Colourful, compelling

In the past, India's fans and connoisseurs have often rushed to anoint lesser cricketers be it an Ajit Agarkar or an Irfan Pathan as the next Kapil Dev and it would be a fallacy to extend the same logic to Yuvraj. Similarly for Pakistan, it would be foolhardy to expect the world from Afridi, who has his extreme mood swings but in their own ways, Yuvraj and Afridi have added the contrasting mix of menace and calmness to their teams and the World Cup has become a richer tapestry thanks to them and other men of their ilk, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

Amidst the build-up of big runs in a World Cup that has gifted one-sided games and nail-biting finishes with equal felicity, two men have displayed their prodigious talent in rainbow colours. Yuvraj Singh and Shahid Afridi have that enviable ability to make the cricket ball defy Newton's law of gravity while they flex their bats.

Afridi a Pathan and Yuvraj a Punjabi, have their respective pedigree that boasts of a larger-than-life attitude transmitted through their clan's gene-pool. But they are much more than their roots or their feisty batting because the fine-print states the other key nuggets that make them such a comprehensive package. Both bowl and field well and that adds value to their respective teams.

The history of the World Cup has been made rich by the exploits of all-rounders. Be it a Kapil Dev in 1983 or the latest exploits of Afridi and Yuvraj, multi-dimensional cricketers add value to a team and grant it that extra edge when pressure mounts. Afridi may confound critics and Yuvraj might still pride himself primarily as a batsman but there is no mistaking their value-addition to Pakistan and India's cricketing footprints.

Their bowling skills are not just fillers when the main cast rests, Afridi's leg-breaks and Yuvraj's left-arm spin can also alter a match's script as rival outfits found out recently. Be it a weak Kenya and Canada or a strong Sri Lanka, Afridi the bowler has proved to be a tricky customer. In an incredible run so far, Afridi has had figures of five for 16 against Kenya, four for 34 against Sri Lanka and five for 23 against Canada.

The Pakistan captain will surely rate his exploits against Sri Lanka higher. Scalping the likes of Tillekaratne Dilshan, Kumara Sangakkara and Angelo Mathews meant that in a tight chase, Sri Lanka was left stranded by 11 runs at Colombo. Afridi's whiplash wrists and the speed with which he slides in his deliveries often test batsmen. For a man, who was named captain of his team for the World Cup in the very last-minute, his golden arm has redeemed his stature though his bat has largely remained mute.

In Pakistan cricket, symbolism rules and Afridi's exploits coming as they do after a year of tumult thanks to colleagues displaying a fetish for spot-fixing, offer relief and joy to the fans ranging from Rawalpindi to Karachi. At the other end, Yuvraj has always been a special talent capable of inflaming the cricket field with bold strokes of brilliance. His stature as a supreme destroyer of bowlers in the world of limited overs cricket has been set in stone ever since he burst on the scene in Nairobi in 2000 and the legend multiplied infinitely after he swatted Stuart Broad for six sixes in an over during the ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa in 2007.

Yuvraj also lends flexibility to M. S. Dhoni's plans. “With Yuvraj and Yusuf Pathan, I expect them to finish their combined quota as the fifth bowler,” the Indian skipper said. Against Ireland, Yuvraj's five for 31 helped India acquire dominance very early in the match. “I just bowled slow and also focussed on line and length,” Yuvraj said and before the media could rush to anoint him as a full-time bowler, the big-hitter turned around and added: “Every one has his day. My responsibility to the team is to be there, score runs and finish matches.”

Wicket-less performances against Bangladesh and England were cast aside as Yuvraj hoodwinked the Irish. “After getting five wickets I was as happy as I was when I got my first International hundred,” he said. The game against Ireland was a happy fusion of his handy bowling and composed batting and it came after his 58 earlier against England.

“But when I scored the fifty (50 n.o., 75b, 3x4) against Ireland there was a sense of satisfaction and maybe I stayed quiet, ”Yuvraj said after marginally erasing the bitter memory of injuries and poor form.

Both Afridi and Yuvraj add a sense of energy to their squads. Afridi's constant chatter and exaggerated arms-aloft gesture while team-mates rush towards him and Yuvraj's banter and laughter at the nets are all intangibles that cannot be measured but their ability to pep up spirits cannot be downplayed. Afridi with 6626 runs and 306 wickets and Yuvraj with impressive numbers of 7797 and 99, have truly shown the value of an all-rounder in the frenetic multi-tasking realm of ODI cricket.

Other teams too have their share of men, who shine with the bat, tweak in some magic with their bowling arm and remain a bustling presence on the field. Australia's Shane Watson, with knocks of 79 against Zimbabwe and 62 against New Zealand beside a lone wicket, has underlined his utility to Ricky Ponting. Even Dhoni and Sangakkara, cool captains, adept glove men and aggressive batsmen, add that x-factor to India and Sri Lanka.

Afridi and Yuvraj can never be an Imran Khan or a Kapil Dev but in their own ways have enhanced the core strengths of India and Pakistan.

In the past, India's fans and connoisseurs have often rushed to anoint lesser cricketers be it an Ajit Agarkar or an Irfan Pathan as the next Kapil Dev and it would be a fallacy to extend the same logic to Yuvraj.

Similarly for Pakistan, it would be foolhardy to expect the world from Afridi, who has his extreme mood swings but in their own ways, Yuvraj and Afridi have added the contrasting mix of menace and calmness to their teams and the World Cup has become a richer tapestry thanks to them and other men of their ilk.