Sri Lanka’s nightmare tour of India: a snapshot

Sri Lanka will think twice before playing the Good Samaritan in future. What began as a good-will gesture to play 5 ODIs in order to make up for the West Indies’ dramatic mid-series exodus, has culminated in a progressive nightmare for the islanders, who were blanked 5-0 at the hands of an Indian side sans skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and experimenting to the hilt.

Trouble was brewing even before the islanders arrived – in an increasingly evident dichotomy between interests of players and boards, Lankan veteran Kumar Sangakkara expressed his displeasure at the abrupt scheduling of the series, which cut short their preparatory fitness program overseen by former national rugby union captain Chandrishan Perera. Add to that the absence of a few key stars, as well as Sri Lanka’s dismal record in bilateral series against the hosts, and not many would have expected an upset, but the sheer lack of competitiveness in the series, especially after the Lankans’ successful run in 2014 ODIs thus far, was quite disappointing.

An 88-run defeat at the hands of India A in the only warm-up match provided crucial insights on what was on offer – the Sri Lankan bowling was toothless and toyed with by Rohit Sharma in his first competitive match after injury, and Manish Pandey, both making big centuries. The Lankans never looked comfortable during the 383-run chase and wilted against Indian spinners, the best among whom was Karn Sharma, returning figures of 4-47.

India went on to stamp their authority on the series from the very 1st ODI in Cuttack – racking up 363 runs on the back of centuries by openers Ajinkya Rahane and Shikhar Dhawan, before the bowlers snuffed out the Sri Lankan chase, inflicting a humiliating 169-run defeat on the visitors. The quick bowling on display was particularly impressive, with Varun Aaron breaking the 150 kmph barrier a few times in a four-over burst before breaking down himself, and Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav picking up 6 wickets between themselves.

The 2nd and 3rd ODIs, at Ahmedabad and Hyderabad respectively, followed a set pattern – Sri Lanka won the toss to bat first on both occasions, and struggled to post totals in the vicinity of the 250-run mark, before India knocked off the runs gleefully without breaking much of a sweat, winning by six wickets with more than five overs to spare in both matches. Hyderabad confirmed that the series was already won, and ominous signs of a washout were very evident.

The 4th ODI at Kolkata was Sri Lanka’s nadir of the series, where extremely low standards of bowling and fielding helped Rohit Sharma become the first man to make 250+ in an ODI, as India breached the 400-mark barrier yet again. The Lankans then caved in without a fight, registering yet another 150+ run defeat margin, the physical and psychological scars from the Rohit mauling, perhaps being too much to handle. The utter one-sidedness of the contest was highlighted by the fact the Sri Lankan team total was 13 runs short of Rohit’s individual score, with the islanders merely going through the motions by then.

The final ODI at Ranchi saw the Lankan skipper Angelo Matthews take on India almost single-handedly, scoring 139* to help his team register 286 on a difficult pitch, and then opening the bowling to dismiss both Indian openers with only 14 runs on board. Matthews conjured up images of an elusive victory, but was unlucky to run into his equally determined opposite number Virat Kohli, who essayed one of his best innings in recent times, shrugging off Amabati Rayudu’s run-out as well as self-destructive batting by the Indian middle-order, to exactly match the Lankan skipper’s score, and took India over the finish line with 8 balls to spare, in what was easily the most competitive match of the series.

Sri Lankans have hardly any positives to take from the series, expect for the grit exhibited by their skipper, who topped batting charts with 339 runs at an average of 113, and did the best he could with the ball and in the field as well. Mathews fought valiantly, but was let down by a team which seemed to have left their sprits as well as their A-game back home. Overall batting statistics, while nowhere near what is expected by a team of their calibre, were still tolerable, but the Lankans’ bowling performance was catastrophic to say the least. Indian batsmen were never under pressure, and their few moments of anxiety stemmed mostly from poor running between the wickets, and mindless batting in the final ODI.

For India, the series serves as an immense psychological boost ahead of more difficult challenges. Kohli’s innovative captaincy, both in terms of team selection as well as on-field strategy, came across as a breath of fresh air. Akshar Patel and Umesh Yadav were excellent in conditions tailor-made for batting, while almost all top-order batsmen feasted with relish on the sub-standard bowling dished out to them throughout the series.

With very few ODIs remaining before the 2015 World Cup, Sri Lanka will be desperate for a better showing against the touring English team later this month. India head to Australia, and will look to carry forward the positive momentum Down Under, in conditions and against an opposition very different from the just-concluded series. One can only hope that this easy victory does not breed any complacency among players, though that term is usually redundant when facing one of the best teams in the world in their own backyard.

The BCCI can definitely pat its back, with its SOS to the Sri Lankan cricket board yielding sporting as well as financial gains in the backdrop of the escalating conflict with West Indian cricket, though it remains to be seen if the islanders will ever respond with such promptness after this absolute nightmare, which will take a while to recover from.

Will Kohli play safe or gamble hard: The Brisbane trade-off

An injury to Mahendra Singh Dhoni  has given both critics and fans the chance to realize what they have been baying for over the past few months – see Virat Kohli captain the Indian team in the longest format of the game. While the Young Turk’s role is likely to be restricted to the 1st Test of the the 2014-15 Test series against Australia, at Brisbane, before Dhoni resumes his duty at the top, it would still be interesting to see if he can make some sort of impact in the blink-and-you-miss opportunity extended to him.

Kohli, who has an 80% success rate in the 15 ODIs he has captained the country, also takes his batting to the next level (Avg. 58.63 and SR 97.13 as captain are even better than already brilliant career statistics of avg. 51.3 and SR 90.01) when entrusted with the top job. While he has been impressive in the ongoing series against Sri Lanka, displaying plenty of innovation in both team selection as well as on-field strategy, captaining in a Test, that too against the Australians at home, can be a different prospect altogether.

A quick look at what he is up against: The Australians are just back from a mauling at the hands of a rampaging Pakistan team in UAE, and a T20 series victory and possible ODI triumph against South Africa is not likely to ease the humiliation of the one of the biggest Test series drubbings handed out to them in quite a while. When the teams step onto the Brisbane pitch on the 4th of December, the Aussies will come hard , in what is their first shot at Test redemption post UAE.

The pitch at the Gabba is traditionally quick and bouncy, with plenty on offer for the bowlers initially before easing out into a batsman’s paradise. In the one-off opportunity extended to him, the best statement Kohli can make is probably with his bat. Under a lot of fire after continuous failures in England, the dashing Delhiite can take inspiration from former skipper Sourav Ganguly’s sparkling 144 on this ground, exactly 11 years ago, coincidentally also from December 4th to 8th, to make a big score and send out a strong message to selectors that he is ready to take over the Test captaincy crown, currently uneasily resting on Dhoni’s head. Kohli, whose irritatingly identical dismissals in English conditions highlighted his helplessness against prodigious swing, should definitely prefer the quicker and bouncier, but relatively less swinging tracks Down Under.

In terms of resources, the selectors have provided plenty of variety, and it remains to be seen if Kohli will ‘play safe’ or take a few risks. His sidelining of Ravindra Jadeja in the ODI series against Sri Lanka sent out a strong statement that he will not necessarily patronize players backed by Dhoni, and if given a similar freedom in Brisbane, we could be in for a few surprises. I do not expect the batting order to be disturbed much, irrespective of how the practice games go. KL Rahul has been in scintillating form, but even if he cracks a couple of centuries in the warm-ups, in all probability, it will be Shikhar Dawan and Murali Vijay walking in as openers. The Wall’s namesake and states-person will definitely breathe down their necks, and failures by either of them could see the young opener make his debut in the 3rd Test.

The middle order is fairly settled, and I do not see Kohli making any changes there, unless someone gets injured. Suresh Raina, though a much improved player technically now, will most likely be relegated to being a useful substitute fielder throughout the series, barring an alarming dip in form among the current middle-order. 

This brings me to the first masterstroke which Kohli can play. The practice games should see both wicket-keeper batsmen, Wriddhiman Saha and Naman Ojha, going head to head, and if the latter can make an impact, he could be played ahead of Saha in Brisbane. The inclusion will be relatively risk free, if backed by performances in warm-ups, because Saha himself would be expendable from the 2nd Test onwards. If Ojha, who has been in red-hot form, plays and makes runs at Brisbane, it could pose a few selection dilemmas for the remainder of the series, and Kohli could be hailed as a visionary captain for this act alone.

The next, and definitely more risky gamble, would be the inclusion of Karn Sharma as sole spinner in the playing XI, assuming that he will out-bowl Ashwin in the practice games. Do note that I am restricting the battle to between Ashwin and Karn, because Kohli has not shown any faith in Jadeja, and is therefore unlikely to consider him, unless Sir comes up with something absolutely spectacular in the run-up to Brisbane. Getting back, Karn, or more specifically, a leg-spinner, gets my vote for two reasons. Rahul Dravid’s observation of leggies being more successful Down Under can be taken a step further when we consider that Shane Warne has been at his best while playing at Brisbane – he has picked up 68 wickets in 11 Tests, at an average of 20.3 (as opposed to his career average of 25.4) including his career best of 8-71 against England in 1994-95. Therefore, if a leg-spinner is to be blooded on an Australian ground, Brisbane is perhaps the best option. Besides, Ashwin’s overseas record is nothing to write home about, so his exclusion will not come as the biggest shock either.

Kohli is unlikely to experiment too much with the three quicks. Bhuvneshwar Kumar is one bowler who can be relied upon to be the ‘workhorse’, bowling steadily and accurately, and is least likely among the five medium-pacers in the squad to breakdown. Add to that his improved batting skills, and Kumar will be a certainty in the XI. Given his love for pace, Kohli would have loved to unleash both Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron, the quickest bowlers India currently possess. However, Aaron’s propensity to get injured at surprisingly quick intervals will be a deterrent, and it will be extremely risky to include him in the XI in the 1st Test. Rhythm is  important for a quick, and the two practice games will likely help in picking two from Yadav, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma. The first two are relatively similar in terms of pace and lengths. Shami’s experience will make him a safe choice, but the fact that he is just coming off an injury and Yadav’s form against Sri Lanka tilt the balance slightly in his favorIf Ishant is fit, Kohli should include him, as his height and ability to hit the deck will be key differentiators on Australian pitches.

Two possible combinations, based on Kohli’s risk-taking ability, either self or externally induced, are as follows:
Brisbane XI (if Kohli plays safe)Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravichandran Ashwin, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma.
Brisbane XI (if Kohli takes risks)Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Naman Ojha, Karn Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma.

These equations could change dramatically with three weeks still to go for the 1st Test. Kohli’s ODI captaincy stint has definitely been positive, but whether he will impress or not in a single opportunity at the highest level against a team raring to make amends for recent lapses – only time will tell.

Sachin Tendulkar’s autobiography: Will Greg Chappell have the last laugh?

All hell broke loose a couple of days back, when Sachin Tendulkar’s scathing criticism of former coach Greg Chappell in his autobiography, Playing It My Way (released yesterday), became breaking news across the country. As captured in the preview shared with media, in addition to describing Chappell as a ‘ringmaster’, Sachin went on to drop a bomb by alleging that the Australian even tried to persuade him to take over captaincy of the Indian cricket team from Rahul Dravid, just months before the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies, so that, in Chappell’s words allegedly, ‘together, we could control Indian cricket for years’These, and further accusations have evoked a plethora of reactions, and created sharp divides among fans as well as cricketers, the repercussions of which may not bode well for the Indian cricket team.
Fans mixed in their reaction
Let us look at the first divide, between the opinions of lesser mortals like you and me, relatively harmless, and providing good fodder for raging debates. Opinions, and given the omnipresence of social media today, comments and tweets have flown left, right and center soon after the claims were made public. While most fans have stood up to their ‘God’, lapping up and hailing every word, others have questioned the timing and necessity of the allegations. From being a marketing gimmick to exacting revenge on Rahul Dravid for stranding him on 194* in the Multan Test, 2004, counter-allegations have been intense as well as imaginative. Having not yet laid my hands on the book, I will also leap on to the opinion bandwagon without much evidence, though I doubt if answers to all of these will be available even after reading the autobiography.

On being a marketing gimmick by Sachin, my opinion would be yes, and no. Let me explain the affirmative part first. The content of the excerpts released to the media, as well as the timing, coming just two days ahead of the book launch, will definitely increase book sales by 15-20%, if not more. 
While an autobiography of a living demi-God would not have a shortage of takers, the only road-block it could have encountered is the perception of lack of spice in the book’s content, if one goes by the relatively devoid-of-controversy career of the batting legend. This perfectly timed release definitely allays all fears in that context.

Now the more difficult explanation of the no following the yes – I find it difficult to accept that someone of Sachin’s stature would personally stoop to the level of performing publicity stunts to make a quick buck, but that doesn’t mean that the PR agency, in all probability tasked with marketing responsibilities associated with the release, wouldn’t do that.
If the Chappell saga constitutes a sizeable portion of the book, my defense of Sachin weakens, and the preview would indeed be justified, but if it ends up being a short section within the overall World Cup 2007 debacle, which is undoubtedly one of the most painful memories of the maestro’s life, then I will uphold my third-party sensationalism theory.

The Dravid revenge angle is strife with speculation – while it can be argued that the modern Little Master, who tackled the fastest of bowlers with a straight bat, might have preferred to go that route in this case as well, and channelize his feelings on the unexpected declaration in a direct manner, there is also the counter that Sachin would not like to launch an all-out assault on his brother-in-arms in several battles, and possibly the second-most loved cricketer in India, after himself. 
Plenty of food for thought here, which hopefully the autobiography will have answers to.

Looming threat of a Ganguly-Dravid showdown
This brings me to the second and definitely more unfortunate divide, one among the players themselves. While most cricketers active during Chappell’s reign have sided with Sachin, a disturbing development is the early aloofness and then curtness exhibited by Dravid in the aftermath of the preview. His initial statement, “I am sorry but I haven’t read the excerpt. That was a private conversation between two people and I am not privy to that”, in an interview with ESPNCricinfo, seemed to be a diplomatic attempt to avoid an awkward situation, being the gentleman he is, but a parting shot at being interested more in the master blaster’s batsmanship as opposed to the controversies in the book, seemed a tad too dismissive.Dravid was not as diplomatic when it came to responding to Ganguly’s statement that The Wall had shared with him his inability to control the former coach. When asked to comment by a news channel, Dravid was brusque in denying it, and even added an uncharacteristically harsh ‘he can’t put words in my mouth’, referring to Ganguly. So far, the elegant southpaw has not responded, but if he does, of which there is every possibility given his past reactions in similar situations, it could lead to an escalating war of words between two of the greatest cricketers the country has ever produced. If one or two more cricketing heavyweights lend their voices against Sachin’s allegations, the rift would get even more pronounced; not exactly an ideal scenario for a team just months away from its title defense of the greatest trophy in limited overs cricket.Has Chappell fired an arrow from Sachin’s bow?Getting back to the alleged antagonist in the story, Chappell has issued a customary statement which categorically denies the allegations against him. In attempting to capture an opinion from Down Under, I observed that while the Australian daily, The Age, titled this story as ‘Chappell gets defensive over Tendulkar’s autobiography charge,’  the newspaper makes no effort to defend the Adelaidean, and just documents turn of events almost verbatim to that splashed across Indian dailies and websites.This leaves us with the most poignant question of all – what purpose does the reprisal of the Chappell saga serve? If the intention is to lay bare before the world the former coach’s atrocities, Ganguly did that eons ago, and in terms of credibility, there was no reason to doubt him either. On the contrary, this does pose an uneasy question on the silence of the maestro all this while. Had he been more vocal when the southpaw was screaming from the rooftops about Chappell’s inadequacies, the South Australian may have faced a swifter eviction, and his alleged negative influence on the 2007 World Cup campaign avoided. If the idea is to mete out belated punishment for tampering with a successful team, as national talent manager for Cricket Australia, Chappell’s professional aspirations are not likely to be affected. Even otherwise, the Adelaidean’s autocratic nature is no secret in cricketing echelons, and administrative bodies who rate his talent above this drawback will continue to engage with him.

The only visible impact thus far has been signs of infighting among some of the country’s most respected cricketers, and if it mushrooms, Sachin would have unwittingly aided Chappell in the one mission he left incomplete – creating a public rift among the Big Four, who still command huge fan-followings even after retirement. For the sake of the country where cricket hysteria borders on fanaticism, I hope such a possibility never materializes, or for all the best intentions behind this disclosure, Chappell may well have the last laugh.

This article was first published on Sportskeeda:

Yuvraj’s Final Cricket Chapter?

Pic Courtesy: Mailer Report
On the warm summer evening of April 2 2011, history was rewritten at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, when Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni hoisted Nuwan Kulasaekara over mid-on for a huge six. It has become an indelible image in cricket annals. As Dhoni held the pose for the shutterbugs to confirm that India had lifted the 50-over World Cup for a second time in their history, the man at the other end, Yuvraj Singh, was relatively unnoticed on account of the hysterical celebrations the shot triggered. He must have felt a range of emotions surging through him. The man who virtually carried India through the tournament by racking up 362 runs and 15 wickets during the marquee event, in between bouts of blood mingled vomiting, insomnia and lack of hunger, had made a deal with God the night before the final, that if the Almighty gave him the Cup, he could take anything in return. With the elegant all-rounder being diagnosed with mediastinal seminoma, a rare form of cancer, soon after, it may have seemed that Yuvraj looked set to keep his end of the bargain. However, after undergoing treatment at the Cancer Research Institute in Boston, the spirited southpaw was not only declared cancer-free, but also made a return to the game.
Yuvraj is in contention to make India’s World Cup squad. If he does, it will surely go down in cricketing annals as one of the most inspiring stories in the sport’s rich history.
The formative years
Born to alpha male and one-Test careered Yograj Singh and Shabnam on December 12 1982, Yuvraj was not particularly attracted to the gentleman’s game initially. Rather, he had his heart set on skating. His dad, however, did not share his enthusiasm, and when the barely-into-teens Yuvraj proudly brought home a skating gold medal, the senior Singh threw it out and laid out the ground rules imposingly: “From now on, you play cricket, not this girls’ sport. If you don’t play cricket, I will break your legs.”
Without daring to venture into the humanitarian and sexist angles of the statement, I can confirm that this particular moment was indeed, the turning point in Yuvraj’s life, and the beginning of his association with the game, which was to introduce him to fame and glory.To get an expert opinion on his cricketing skills, Yograj presented his son before friend and then Test cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu, who quickly dismissed him as low on talent and will power. This incident probably escalated the obsession in Yograj to see his son succeed at the game he himself did not, having played only one Test for his country, despite touted as being more talented than Kapil Dev, easily the greatest all-rounder ever produced by India.What followed was a gruelling training routine for Yuvraj, which ranged from demanding to outright inhuman at times, but one that saw him steadily improve as a cricketer and begin representing home-state Punjab in various under 16 and 19 tournaments, before earning a Ranji Trophy debut during the 1997-98 season. His first performance of note on the international stage came during the semi-finals of the ICC’s Under 19s World Cup in 1999-00, when he smashed 58 off 25 balls against an Australian attack, which included young tearaway quick Mitchell Johnson and future stalwarts Shane Watson and Nathan Hauritz. India went on to win the tournament, and selectors acknowledged Yuvraj’s talent as special, fast tracking his induction into the senior team during the ICC Mini World at Nairobi in 2000-01.

International debut, and initial years of inconsistency
After making his debut against Kenya, where he did not get to bat, Yuvraj made an impact in his very first innings. Against an imposing Australia in the quarter-finals, Yuvraj made an 80-ball 84 facing Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie, and followed it up with a spectacular run-out of Michael Bevan to win the player-of-the-match award. The southpaw’s all-round performance against South Africa in the semi-finals, combined with more flashes of brilliant fielding, led to his quick elevation in the eyes of local media and cricket-fans as the Crown Prince (incidentally, this is what his name translates to) of Indian cricket. Tall and upright, Yuvraj, with his languid elegance and high back-lift, drew comparisons to Brian Lara during his heyday, and that was reason enough to sit up and take notice of the dashing youngster.

The ‘Prince’ however, did not really stake his claim to the throne during the next five years. The strapping Punjabi was regularly in the news, but apart from customarily gracing sports pages, Yuvraj was also featured in Page 3 gossip columns, being projected by the media as a Casanova. The man himself seemed to enjoy the attention, and did his image no harm by regularly being clicked at late-night parties, often in the company of wannabe models or Bollywood starlets. His on-field exploits were relatively tepid, with the odd brilliant innings every now and then which reminded audiences of his immense potential, the most famous among which was his counter-attacking knock of 69 against England in the final of the 2002 NatWest Trophy. Yuvraj also made his Test debut in October 2003, against New Zealand, but despite a couple of good knocks while touring Pakistan in April 2004, the left-hander was dropped after failures in the first two Tests of the 2004 Border-Gavaskar Trophy, and never quite cemented a Test berth despite his obvious talents.


The 2005-09 seasons were probably the best of Yuvraj’s One Day International (ODI) career, when he piled up more than 4000 runs at an average in excess of 46, about 10 more than his career average. His resurgence coincided with the debut and rise of Dhoni, and the two regularly combined to form one of the deadliest finishing pairs in ODI cricket at that time.

The year 2007 was a tumultuous one for Indian cricket, having witnessed the extreme low of a first round exit during the 50-over World Cup, as well as the unexpected high of emerging champions of the inaugural T20 World Cup. Probably at the peak of his batting prowess during the year, Yuvraj was ignored as captaincy material, in favour of a relatively inexperienced Dhoni, both during the T20 World Cup and aftermath of Rahul Dravid’s resignation. The southpaw however put this disappointment aside to play a couple of brilliant match-winning knocks during the T20 World Cup – 58 of 16 balls against England, including six sixes off an over by Stuart Broad, and 70 off 30 balls against Australia in the semi-finals. Yuvraj’s scintillating form in the shortest format of the game earned him a recall for the 2007 home Test series against Pakistan, and he did not disappoint, slamming a career best 169 during the Third Test at Bangalore.

He was solid, if not spectacular, over the next two years, often playing second fiddle to India’s next generation of rising superstars like Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, but continued to be an indispensable cog in the country’s ODI side, while resuming his dalliance with Test cricket. His form dipped in the lead up to the 2011 World Cup, marred by several injuries and bouts of illness, a possible prelude to the Big C waiting in the wings. His position in the World Cup squad was not warranted, and when he ultimately made it, not many would have expected the man to make the impact he did.

The Cup of his life
“Play the tournament for someone you love or respect or for someone who is special and has played a huge role in your life. Play it for someone you think you owe something to. Make the World Cup part of the debt you have to fulfil.”

Sachin Tendulkar gave these words of advice to Yuvraj at the beginning of the tournament. The Little Master was revealed as the special person to whom the southpaw kept dedicating his Cup performances. They gave a whole new direction to Yuvraj, who, like many others in the team, was desperate to win for his idol, whose only piece of silverware missing from his overflowing trophy cabinet was a prized World Cup. Yuvraj channelized his dwindling energies towards paying off the debt he owed the man who played that huge role in his life – Tendulkar himself.

Showing no signs of indifferent form, Yuvraj began the tournament with half centuries against England, Ireland and the Netherlands, before failing the only time with both bat and ball, against South Africa, as the Proteas inflicted India’s only defeat in the Cup after a tense contest.

Yuvraj roared back to form in the very next game, against the West Indies, at Chennai, in India’s final group-stage match. After winning the toss, India batted and lost openers Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir relatively early. Yuvraj walked in and essayed a dominating innings on a difficult pitch, punctuated however by multiple stoppages on account of the southpaw’s visible discomfort, where he threw up several times, in what was then attributed to dehydration, but in hindsight was a manifestation of the dreaded disease growing within. Such was his peril, that umpire Simon Taufel asked him if he would like to go off, but Yuvraj was in no mood to comply. As captured in his autobiography, The Test of My Life: From Cricket to Cancer and Back:

I told Simon, “No boss, I ain’t going out. I am nearing 100 after two years so if I fall and collapse you can take me to the hospital. But until then, I am not going out or going off.”

Yuvraj scored 113 out of 268, and snared two crucial wickets to ensure India finished second in their group, setting up a quarter-final clash against reigning three-time 50-over World Cup champions Australia.

The ‘Prince’ lived up to his name in the all-important quarter-final, by snaring the wickets of Brad Haddin and Michael Clarke, and his 2-44 were the best bowling figures on either side that day. With willow, Yuvraj helmed a difficult chase of 261 with an unbeaten 57 to take India to the semi-final, against archrivals Pakistan.

In that important match, Yuvraj was bowled first ball by a searing yorker from Wahab Riaz but he once again showcased his all-round prowess when he picked up two wickets in two overs to derail Pakistan’s chase. India won by 29 runs to reach the grand stage of ODI cricket.

Yuvraj was sleepless on the eve of the big final, against familiar rivals Sri Lanka, tortured by pain, nausea and an uncertain future. None of that showed on field, once India was asked to field by Sri Lanka captain, Kumar Sangakkara, after quite some confusion during the toss. The ‘pie-chucker’ yet again proved to be the best among Indian bowlers, with a spell of 2-49, which included the crucial wicket of Sangakkara to restrict Sri Lanka to 274, which was a very respectable total in a tournament final. After India lost Sehwag and Tendulkar early, the chase was steadied by an 83-run third wicket partnership between Gambhir and Kohli. After the latter’s dismissal, the stage was set for Yuvraj to guide India home on the lines of his quarter-final effort against the Aussies. However, in an unexpected move, skipper Dhoni promoted himself above the southpaw, and in a way, stole some of his thunder with a perfect display of clinical batting. Yuvraj finally entered the arena once Gambhir got out, tantalizingly close to a century, with 50-odd runs still needed. With the required run-rate well under control, and Dhoni dazzling at the other end, Yuvraj was content to operate in second gear, and he ensured that no further hiccups were experienced en-route to Dhoni’s spectacular finale, which brought delirium to India’s cricket loving populace.

World Cup 2015 prospects

Back on the field after a one-year gap, which included multiple chemotherapy sessions as well as recuperation post cancer remission, Yuvraj, while showing glimpses of his former self, is still largely untested in the 50-over format, and has not played a single ODI in 2014. His highs and lows in recent times have been mostly restricted to T20 cricket, from being the most expensive buy at IPL 2014 to his embarrassing helplessness against Kulasekara’s and Lasith Malinga’s wide, full deliveries at the World Cup T20 final earlier this year.

In a recent interview with Wisden, Yuvraj remained positive on his World Cup prospects, while simultaneously bracing himself to accept the possibility that he may never again play for India. While the situation is much bleaker than the similar period prior to the 2011 edition, I still believe that Yuvraj has an outside chance of making it to the Indian World Cup squad, given his experience and proven ability of raising his game when required the most. With Rohit fit and almost a certainty in the playing XI, I envision the following positive scenarios for Yuvraj being drafted into the squad assuming no regular players are injured:

  • A three-way race for one spot in the middle-order: In spite of Ajinkya Rahane’s consistency at the top, he is likely to vacate that position once Rohit re-enters the playing XI. With Kohli and Suresh Raina having cemented their places, and India showing a preference for five specialist bowlers of late, this leaves a single spot at number 5 open. Yuvraj could be in a three-way race with Rahane and Ambati Rayudu for it. Let me stick my neck out further and state that Rayudu will not make that cut, and it could eventually boil down to a face-off between Yuvraj and Rahane for that opening.
  • Shikhar Dhawan’s form: While Dhawan has been rampant on flat pitches in India, in the past, his technique has been found wanting on tracks with pace and bounce. His position in the World Cup XI would depend largely on his performances during the tri-series Down Under in January 2015. If he fails, Rahane will be promoted as the designated opener along with Rohit, and the middle-order race will suddenly revolve predominantly around Yuvraj and Rayudu, one that the left-handed stalwart is likely to win, in what is perhaps the best-case scenario for him.
  • As fifth bowler: Given his prowess with the ball in the previous edition, Yuvraj could compete with Ravindra Jadeja for the fifth bowler’s role, though the scenario is unlikely, given Dhoni’s penchant for backing certain players to the hilt, a category in which Jadeja currently finds himself. However, in case the think-tank reverts to India’s time-tested strategy of seven specialist batsmen, some of whom can combine to become the fifth bowler, Yuvraj’s chances will considerably increase.

None of these scenarios stands a chance unless the authorities take the risk of considering a player absent from the format for close to a year now. That consideration, if it does happen, would certainly defy logic, but then, the man’s story seems to evolve from the heart, as opposed to a more logical origin. Aged 32, Yuvraj’s life has been akin to a movie script, containing several elements any sports-drama genre fans would crave. Going by the script revealed to us thus far, it would be quite disappointing if the climax is anything less than a befitting tribute to one of the greatest legends Indian cricket has ever produced.

Yuvraj deserves, both emotionally and realistically, a final shot at defending the trophy he won four years ago, almost paying the ultimate price in the process, before bringing the curtains down on a mercurial and glorious career.

This article was first published in Mailer Report:!about1/c12br