x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Time for Yuvraj to fulfil his promise

He was as prolific in the early days of Dhoni's tenure, but injuries and poor fitness have seen him marginalised even in an arena where he was once seen as central to Indian fortunes.

At some point in the early 1990s, before Yograj Singh, his father, threw away his roller-skates, Yuvraj Singh used to combine cricket training with his love for speed. A journalist I know used to play with him when they were both juniors, and he once told me a story of a net session when they were both just into their teens. Another boy was padded up and marking guard while Yuvraj waited outside the net for his turn. That was when Yograj arrived.

One look told him that his boy was not facing the bowling and he went straight to the coach. The next instant, the group of boys watched astonished as Yograj grabbed the coach by the throat and lifted him up against the nets. "My son always bats first," he said before letting go. Three years ago, when Yuvraj made a scintillating century after Yasir Arafat had reduced India to 69 for five in Bangalore, he came to the press conference at the end of the day's play and quipped that his father would be unhappy because he had missed out on a double-hundred.

It was an off-the-cuff remark, but anyone who had followed the father's single-minded obsession with making his son a star would have winced at hearing it. Any analysis of Yuvraj Singh's career is impossible without taking into account the pressures he grew up with, the expectation that came with being the son of someone who believed the he himself deserved far more than the one Test cap that came his way.

It did not really help that his advent was so spectacular, with a stroke-filled innings that saw off the challenge of Steve Waugh's side at the ICC Knockout in 2000. Less than two years later, he played a pivotal part in India's NatWest Trophy triumph in England. Back then, with Sourav Ganguly waving his shirt deliriously on the Lord's balcony and Yuvraj and Mohammad Kaif the architects of the win, Indian cricket appeared ripe for generational change.

It did not turn out that way. Apart from a period of exile under Greg Chappell, the India coach, Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman were inseparable in India's middle order. Yuvraj and Kaif had their moments in the one-day arena, but Test caps proved frustratingly elusive. Yuvraj turns 29 soon, and has only 34 to his name. More importantly, he has never managed to make a spot in the Test team his own.

His three centuries have all come against Pakistan, two of them in lost causes, and an average of 35.63 falls far short of expectations. Under the leadership of MS Dhoni, the current captain, he has averaged 44.16 from 10 Tests, but despite a half-century in his last appearance in Galle, Sri Lanka, he has fallen behind Suresh Raina and Cheteshwar Pujara in the pecking order. A poor Indian Premier League season (255 runs and a highest score of 43) with a franchise where he no longer felt valued exacerbated talk of poor attitude, and a downturn in fortunes in India blue has not helped.

After averaging just 30.69 in 110 one-day games under Ganguly, Yuvraj really came of age in the Dravid-Chappell era, when he averaged 44.11 from 68 games. He was as prolific in the early days of Dhoni's tenure, but injuries and poor fitness have seen him marginalised even in an arena where he was once seen as central to Indian fortunes. For a man who strikes the ball so cleanly and so far, the Irani Trophy offers a chance to again catch the eye of the selectors.

With the World Cup less than five months away and a tour of South Africa to come before that, Yuvraj needs to get his groove back in a hurry. Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo sports@thenational.ae