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Yuvraj Singh was lordly

January 22, 2004

It seems a century ago, that I received dozens of emails from Indian friends in Australia that all, in their various ways, said the same thing: 'Our team is letting us down; I hate going to work the day after the game knowing I have to endure the taunts of my Aussie mates'.

What a difference four years can make.

It was the 49th over, from Ian Harvey, reputedly one of the best bowlers at the death in one-day cricket. VVS Laxman clipped the second ball of the over for a single to bring up his century. Ball three, Yuvraj Singh got under one and slapped a huge six over midwicket, clearing the longest boundary at the SCG with some comfort. Ball four, a low, swinging full toss, was driven inside out over cover for four. Ball five, a slower ball, was picked almost as soon as Harvey conceived it in his mind, and swept fine for four. Ball six, fuller and quicker, produced the shot of the innings an effortless straight driven six that thudded into the sightscreen.

When VVS Laxman drove the first ball of the next over, from Brett Lee, inside out over cover, 24 runs had been blasted off just five balls. And in the stands, amidst the hordes of singing, dancing Indian fans, a group held up a banner that spoke volumes: 'PROUD TO BE AN INDIAN', it read.

Aren't you, just! In two games against the world champions, the Indians have taken 599 runs for the loss of just eight wickets; that score has included two unbeaten centuries by VVS Laxman, who apparently finds the toughest side in the world easy pickings.

It's an amazing record four ODI centuries, all against Australia. Here at the SCG, three centuries two in Tests (167 off 198 in Jan 2000 and 178 off 298 more recently) and this one in ODIs.

Yet, well as Laxman batted and his innings of 106 off 130 needs to be seen in context of the 80/3 India was at the fall of Dravid's wicket in the 16th over there was only one man on the park today.

Yuvraj Singh was lordly. His innings reduced the Aussies to fetch and carry men. When at the start of his innings he launched into a series of fierce pulls, his partner was down the wicket in a flash, exhorting caution; by the time Singh's innings ended, Laxman was reduced to shaking his head in bemused admiration.

It was sometime late in October of 2000 that my colleague Faisal Shariff first met Yuvraj Singh. This was shortly after the youngster announced himself as an emerging talent with a brilliant 84 off 80 deliveries against Australia in the ICC Knockout tournament.

Faisal, I remember, came back underwhelmed. Yuvi is a great talent, he told us then, but he's letting it get to him.

He was quickly proved right as Yuvraj hit the skids. His scores in subsequent innings read 7, 34, 4, 7, 3, 11, 17, 5, 29, 19, 6, 12 and 28, before he again showed a glimpse of his old form with a 98 not out against Sri Lanka at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo.

During that period, it was difficult to keep from making comparisons with the likes of Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, Sadanand Vishwanath and Vinod Kambli, to name just three brilliant talents who allowed fame and premature fortune to swamp their senses.

Talented players have lost their heads before; to Yuvraj's credit, he found his. He worked on his game, and bounced back. Still, one aspect of his cricket bothered him he just wasn't getting the 100s he felt he deserved to score, and that was making him antsy.

Enter Sandy Gordon, to whom he confessed his distress. The Australian sports psychologist sat the youngster down and talked to him; your natural place, Gordon told Yuvraj, is in the middle order. There, opportunities to hit 100s are few; what you can do though is make yourself into the finisher, the man the team looks to for the final impetus.

Yuvraj got his second wind then, and has been comfortable with his role ever since so much, incidentally, for those who insist that sports psychologists are a passing fad, and that no cricketer really needs the services of one.

The breakup of his innings is interesting, as an example of pacing. At the halfway stage of the Indian innings (3/124 in 25 overs), Yuvraj was involved in settling down. At that point, he had 24 dot balls, 10 singles, three twos and three fours in a score of 28 off 40 deliveries.

In the next 25 overs, while Laxman played the anchor, Yuvraj picked up the pace. The second half of his innings breaks down into 26 dot balls, 35 singles, 6 twos, 13 fours and two sixes as he piled on 111 runs off just 82 balls.

The true value of the innings can be seen against the backdrop of the 303/4 India made at the Gabba, in the previous meeting between these two sides.

In that game, India had its once-regular opening pair of Ganguly and Tendulkar in harness; Tendulkar, limping for most of the match, went on to play a little gem and provided the platform for the final launch that took India to what proved to be a winning score.

This time round, there was no Tendulkar. Ganguly left in the second over, and India at 80/3 in the 16th looked vulnerable when Yuvraj walked in. And yet, compare the scores after 25 overs: 132/1 at the Gabba, 124/3 here.

After 30 overs, that comparison reads 2/157 then, 151/3 here. After 35, it was 2/187, here it was 3/181. After 40, India at the Gabba were 2/215; here, they were 3/211. After 45, the comparison is 2/253 then, 3/247 now. In that game, India made 88 off the last ten overs, here they made 85.

Time was, if this team had no Tendulkar in it and Ganguly went cheap, it would fold in abject fashion.

Now, the team has Tendulkar and Sehwag sitting out, Ganguly back inside the hut inside of 8 balls and you wouldn't know the difference. And that resilience, that ability to shrug off the absence of the big names and go on, is perhaps the single most notable characteristic this team has developed of late.

What did that banner say, again?

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