Yuvraj Singh in the World Cup: Crown prince with the heart of a lion

Indra Vikram Singh

Yuvraj Singh

Timing and wrist-work were the hallmark of this elegant stroke-player. They helped balance what Yuvraj Singh lacked in terms of footwork. They also imparted power to his shots, and gave the illusion of effortlessness in those strikes as they sent the ball sailing into the stands.

In full flow, Yuvraj was a delight to watch. His clarity of thought was reflected in his role as finisher, in the number of unbeaten innings where he guided his team to victory in limited-overs chases. He was never one to give it away, on the field or off it.

The gifted southpaw was destined for great things. More flamboyant than solid, he flowered in the limited-overs format. As he gave full vent to his undoubted talent with the bat, his more-than-useful left-arm spin often came into play.

Yuvraj made history by becoming the first batsman to hit 6 sixes in an over in a Twenty20 International, in the World Championship won by India in 2007. He made history again in the 50-overs World Cup in 2011, adjudged player-of-the-tournament, also won by India.

While Sachin Tendulkar sparkled in the 2003 World Cup, it was a diffident Indian team that took on the amateur outfit from the Netherlands. At 81 for three in the 24th over, Yuvraj made his World Cup debut, replacing Tendulkar who departed after scoring a fine 52.

Yuvraj found an ally in Dinesh Mongia at 114 for five. They added 55 vital runs in 12 overs. Yuvraj left after scoring 37 off 56 deliveries, having hit 3 fours. India were dismissed in 48.5 overs for 204.

Yuvraj did not bowl as Holland were skittled out for 136.

Things took an ugly turn as the reigning champions Australia thrashed India by nine wickets. Yuvraj was leg-before-wicket for a duck to the relentless Glenn McGrath. Angry fans demonstrated and even attacked the homes of some of the players.

This was the wake-up call that the Indian team needed. They regrouped and the anger turned to joy. 

As the side picked up the pieces in the face-off with Zimbabwe, Yuvraj fell for just 1, and still did not get a turn with the ball. In the stroll with first-timers Namibia, Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly ran away with a 244-run second wicket alliance.

Yuvraj was the seventh bowler on view and he ran through the tail, capturing four wickets for 6 runs in his spell of 4.3 overs.

Then came a big test against England, with the Indian team beginning to look like a well-oiled machine. Yuvraj joined Rahul Dravid at 155 for four after 36.2 overs. They added 62 runs in 10 overs.

Yuvraj was the aggressor, his first boundary being a six off Ronnie Irani, and then 2 fours in an over from Craig White. He was out for a 38-ball 42 made up of 4 fours and that six.

The innings ended at 250 for nine. While most experts predicted a 50:50 chance for both teams, England crashed to 168 all out, with Ashish Nehra bowling the spell of his life, capturing six wickets for 23 runs.

That was a great build-up to the red-hot encounter with Pakistan at Centurion. A fine hundred by Saeed Anwar fired Pakistan to a challenging total of 273 for seven. A blazing riposte from Tendulkar set India on the high road.

When the maestro departed for 98, at 177 for four after 27.4 overs, there was still some work to do. But Tendulkar’s pyrotechnics had ensured that the asking-rate had dropped to just 4.35 runs per over.

Again in association with the assured Dravid (44 not out off 76 balls), Yuvraj batted with customary aggression. Their 99-run partnership in 18 overs took the game away from the Pakistanis.

Yuvraj reached a round 50 off 53 deliveries, having struck 6 boundaries. Dravid dispatched the next ball to the ropes and India cantered home with 4.2 overs to spare.

The opponents in their first super-six game were surprise qualifiers Kenya, who scored 225 for six. After a long gap Yuvraj sent down two overs without success.

This time skipper Ganguly was in wonderful touch. Yuvraj joined him at 108 for four after 29.3 overs. Another 118 runs were required at a demanding rate of 5.76 runs an over.

The captain struck leg-spinner Collins Obuya for two boundaries in the 34th over. Yuvraj followed suit in the next over by Maurice Odumbe. He repeated the feat off the first two deliveries of the 40th over sent down by Obuya.

The pair rotated the strike expertly, interspersed with the occasional boundary. Yuvraj brought up his second successive half-century off 57 balls. Then it was Ganguly’s turn to ring in his hundred.

A comfortable victory came up in 47.5 overs. Yuvraj returned triumphant again with 58 to his name, in a 64-ball knock embellished with 7 boundaries.

The top-order, once again led by Tendulkar, was in fine form against Sri Lanka. Yuvraj was promoted to No. 5 to further boost the run-rate but he was bowled for 5. India registered a huge win as the pacers decimated the Lankan batting.

In the next match Yuvraj had little to do, with New Zealand capitulating in the last super-six game.

Kenya’s dream run pitted them against India in the semi-final. Yuvraj was again sent in at No. 5. With Ganguly hitting up his third century of the tournament, Yuvraj slammed 16 off 10 balls with a four and a six before holing out.

India totaled 270 for four. Yuvraj removed the experienced Maurice Odumbe, and the Kenyans folded for 179.

The invincible Australians piled up 359 for two in the final with skipper Ricky Ponting butchering the bowling with his undefeated 140. Yuvraj’s two overs were fruitless.

It was an insurmountable task for India, and when Yuvraj came to the crease at 147 for four after 23.5 overs, the required rate was already exceeding 8 runs an over. He held on to score 24 off 34 balls in a hopeless cause, and India were bowled out for 234 inside 40 overs.

Without being at the forefront, Yuvraj had performed his role with panache for the most part. India picked up the pieces before going on a wonderful run of eight consecutive wins to finish worthy runners-up to a great Aussie team.

The Indian campaign went awry in 2007. Bangladesh had reduced them to 72 for four in 24.1 overs when Yuvraj joined Ganguly. The progress was slow and, uncharacteristically, Yuvraj was unable to hit any boundary in his first 28 deliveries.

He broke the shackles with two leg-side fours in a Shakib Al Hasan over. They raised the half-century of their stand in just under 12 overs.

Yuvraj slammed the other two left-arm spinners Abdur Razzak and Mohammad Rafique over mid-wicket for a four and a six respectively in the space of three deliveries. On 47, Yuvraj top-edged a sweep to be taken at short fine-leg, having played 58 balls. India were bowled out for a paltry 191.

Three feisty half-centuries from the Bangladesh batsmen spurred a five-wicket upset. Yuvraj’s 3 overs were to no avail.

The task now in the game against Bermuda was to secure as good a net run-rate as possible. Yuvraj and Tendulkar smashed 122 in all of 10.2 overs. Clobbering 7 sixes and 3 fours in his 46-ball 83, Yuvraj helped raise a World Cup record 413 for five.

Bermuda were bowled out for 156, and India registered the biggest win in the premier tournament by 257 runs.

It was back to serious business after that, with India needing to beat Sri Lanka in order to qualify for the super-eight stage. But the uptight Indian line-up never looked like overhauling Sri Lanka’s 254 for six.

Yuvraj was run out for 6, and India folded for 185. It was the end of a brief, unhappy tournament for the Indian side.

From the bitter disappointment of the 2007 World Cup, a resolute Indian team rose, like a phoenix, with eyes set on the crown. And Yuvraj began his march towards his destiny as a king.

Many saw the opening face-off with Bangladesh in 2011 as a reprisal for the humiliation four years earlier. In actual fact, the Indian team would just have been looking to start off on the right note.

Virender Sehwag (175) and a young Virat Kohli (100 not out) ensured that India hit up 370 for four. Yuvraj did not get a hit, and his 7 overs were wicketless.

With Sachin Tendulkar in imperious form against England, Yuvraj joined the little master in the 30th over at 180 for two. They added 56 in 9.4 overs before Tendulkar left after scoring a tremendous 120.

Joined by captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the pair kept up the momentum. Yuvraj’s fifty came off 46 deliveries. He holed out for 58, having faced 50 balls and struck 9 boundaries.

India were bowled out for 338 with one delivery still remaining. Andrew Strauss then led from the front with his superb 158, and the match ended in a tie.

Yuvraj struck with the ball against Ireland. He had Andrew White caught behind by Dhoni, and then got the big man Kevin O’Brien to hit back a catch to him. Striking regularly, he had Porterfield slamming hard into the hands of Harbhajan Singh at cover.

Bowling his stint of 10 overs unchanged, Yuvraj trapped John Mooney and Alex Cusack leg-before-wicket. He returned with a haul of five for 31 as Ireland were dismissed for 207 in 47.5 overs.

India found themselves in some strife at 87 for three when Yuvraj strode in. Kohli was run out not long after. Dhoni helped Yuvraj add 67.

In alliance with a belligerent Yusuf Pathan, Yuvraj took India home by five wickets with 4 overs to spare. He returned triumphant with an exact 50, the first to achieve the feat of bagging five wickets and scoring a half-century in a World Cup match.

His runs came off 75 balls and he struck 3 boundaries. The man-of-the-match award was rightfully his.

The Dutch teased a bit but the big boys marched on steadfast. Bowling round the stumps, Yuvraj trapped opener Wesley Barresi leg-before off the last ball of his first over to wrest his 100th wicket in one-day internationals. Later, he deceived the accomplished Ryan ten Doeschate in the air, and Zaheer Khan took a fine catch near the long-off boundary.

Yuvraj finished with two for 43 off 9 overs as the Netherlands were bowled out for 189.

Pieter Seelaar struck thrice as a complacent India lost some quick wickets after a blazing start. Yuvraj sauntered in to a bit of a tangle at 99 for four. He added 40 with Gautam Gambhir before the latter departed.

Captain Cool arrived now, and the pair coasted nonchalantly towards their goal. Yuvraj hit the winning boundary to square-leg, raising his own fifty as well as that of the partnership. He was unbeaten with 51, achieved off 73 deliveries and embellished with 7 boundaries.

It was his third consecutive half-century and second successive man-of-the-match prize, and another in a series of finishing efforts with unconquered fifties.

Powered by Tendulkar’s 99th international hundred, India seemed poised for a huge total against South Africa. But once the great man departed, the home side collapsed from 267 for one in 39.4 overs to 296 all out in 48.4 overs, rocked by a five-wicket haul by the fiery Dale Steyn.

Yuvraj fell for 12, and was unable to pick up a wicket in his 8 overs, conceding 47 runs. In a nail-biting finish South Africa won with 2 balls to spare and three wickets in hand.

India needed to regroup, and they did so in their last league match versus the West Indies. Sent in at No. 4 in the absence of Sehwag, Yuvraj settled into a long association with Kohli.

The century partnership came simultaneously with Kohli’s half-century. India were now cruising.

Dhoni assisted in a partnership of 45. Yuvraj raised his hundred off 112 balls. He was caught and bowled by Kieron Pollard for a magnificent 113, his lone hundred in the World Cup. The 123-ball knock comprised 10 fours and 2 sixes.

Yuvraj emulated Kapil Dev’s feat of scoring a hundred and bagging a five-wicket haul in the World Cup. India were bowled out for 268 inside 50 overs.

Yuvraj beat Devon Thomas in the air and got him stumped by Dhoni. In his next over he had Andre Russell caught by Yusuf Pathan at point. His two wickets cost 18 runs in 4 overs.

West Indies crumbled to 188 all out. Yuvraj wrested another man-of-the-match award.

A vintage hundred by Ricky Ponting spurred Australia to a challenging total of 260 for six. Yuvraj broke Ponting’s 70-run second-wicket stand with Brad Haddin. He beat Haddin in the air and Suresh Raina dived forward in the covers to hold on.

He then struck a huge blow as Michael Clarke tried to slam him on the on-side but only succeeding in getting a top edge which was caught by Zaheer Khan at mid-wicket. Yuvraj’s two wickets came at a cost of 44 runs in 10 overs.

A half century by Tendulkar set India on their way. Gambhir brought up his fifty but was soon run out. When Suresh Raina joined Yuvraj there were 74 runs needed off 12.3 overs with five wickets in hand.

India need not have worried though as 4 boundaries came off 7 balls from the pacers, Yuvraj crashing three of them. Yuvraj reached his fifty in 54 balls, and India were home with 2.2 overs to spare.

Yet again Yuvraj had carried out a gallant finishing job. His unbeaten 57 had come off 65 deliveries and was embellished with 8 boundaries. Yuvraj won another successive man-of-the-match prize, his fourth of the tournament, equaling the feats of Aravinda de Silva (1996) and Lance Klusener (1999).

Tendulkar battled the Pakistani bowlers on a tricky Mohali semi-final wicket as much as he rode his good luck. Yuvraj, much to his chagrin, was yorked first ball by the left-arm pacer Wahab Riaz. India totaled 260 for nine.

Yuvraj was on the money with the ball and in his third over straightened one that crashed into Asad Shafiq’s middle stump. In his next over he deceived Younis Khan with a slower ball, inducing a spooned drive to Raina in the covers.

Pakistan were now 106 for four in 25.4 overs and fighting to stay in the match. They were bowled out for 231 with one delivery left.

Yuvraj’s two wickets cost 57 runs in his 10 overs. India won by 29 runs.

It was an engaging battle in the final at Mumbai, and once again Yuvraj played his part with the ball in the middle of the innings. He struck a huge blow as his quicker one had Kumar Sangakkara edging into the gloves of Dhoni.

As Thilan Samaraweera combined with Jayawardene in another half-century partnership, Yuvraj had the former leg-before on the sweep stroke. Jayawardene went on to score a classy century, helping his team hoist 274 for six.

Dhoni took up the challenge head-on by striding in purposefully at No. 5. His 119-run alliance with Gambhir (97) carried India to 223 for four. There were 52 runs required from 8.4 overs.

Dhoni was irresistible, stepping on the pedal as the target came closer. He put his unmistakable stamp with his winning hit for a huge six over long-on with 10 balls still in hand.

Yet again Yuvraj returned unbeaten in triumph with 21 runs to his name off 24 balls, having struck two fours.

Dhoni was unbeaten with a dazzling 91, having occupied the crease for just 79 deliveries and blasted 8 boundaries besides the winning six. He was the obvious man-of-the-match, the third captain to be bestowed with this honour in a World Cup final after Clive Lloyd (1975) and Ponting (2003).

There was no argument either about the choice of Yuvraj as the player-of-the-tournament. A tally of 362 runs with an average of 90.50 and strike-rate of 86.19, comprising a hundred and 4 fifties, was complemented by 15 wickets at an average of 25.13 and economy-rate of 5.02, including a five-wicket haul, with three catches rounding off a magnificent contribution.

That he fulfilled his role as fifth bowler with aplomb was as critical in India’s successful campaign as his part as a classy finisher with the bat. What made his achievement stupendous on the one hand, and heart-rending on the other, was that he was already showing symptoms of the cancer that he was eventually diagnosed with.

Happily, he made a complete recovery and fought his way back heroically into international cricket. Yuvraj’s deeds of derring-do in the 2011 World Cup and after have become tales never to be forgotten in the annals of the game.

Yuvraj Singh in the World Cup

Matches 23, Highest Score 113, Runs 738, Average 52.71, Strike-rate 90.33, Hundred 1, Fifties 7, Catches 4

Wickets 20, Average 23.10, Best 5/31, Economy 4.99

Also see - IND vs PAK head to head stats