All eyes on Yuvraj as India take on Kiwis in first T20
After winning his battle against a rare germ cell cancer, India's World Cup hero Yuvraj Singh will be the cynosure of all eyes when he starts his journey back to international cricket with the first Twenty20 match against New Zealand in Visakhapatnam on Saturday.
Yuvraj was diagnosed with the ailment between his lungs within months of winning the Man of the Tournament award in the 2011 World Cup. His career looked in jeopardy when the diagnosis was first revealed, but the flamboyant all-rounder fought back after undergoing three cycles of chemotherapy.
The 30-year-old left-hander has trained hard at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore and will be looking to make a statement when he returns to the cricket field in Saturday's match.
It is something that has never happened on the cricket field and Yuvraj will go on to inspire generations when he wears the Indian colours again after more than nine months.
Image: India's Yuvraj Singh smiles as he walks with teammate Harbhajan Singh during a practice session ahead of their first Twenty20 cricket match against New Zealand in Visakhapatnam
Photographs: REUTERS/Stringer .
'I will be having enough match practice'
Behind all the limelight he hogged after he returned home, Yuvraj put in hours sweating it out at the NCA to regain the fitness and agility he was known for.
Whether he makes a stupendous comeback on his return on Saturday or not, the fact that he beat cancer will now be a part of cricketing folklore.
"I had played three practice games at NCA. I will get some serious match practice in the two matches against New Zealand, scheduled September 8 and 11," he said.
"Then I would be playing two more practice matches. So, you see, I will be having seven games before the World Cup. I will be having enough match practice," he added.
His last International appearance was the Kolkata Test against the West Indies last November, while it is more than a year since he last played a T20 (against South Africa on January 9, 2011).
The two T20Is against New Zealand start India's countdown for the fourth edition of the World Twenty20 that will get underway in Sri Lanka on September 18.
Image: India's Yuvraj Singh holds a ball while standing in the nets during a practice session ahead of their first Twenty20 cricket match against New Zealand in Visakhapatnam
Kohli the man for all formats
As it is a jam-packed Twenty20 calendar ahead -- World T20 followed by the Champions League in South Africa -- India will be keen on a winning start against the Kiwis.
The hosts could not have started their home season on a better note, having routed the visitors 2-0 in the just-concluded two-Test series.
The T20 series against New Zealand will also mark the return of Harbhajan Singh, the star off-spinner who went out of favour after India was blanked 0-4 on the disastrous England tour last July-August.
Both Yuvraj and Harbhajan were part of India's successful campaigns in the ODI and Twenty20 World Cup (in 2007 and 2011).
Form-wise, Virat Kohli is the man for all formats for India in recent past, with many match-winning knocks under his belt.
The youngster will again form the core of the Indian batting, while Suresh Raina, known for his exploits in the shorter formats, will look to provide the finishing.
In the middle-order, Rohit Sharma will have to prove his worth soon enough, else the struggling batsman could end up losing his spot to the talented Manoj Tiwary, who is waiting in the wings.
Image: Virat Kohli
Photographs: REUTERS/Vivek Prakash
Sehwag and Gambhir yet to fire
The opening duo of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir are also yet to fire. Sehwag is yet to convert his starts and is long due for a big score, while Gambhir too struggled in the Test series.
But he can draw confidence from the fact that he had a fine outing in India's 4-1 and 1-0 victory in the ODI and T20 series in Sri Lanka.
The very mention of the Dr YSR Reddy ACA-VDCA stadium, perched on the foothills of the Simhachalam forests on the outskirts of the city, makes one remember the great knock of Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Dhoni announced his arrival with a magnificent 148 against Pakistan back in 2005 and the Indian skipper will look forward to the belter, where India have never lost in four ODIs.
On the bowling front, the resurgence of Irfan Pathan in the Sri Lanka series is a bright spot.
Photographs: REUTERS/Vivek Prakash
Ashwin will again look to stand tall
Laxmipathy Balaji too is back in the fold more than three-and-a-half years after he last played for India.
It was his tidy performance for IPL champions Kolkata Knight Riders that caught the selectors' attention and the veteran seamer will look to grab the opportunity in case he makes the cut to partner spearhead Zaheer Khan.
Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin foxed the Black Caps with his variation of carrom ball and returned with 18 wickets from the two Tests.
Back in the format where he has impressed most, he will once again look to stand tall in the path of Ross Taylor and Co.
With veteran Harbhajan around, it will be interesting to see if the think-tank goes for an all-offspin attack.
Image: R Ashwin
Photographs: Ryan Pierse / Getty Images
McCullum the key batsman for the Kiwis
The wounded Black Caps, having lost three Test series (vs South Africa, West Indies and India) in a row, and with losses in their last three T20Is, will be keen to turn it around ahead of the World T20.
Famous in the subcontinent for his T20 exploits in the IPL, Brendon McCullum is their key batsman; the explosive wicketkeeper will look to give the visitors a blazing start.
The Kiwis shone in patches in the two Tests and the century by skipper Taylor was the high point of the last Test in Bangalore. Taylor will look to inspire the line-up and keep on the fighting spirit.
Veteran all-rounder Jacob Oram will be another vital cog in the Kiwis' wheel.
The 34-year-old, who was the leading (11) wicket-taker in the Sri Lankan Premier League will look to bring the team back to winning ways in conditions similar to that of Sri Lanka.
Image: Brendon McCullum
Photographs: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images
James Franklin will also come handy in T20
James Franklin is another name who has come handy in T20, and the all-rounder will look to shine with both bat and ball.
The return of highly-experienced left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori, who missed the Test series because of a groin injury, is another high point for the team.
Doug Bracewell and Tim Southee are the Kiwis' pace spearheads, while 20-year-old Adam Milne will look to impress with his searing pace for the first time in sub-continental conditions.
The sun is shining bright after the last few days of bad weather, and this Visakhapatnam T20 should enthrall the cricket-starved crowd in this coastal port city of Andhra Pradesh.
The second and final T20 is in Chennai on September 11.
Teams (from): India: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (capt), Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Ravichandran Ashwin, Zaheer Khan, Laxmipathy Balaji, Ashok Dinda, Piyush Chawla and ManojTiwary.
New Zealand: Ross Taylor (capt), Brendon McCullum (wk),Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson, James Franklin, Rob Nicol, Jacob Oram, Doug Bracewell, Daniel Vettori, Tim Southee, Adam Milne, Nathan McCullum, Ronnie Hira, Kyle Mills and BJ Watling.
Match starts: 1900 IST
Image: James Franklin
Photographs: Clive Mason/Getty Images