Huge IPL bid gives Yuvraj another shot at ODI comeback
Yuvraj Singh's international career may look bleak, but with an IPL price tag of Rs 14 crore he has proved he still carries a punch when it comes to domestic cricket, says Shakya Mitra.
April 2, 2011: Indian cricket's finest hour as they lift the World Cup aloft at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium after a gap of 28 years. It was also the finest hour for a left-handed all-rounder and one of India's most gifted cricketers in recent times -- Yuvraj Singh. The tall, strongly-built player had capped off an exceptional tournament by pocketing the Man of the Tournament trophy.
December 2011: Just ten months after the singular triumph at the World Cup, the dream turns into a nightmare for Indian cricket lovers and for Yuvraj himself. The whole world comes to know that India's World Cup hero is suffering from cancer in the lung region. That explains why he has been fatigued and given to vomiting while playing in recent times.
Then, when everything seemed to have come to a premature end for an entertaining cricketer, there it was -- an incredible comeback. If there are two words that are associated with Yuvraj about his international career that has spanned nearly a decade and a half, it is 'comeback' and 'winner'. When he lay in an American hospital battling the deadly disease, his most ardent supporters knew that if there was one man who could come out of this stronger, it would be the Punjab cricketer, even if there were suggestions that he might not be the same player again.
And come back he did. In September 2012, only five months after returning to India following his cancer treatment in the United States, he was donning the India colours once again.
Image: Yuvraj Singh
Photographs: Gareth Copley/Getty Images
The record payout could be Yuvraj's rejuvenation
Harbhajan Singh, who has had a long association with Singh as a team mate with Punjab and the national team, summed things up perfectly. The off-spinner says that if there is anybody about whom that word should be used, it was the all-rounder from Chandigarh. Someone who recovers from cancer so quickly to play cricket, he said, has to be truly heroic.
Of late, of course, Yuvraj's form had dipped and he was dropped from the Indian One-Day International team. He seemed fated now to play for his state team until fading into retirement, like his cavalier national team mate Virender Sehwag. But came the auction for the Indian Premier League and everyone sat up when Vijay Mallya's Royal Challengers Bangalore outbid everyone with an outrageous Rs 14 crore for Singh for the eight-week tournament. Compare that to the Rs 3.2 crore that Sehwag was valued at by King's XI Punjab.
The record payout could be Yuvraj's rejuvenation or, as they say, his 'second innings' in the most popular club tournament in the world. It is the highest sum in crores spent on a player in the IPL auction, beating the Rs 11 crore that Kolkata Knight Riders spent on Gautam Gambhir in 2011, but with the US dollar having appreciated in the last three years, Yuvraj's purchase is equivalent to 2.25 million dollars, which is less than the $2.4 million spent on Gambhir.
Image: Left to right: Harbhajan Singh, Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh celebrate after winning the 2011 World Cup in Mumbai
Photographs: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Yuvraj has been India's finest 'big-tournament' match winner in the past decade
Yuvraj's achievements in IPL (RCB will be his third team after King's XI Punjab and Pune Warriors) have been modest compared to his talent. You would then wonder why RCB -- who already have three exceptional short-form players in Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli and AB De Villiers -- are spending so much money on Yuvraj, especially after their purchase corpus was limited for having retained the three named players at nearly half the total purse (Rs 29.5 crore of Rs 60 crore).
Many of the players on whom vast amounts of money were splashed at the auctions, such as Mahendra Dhoni, Gambhir and Rohit Sharma, had gone on to become successful captains, justifying their prices. However, it is unlikely that Yuvraj will be offered the captaincy at Bangalore, with the likes of Kohli and De Villiers around. So what made RCB pay so much for the left-hander?
The answer perhaps is because Yuvraj has been India's finest 'big-tournament' match winner in the past decade. Sachin Tendulkar is, without doubt, the greatest ever ODI batsman India produced, Dhoni, one of the world's best finishers ever, and in recent times, Kohli has shown the ability to play some truly magical innings.
Yet Yuvraj, with his booming pulls and drives, has excelled in the big tournaments in a manner no other Indian has. Other than his Man of the Tournament award in the 2011 World Cup, where he excelled with both bat and ball, he was India's decisive player in India's Twenty20 World Cup victory in 2007 playing two blistering knocks against England and Australia, his outstanding tournament including the six sixes in an over against current England T20 captain Stuart Broad.
Image: Yuvraj Singh
Photographs: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com
Yuvraj often raises his game when people least expect it
RCB is the most high-profile IPL team not to have won a title so far. Kohli, both as batsman and captain, is someone who seems unable to compromise with second place. And their collusion could be why Mallya's outfit broke the bank vault to acquire Yuvraj. The all-rounder's decisive match winning ability in big tournaments is what may have prompted them to pay him even more than Kohli, who has been retained at Rs 12.5 crore.
As things stand, it would be completely foolish to write Yuvraj off despite his modest IPL record because he often raises his game and performance when people least expect it. His performance in the 2011 World Cup is symbolic of that ability. It was less than a year before that triumphant campaign that he had been dropped from the Asia Cup in June 2010.
Perhaps he was a tad complacent at the time, his premier status in the Indian team assured. That he was taking things easy was clearly visible in his physical appearance, and his increasing weight drew concerned criticism. Many wondered if Yuvraj was at a time in his career when he couldn't care less and many felt he wouldn't even make the cut for the World Cup team. We all know what went on to happen in the 2011 World Cup.
Image: Yuvraj Singh
Photographs: Hamish Blair/Getty Images
His comeback in IPL will only make him double a hero
Yuvraj has come a long way since his younger days, when coached and pushed by his one-Test cricketer of a father, Yograj Singh, and nurtured by his mother, Shabnam. Conscious of his own celebrity, Yuvraj lived a giant life, with a string of romantic dalliances making the news columns on a regular basis. He could be seen in numerous advertisements and endorsements.
In a pique he left King's XI Punjab for Pune Warrior because he thought leading his home franchise, so to say, was his right and he had been denied that. His six sixes in the T20 World Cup earned him the status of a cult hero, and every youngster aspired to be like him.
And just when his career was dwindling, his illness brought him back into public reckoning. Yuvraj took this in stride, using his own ailment to lead an awareness movement on cancer. And when he had been written off, he made a comeback against all odds, making him the symbol of India's new never-say-die ethos in cricket.
Now, as he enters his 33rd year, RCB's record purchase, prompted by their captain Kohli's insistence, is a clear leap of faith in a player in the twilight of his career. But it is also an acknowledgement of Yuvraj's ability as a deliverer when it really matters for a franchisee which is surprisingly trophyless for six years now. If he assists RCB over the finishing line, it will seal his reputation as the most decisive match winner in short-form cricket in the past decade.
As for his comeback from cancer, he is already a hero for many of us. His comeback in IPL will only make him double a hero.
Image: Yuvraj Singh
Photographs: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images