraj managed just 266 runs.

His strike-rate was a run a ball, pitiful for a man who had smashed Stuart Broad for six sixes in Durban in the inaugural global tournament.

The consensus, even within the cricket fraternity, seemed to be that Yuvraj’s race was run.

Kohli, however, had always been a fan. And with India’s ODI form having been so patchy since the run to the World Cup semi-final in 2015, the selectors were tempted to try an experienced hand to shore up a malfunctioning middle order. It helped Yuvraj that he had an excellent Ranji Trophy season with Punjab.

The format did not matter, nor did the quality of the opposition. It did not escape attention that he was striking the ball with something like the fluency of old.

In Cuttack, England found out just how well. Some of the shots through cover and mid-wicket were a throwback to the halcyon years, when few timed a cricket ball better.

There was also delicious irony in the fact that the match-changing partnership of 256 was with Dhoni, who many, including Yograj Singh, who in the past accused Dhoni of scuttling his son’s career.

As much a fan as Kohli is, Yuvraj, who turned 35 on December 12, is unlikely to be viewed as a long-term option.

In June, India defend the Champions Trophy in England. The objective for now is to put the strongest team on the park for that. When he bats like he did in Cuttack, Yuvraj makes the cut easily.

Once the Champions Trophy is over, the emphasis will switch to the 2019 World Cup, also in England.

The likes of Manish Pandey and Karun Nair will come into the mix, as will Rishabh Pant, the Delhi wicketkeeper-batsman whose big hitting is exciting people in much the same manner that Yuvraj did at the turn of the millennium.

For now though, the man and his supporters can savour the most improbable of comebacks.

“‘Fierce’ should be his middle name,” wrote Hazel Keech, the actress who married him last November, in an Instagram post.

“150 runs from 127 balls, Man of the Match, India won 2-0 against England in ODIs. Not forgetting coming back from CANCER, getting his health and fitness back post chemo therapy and finally being in the ODI team after all of that. Throw in a wedding somewhere. That, ladies and gentleman, it what it looks like to never give up. There’s the difference in surviving cancer and beating cancer.”

You will not find too many dissenting voices in India right now.

Despite obstacles, T20 World Cup for the blind goes ahead

These days, you cannot stroll too far in any of the major Indian cities without Kohli’s face peering down at you from some advertising hoarding or the other.

Now installed as India’s captain across all three formats, Kohli is enjoying the kind of pan-Indian adulation that was once the sole preserve of Sachin Tendulkar.

Ajay Kumar Reddy could walk down the main street in any of the same cities and be completely ignored. Only the observant few would note that his vision was impaired.

Reddy will captain in the Twenty20 World Cup for the blind, a tournament that had enjoyed the support of Anurag Thakur in the days before he was fired as president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

With just over a week to go for the opening match, featuring India and Bangladesh in New Delhi, officials from the Cricket Association for the Blind in India (CABI) are still scrambling for funds.

The money promised them by Thakur is now held up, with the BCCI in a state of administrative paralysis.

“Considering the logistics like the accommodation for the players and staff, looking after the travel arrangements, the costs involved are high,” said GK Mahantesh, the CABI president, at a media briefing in Bangalore on Friday.

Fortunately for him, despite scant assistance from the Indian government, the Karnataka state authorities have pledged 10 million Rupees (Dh540,000) for the smooth conduct of the tournament.

The Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA), whose long-time supremo, Brijesh Patel, had to resign earlier in January – after the Supreme Court insisted that the BCCI follow the recommendations of the Lodha Committee set up to reform it – are supporting the competition by hosting 10 of the 45 matches at Alur, on the outskirts of Bangalore.

The final, however, will not be far from the madding crowd, with the Chinnaswamy Stadium in the heart of the city playing host.

India are the defending champions, and awareness about the competition has increased as a result of television promotions. The organisers have also roped in Rahul Dravid, legendary batsman and all-round nice guy, as a brand ambassador for the event. Two Delhi stalwarts, Ashish Nehra and Gautam Gambhir, have also lent their faces and voices.

Reddy and others like Prakasha Jayaramiah, his deputy, may never become household names, but thanks to the tireless efforts of the organisers and advocates like Dravid, they too will enjoy two weeks in the sun.

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Updated: January 21, 2017 04:00 AM

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