Yuvraj Singh took giant strides towards a comeback to the Indian Test team with an entertaining half-century for India 'A' on Day 1 of the three-day tour match against the touring England XI, at the Brabourne stadium, in Mumbai, on Tuesday.
With the new selection panel, barring chairman Sandeep Patil, in attendance, the stage was perfectly set for some of India's fringe players to make a mark and press their claims for a berth in the Test squad.
Having recovered from cancer earlier in the year, Yuvraj showed his game is improving with every outing in the middle as he stroked his way to 59 off 80 balls. He showcased his prowess with the bat, smashing four sixes and seven fours.
Manoj Tiwary took charge in the post-tea session, top-scoring with 93 from 150 balls, while Abhinav Mukund recovered from a shaky start to hit a brisk 73 off 83 balls in the morning session.
Electing to bat, India 'A' posted a healthy 369 for nine in 90 overs in the first innings by stumps, scoring at more than four runs per over against England's top bowlers.
The visitors suffered a major scare when pacer Steve Finn had to retire with an injury to his leg. He will undergo precautionary scan.
Even though Yuvraj failed to carry on and play a big innings, India 'A' coach Lalchand Rajput is confident that the left-hander is ready to return to the Test squad for the four-match series against England, starting next month.
"Everybody is talking about the No. 6 slot, but I think Yuvraj has done enough to see that he is there in the Test team. The way he batted he outclassed everyone. I know Manoj batted very well, but the way Yuvraj was timing the ball, and one of the sixes against Swann was the best. I think Yuvraj is batting at his prime and, hopefully, he will keep doing it. He made a double hundred in the Duleep Trophy, which augurs well for his Test place as well," Rajput said after the day's play.
"He has been batting well. It is not easy to get double century in Duleep Trophy; today, again he scored a fine half-century, showing his class with some excellent strokes. I am sure he is ready for Test cricket," he added.
Yuvraj is in competition with Suresh Raina for the No 6 slot in the Test team, left vacant by the retirement of VVS Laxman. Raina failed to make most of the opportunities in the two-Test series against New Zealand, and after his failure in the first innings of the ongoing tour match, the former is fancied to get the nod.
Rajput was particularly impressed with Yuvraj's timing and ability to clear the boundaries with ease.
"The way he timed the ball it was awesome. I saw all the four sixes that Yuvraj hit, and all of them were amazing. In fact, one of the sixes he hit, against [Graeme] Swann, was effortless; he just timed the ball and it went miles," said the former Mumbai player.
Image: Yuvraj Singh reacts as he walks back to the pavilion after being dismissed by England's Graeme Swann.
Photograph: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters