It’s the summer holidays. The noon, June sun breathes fire down on a makeshift cricket ground outside DAV Public School, Chandigarh. There’s a bunch of boys, around eight or nine of them, ranging from 10 to 17. The tallest and oldest of them is unleashing a fireball, knocking batsmen over.
An audacious little kid roller skates right through the middle of the pitch. The fireball wielder has to stop in his bowling tracks. He hurls abuse in Punjabi, the kid snaps back.
The bully hurls the ball at the kid. The kid catches the ball.
A good time to end it right there, instead, the kid asks for the bat.
More abuse follows, in a mix of Hinglish and Punjabi. The kid lets off a mock laugh, takes guard. The first ball is a beamer on the batsman’s throat. Though instead of clearing his throat, the ball clears what would’ve been a very deep fine leg, beyond the trees, beyond everyone’s sight and imagination.
The bully storms towards the kid. Before he can reach him though, he’s on his skates, away, as far as the ball.
Was it all a dream, Yuvi?
Yuvraj Singh did not bat in his first ODI. Ganguly, Tendulkar, Dravid, Kambli did. Even now, on retirement, he seems like that cheeky kid. But he’s of a 2000 vintage. Grown in the Punjab, blossomed in Kenya. Against bullies again. Isn’t that the best way? Up against McGrath, Gillespie, Lee. There was no Yuvi-six in that innings. Studded with 12 fours it was. On October, 7, 2000, Yuvraj Singh was born in blue.
Was it all a dream, Yuvi?(AFP)
Over three years and 73 ODIs later, Yuvraj Singh made his Test debut. At home in Mohali. In his first Test, Yuvraj became familiar with the third result in a cricket match – a draw. After India slid to 18/3 and 128/4, he held back for a 5 off thirty minutes.
What followed was that Pakistan tour of 2004 best remembered for Sehwag’s triple at Multan, and India’s 2-1 series win. Somewhere in there was Yuvraj on his first away Test series. His first Test half century, first Test wicket, first Test century (on a green-top at Lahore) and Inzamam’s run out.
Yuvraj had to wait for India’s next tour of Pakistan for his second Test century. Yet again in a lost cause, was the finer-print in a Test career fraught with stops and starts already being written?
Yuvraj’s third century also came against Pakistan. In the same innings, Irfan Pathan scored his only Test century while Sourav Ganguly raked up his highest Test score of 239. India gallivanted to 626. Shoiab Akhtar bowled only 10 off Pakistan’s 150 overs.
Yuvraj did not play Pakistan again. Yuvraj did not score another Test century.
He played 40 Tests spanning nine years, seven against Pakistan. Overall Test average of 33.92. Test average against Pakistan 63.55.
What if Yuvraj had played more against Pakistan? What if India had?
Was it all a dream, Yuvi?
But Yuvraj did play Pakistan again, albeit in an ODI. 18 days after his Karachi Test hundred, he scored another Karachi hundred – this time in a winning cause, batting at three. Yuvraj was man of the match, man of the series. By now you know, this kid never did things in half measures.
Yuvraj’s ODI average and strike rate both spike against Pakistan – from 36.55 to 42.50, from 87.67 to 93.47; sometimes, all an Indian cricketer needs for inspiration, is a Pakistani cricketer to play against, and vice versa?
The last time, Yuvraj played against Pakistan was in the Champions Trophy Final. Two years ago, but all those triumphs seemed like light years away.
Was it all a dream, Yuvi?(Twitter)
How do you make your captain behave like a hooligan?
You team up with U-19 mate, Mohammad Kaif and win a seemingly lost cause. You make that day, evening for India, a memory of a lifetime. There will be bigger championships to be won, but that first definitive whack at a sport’s adversary, the knowledge that the foundations have been laid, there and then – that is power.
Armed with that power, Yuvraj scaled the World T20 in 2007, the World Cup in 2011. What he couldn’t scale was Test cricket. Perhaps, it was a different power.
Who knows, just as his timing of the white ball was unrivaled, his success at Test cricket required a restraint that wasn’t inbuilt in his game. Nor was there the audacity of a Sehwag that often surmounted that restraint.
A middle order of Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman in whites; sometimes, it’s tough to find a spot for India’s blue-eyed boy.
Then there was every southpaw’s worst enemy – the off-spinner. Yuvraj himself admitted that he thought Muralitharan was the toughest he faced.
Who knows, maybe white was way too bland for this flam kid. By now, all those fierce splashes in blue have washed away the austerity of white; just as the splendour of those late-night finishes have outdone the day game.
Was it all a dream, Yuvi?(Photo Credit: BCCI)
Every year, IPL franchises outdid themselves in the Yuvraj chase. The promise of what could be far outdid what had been in the previous years.
In their pursuit, runs, averages were damned. Franchises just wanted a part of that Yuvi glory. In a sport often bereft of stars, here was one, although on the wane, still brighter than most.
In all likelihood, Mumbai Indians will be his team for keeps; in what capacity is uncertain, he could add to the super coach/mentor strength. Seated with his mates, Sachin and Zak among others.
Before signing off for the season, he did play four games. Strewn across, were six sixes.
There were none like them in the IPL. They were sixes off Yuvraj Singh’s bat.
They were part of an earlier memory. A memory that came alive again. Pulled at a forgotten part of your cricketing heart. Pumped it. Thumped it. Made it alive again. Almost at ease. As if it’s alright to look for pleasure in the sinful. That extravagance is acceptable. That it’s good to be king if just for a while. It’s good to be high and never come down. *
Was it all a dream, Yuvi?
*last line by Tom Petty from the song It’s good to be king.
(Gaurav Sethi branded Bored Cricket Crazy Indians (BCC!) to bring bloggers together. He also branded Che Pujara, Jatman and Thank You Sachin! – as a cartoon, before it became a farewell cry. He used to work on brands. Now he works on himself. He tweets at @BoredCricket)