Yuvraj… forever young!

Yuvraj has not flinched from putting in the hard yards to maintain his fitness.-PTI

Yuvraj Singh is back in the Indian limited overs squad, but with him the tale never stops. Like his illustrious predecessors, he knows that the scrutiny on a 30-plus cricketer is excruciatingly intense. It is a hard road but he is willing to walk it, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

Set close to the leafy environs of Cubbon Park and a bustling M. G. Road, Bangalore’s Chinnaswamy Stadium roars to life when top-flight cricket — international matches and the Indian Premier League — makes a stop-over in the city. In contrast, the Ranji Trophy hardly elicits any response despite the gates being thrown open to the public.

Luckily, in a delicious twist, the limited overs contests (three one-dayers and a lone Twenty20) between India ‘A’ and West Indies ‘A’ during September, drew in the crowds. Entry was free but the fans needed a larger incentive. They had one thanks to the presence of Yuvraj Singh.

The southpaw did not disappoint his supporters and strung scores of 123, 40, 61 and 52. The results though were a mixed bag as India lost the one-dayers 1-2 and won the lone T20. However, there was no mistaking the extra power in Yuvraj’s sinews. All that training along with Zaheer Khan, under Tim Exeter, a sports performance specialist, in France, has strengthened Yuvraj while he hopes to redefine his legacy over the next few years.

It has not been an easy life. Yuvraj Singh has always straddled the two worlds of ‘domineering aura’ and ‘heart-tugging vulnerability’: Demi-God in One Day Internationals and T20s but a touch diffident in Tests; Player of the Tournament in a life-defining World Cup triumph in 2011 and soon battling the demons unleashed by cancer; A comeback against all odds and the struggle to leave his aggressive imprint at the crease.

This fluctuating chart could have made anyone weary, but the 32-year-old from Chandigarh has a resilient spirit.

Yes, whatever he has achieved so far is enough to nurture the legend around him but deep within, he will know that he has never fully revealed his infinite talent. Glittering bright with 8,211 runs and 109 wickets in 282 ODIs, besides exploits in T20s like caning Stuart Broad for six consecutive sixes, Yuvraj however pales when his Test figures are reeled out — 40 matches with 1,900 runs at an average of 33.92. It is a flaw that hurts his mystique.

Having made his Test debut against New Zealand on his home ground at Mohali in 2003, Yuvraj had 39 more outings in the longer format. But, it should be noted that after that particular contest in the Punjab heartland, India played 105 Tests and that means Yuvraj only has a 37.14 percentage presence when the national cricket team dons its whites.

The earlier excuse was that with a middle-order that boasted Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, V. V. S. Laxman and Sourav Ganguly, opportunities were limited for Yuvraj. But Ganguly retired in 2008 and Yuvraj has never secured that number six slot while youngsters like Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara have almost sealed their spots.

And as for ODIs, where he has a better tread, Saurashtra all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja is slowly slipping into the role that Yuvraj had perfected — big-hits and crucial wickets with loopy left-arm spin.

Interestingly, India won the Champions Trophy in England without Yuvraj while Shikhar Dhawan stepped up as the left-handed batting sensation.

Yuvraj, who fought against all odds to overcome cancer, joins hands with Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal at the launch of an initiative against the dreaded disease. Punjab is the worst affected state with cancer owing to excessive use of pesticides.-AKHILESH KUMAR

Yuvraj knows that he is at his tipping point. He last played for India in an ODI against England at Dharamshala on January 27, this year. After that, poor form and a sore back affected him.

Now, following the sojourn in France, he has returned with zest. “In the off-season, Zak (Zaheer Khan) and I trained with Tim Exeter in France. Ashish Kaushik, who works at the NCA, also played a big part. I shed a few kilos. I wasn’t that heavy when I went there, but I just wanted to make sure I would be sharp on the field. I worked on running between the wickets. I am definitely feeling a lot stronger and quicker,” he said.

And he is in good spirits too. During his recent trip to Bangalore, Yuvraj embarrassed a jovial reporter, who had told the player that he looked five years younger. “Only five years? People say I look 10 years younger yaar,” Yuvraj said.

In the same week, when he participated in a cancer awareness programme, he turned philosophical and said: “After the World Cup win, I was on a high but from then on it was a real low. But I didn’t hide it, instead, I fought it and came back a winner. A comeback will happen if it has to.”

That in a nutshell is what Yuvraj’s life has always been about — the style and the struggle. Having crossed over into the 30s and with youngsters pushing in, he knows that he has to be at the top of his game. At the time of going to the press, good tidings continued to rain for Yuvraj as he led India Blue to a title triumph in the N. K. P. Salve Challenger Trophy in Indore. He also did well with the bat (84 & 29) and the selectors have rewarded him with a return to the Indian limited overs squad for the lone T20 and the first three ODIs of the seven-match series against Australia.

There will always be space for Yuvraj provided he stays fit and remains consistent. The 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand is also an attractive lodestone for him to push himself. And with Tendulkar inching closer to his final act, Yuvraj might get another shot in the Indian Test middle-order. With Yuvraj, the tale never stops but like his illustrious predecessors, he knows that the scrutiny on a 30-plus cricketer is excruciatingly intense. It is a hard road but he is willing to walk it.

It has not been an easy life. Yuvraj Singh has always straddled the two worlds of ‘domineering aura’ and ‘heart-tugging vulnerability.’