Precious talent

Yuvraj Singh... worth a lot more to Indian cricket. — Pic. AP-

The time has come to give Yuvraj Singh a fling in Tests. There is an element of solidity about his cricket these days that cannot be overlooked. The man who swoops on the ball, can also soar high, much like an eagle in the skies, in any form of the game, writes S. DINAKAR.

THE straightness of his blade was pleasing, so was his approach. Yuvraj Singh was on the ball.

The pitches were green, the ball jagged around, the Kiwi pacemen probed in the corridor and it was a testing time for the Indian batsmen in the Kiwiland.

Even as some bigger names struggled, Yuvraj Singh was equal to the challenge, revealing both maturity and sound judgment, playing close to his body and driving between mid-off and mid-on.

The reckless ways of the past were a distant memory. He was now concentrating hard on juicy surfaces, countering the bounce and movement.

Solid off his back-foot and leaning into his drives, Yuvraj was keen to prove a point. The young man got into position so quickly, had so much time to play the ball, place his shots. You just cannot hide class.

On pitches that were doing so much, scores of 25 (Queenstown), 54 (Wellington), 33 (Auckland) and 37 (Hamilton) were worth a lot more. Yuvraj had put a price on his wicket; his determination evident in his visage.

For most part there were at least two slips and a gully, the ball darted off the pitch, and it appeared more like a scene from Test match cricket. Things were hot for the batsmen in the cold and serene New Zealand.

Landing just before the ODIs, Yuvraj had less time than some of the more accomplished names to adjust to the conditions, yet he managed to make an impression. More than the runs the 21-year-old Punjab batsman made, it was the manner in which he got them that inspired confidence.

Then, when the Pakistanis spotted a glimmer of hope at the Centurion, Yuvraj, along with Dravid, shut the World Cup door firmly on Waqar Younis and his men.

It was a big game, the expectations were huge and Yuvraj breathed defiance, keeping the good deliveries away, punishing the poor ones. Clever cricket from the Punjab cricketer.

Indeed, a case can now be made for Yuvraj's inclusion in Tests. If he can survive the seaming pitches of New Zealand, and the pressures of an India-Pakistan World Cup duel, several key questions about his technique and temperament are answered.

We can no longer dismiss him as a limited overs batsman. Yuvraj is worth a lot more to Indian cricket.

Just the other day, under a very different setting, a sweltering afternoon in the noisy Dhaka, Yuvraj celebrated his first ODI hundred... after three years in international cricket and 70 games.

The Bangladesh attack may not have been very threatening. However, Yuvraj's century had arrived during a crisis situation; the southpaw applying himself, putting mind over matter. Beneath his jovial exterior resides a steely resolve.

Indeed, ever since he returned to the Indian side against the Zimbabweans early last year — he celebrated his recall with a sensational unbeaten 80 in the Hyderabad ODI with India on the brink of a series defeat — he has batted with resolve.

The point is, given his stroke-making skills, the runs would always flow if Yuvraj spends time in the middle. This man is a match-winner pure and simple.

Along the way he has worked on his game and there has been a noticeable improvement in his footwork. It was the lack of feet movement that had proved a stumbling block for the southpaw against quality spinners earlier.

If one gleans back at his career, Yuvraj suffered a slump following his dramatic 84 against Australia at Nairobi during the ICC knock-out tournament in 2000, and that was a period when he was sorted out by the rival teams.

Yuvraj tended to grope at the spinning ball and ace offie Muttiah Muralitharan did expose him ruthlessly in Sharjah. The left-hander went through a lean phase, suffered a loss in confidence, and was subsequently dumped from the side.

Within six months in international cricket, Yuvraj had already seen the dizzy heights and the depressing lows. Far from being disheartened, he fought back.

Yuvraj managed to get his career back on rails in the emerald isles during the Coca-Cola triangular series in 2001; his unbeaten 98 on a seaming Sinhalese Sports Club stadium pitch providing India with a lifeline when things were going horribly wrong.

However, he had a wretched run during the ODIs in the South African campaign and he found himself out in the cold again. It was here that Yuvraj's mental resilience surfaced.

Indeed, the real transformation in Yuvraj came about in the 2001-2002 domestic season, when he reliased the importance of building an innings and he did notch up huge scores, concentrating hard, and constructing his knocks, brick by brick.

Ironically, it was his performance in first class cricket that forced the selectors to remember his name again for the ODIs, after the Indians slumped to an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Zimbabweans in Kochi.

Yuvraj was back in the hunt and it was clear that he had matured as a cricketer, being able to pace his innings, change gears, and adjust his game to suit the demands of the situation.

Apart from the gift of timing, Yuvraj finds the gaps with effortless ease, whether driving in the arc between point and cover, clipping off his legs, or hammering the bowlers straight down the ground. And yes... he does use his feet against spinners now. Truth to tell, he should be batting higher up the order.

Not to forget his ability to clear the field in a jiffy when he chooses to free his arms. The fact that he can work the ball around, run brilliantly between the wickets and also land the big blows, makes him an extremely dangerous adversary.

These qualities were very much on view when Yuvraj, along with Mohammed Kaif, inspired India to a `believe it or not victory' in the NatWest final at Lord's. In crunch times, he kept his cool.

Sourav Ganguly, someone with an eye for young talent, had enormous faith in Yuvraj's ability, backing him through thick and thin, and the Punjab batsman has not let his skipper down.

The time has come to give Yuvraj a fling in Tests. There is an element of solidity about his cricket these days that cannot be overlooked. Yuvraj is a precious talent, and it would be tragedy if we do not make the most of it.

The man who swoops on the ball, can also soar high, much like an eagle in the skies, in any form of the game. Yuvraj Singh is cut out for more glory.