Yuvraj Singh’s Exit Ends the Last Link With the Golden Generation
Yuvraj Singh’s retirement announcement marks the end of possibly the greatest generation of cricketers.
Today it feels like a generation will go to sleep at night feeling a little old. That’s because Yuvraj Singh has finally decided to call it a day.
It has been a roller coaster journey for Yuvraj which ended finally, after years of being in and out of the Indian white ball squads.
For a man whose career started with a bang, the end was quite tame. In fact the entire generation of cricketers who grew up with Yuvraj have had tame ends to their careers including Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh. Of the lot only Harbhajan is yet to announce his retirement officially.
These were the men handpicked by captain Sourav Ganguly and coach John Wright to put together the best squad ever in the history of Indian cricket.
That’s how journeys end generally in sport, as there is never a fairy tale finish unless you are Sachin Tendulkar. But for now let’s focus on Yuvraj’s golden phase.
Starting Off Well
It all started in the year 2000 when he stunned the world with his heroics in the under-19 World Cup. That’s when the Indian cricket ecosystem sat up and took notice of his talent. Yuvraj finally made it to the Indian ODI team later that year when the match-fixing scandal forced the think-tank to look for younger talent.
He announced himself in style against Australia in the 2000 ICC Champions Trophy at Nairobi along with Zaheer. Yuvraj was an all-round package, left-handed batsman with power, an amazing fielder and a useful left-arm spinner.
Indian cricket finally looked like it had the perfect package in the middle-order to replace some disgraced seniors.
But despite that tremendous start, Yuvraj was never consistent in the first couple of years of his career. He kept getting dropped, until a knock against Zimbabwe in the Hyderabad ODI in March 2002 where he came back in style. This was the first rescue act by Yuvraj in the company of his under-19 captain Mohammed Kaif and thereafter there was no looking back.
Yuvraj’s next big headline-grabbing effort was at Lord’s, again with Kaif when they snatched the tri-series title from England’s grasp in an epic finish.
That day, Yuvraj announced himself to the world in grand style. From thereon he continued to be a key member of India’s white-ball squads which led him to play some delightful knocks, most notably against Pakistan in the 2003 World Cup.
No Call in Whites
Test call-up for Yuvraj was still some time away as the middle-order had no vacancy as possibly the best Indian middle-order ever was in action, at their peak. As it happens so often, it was an injury to captain Ganguly which finally handed Yuvraj a Test debut in late 2003. But he was always the substitute in Test match cricket, never the certainty.
Yuvraj’s first Test hundred came in Lahore in 2004 in a losing cause but it forced the think-tank to shuffle the order for the historic series win at Rawalpindi. However, even that didn't quite seal the deal for Yuvraj.
The biggest mistake of his career, despite the advice of the national selectors, was to open in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy at home against Australia.
This was a move out of desperation to make a name for himself in the Test match format, much like fellow dasher Sehwag at the top of the order. For a brief while it looked like it had paid off but eventually it ended up being a disaster because it set back his Test career.
It took three more years before Yuvraj could reclaim his Test slot, after his hundred against Pakistan, only to lose it later.
In between, Yuvraj’s exploits in white-ball however continued unabated, leading to one of the biggest mysteries in cricket as to why he failed to replicate it in Test match cricket.
His six sixes against Stuart Broad in the 2007 T20 World Cup remains the biggest highlight of his career. It is a moment that will remain etched forever because it was a tournament which heralded the arrival of a new India under Mahendra Singh Dhoni. As Dhoni’s deputy, Yuvraj shouldered his responsibility admirably in the white ball format.
With Ganguly’s retirement, Yuvraj was now expected to walk into the Test match XI by right. He did so for a while, but never quite managed to set the world on fire.
On Top of the World
It took the 2011 World Cup to once again underline Yuvraj’s value in the ODI squad, with bat and ball. Perhaps his best efforts with the bat came in the tournament against Australia and West Indies, plus he was handy with the ball too.
Even as the team lifted the trophy on that April day in 2011, there was a story brewing in the background which the world was unaware of. And that was with regards to his battle with cancer. He vomited blood even as India reached the pinnacle in ODI cricket.
That break Yuvraj was forced to take to tend to his health pushed his career back by a few years. He lost his place in the team, newer talent like Virat Kohli came in to take over.
When he did come back, it was never quite the same for him. The world kept moving on. Even IPL franchises kept looking beyond him at times.
The toughest phase for Yuvraj was when he struggled against Sri Lanka in the 2014 T20 World Cup final. For a man who had bossed the tournament in the very first edition, he struggled in full public view as he become a subject of ridicule. He was then out again.
It took some time before he could come back, with the weight of domestic runs to his credit. He had by then changed IPL franchises every year, with high price tags almost every year. But his cricketing brand value kept dropping each year.
When he did return finally to the blues in 2016, the scenario kept changing as a fresh batch had come in. His final year in international cricket in 2017 showed that Yuvraj still had the ability to come up with sparks of brilliance, but it was going to be few and far in between. His partnership with Dhoni was to be the talking point in this final phase, but it turned out to be a false dawn.
He started the 2017 Champions Trophy in fine style, but as the tournament progressed slipped further and further away. Yuvraj was now a liability on the field and he could hardly get going with the bat. It was here that you could see his career was slowly starting to come to an end.
An injury eventually ended his international career and while Yuvraj did make several attempts to come back, he did not quite match up to the fitness levels required. A feisty batter in his time, this Yuvraj had visibly lost motivation and he picked and chose the domestic games he played, thereby going down the pecking order.
The final nail in the coffin came earlier this year when Yuvraj was picked almost as an after-thought by Mumbai Indians in the IPL auction. He did start the season well, but the think-tank felt that he was a liability with his running between the wickets and fielding. He travelled with the squad but without playing, and that was that.
It was therefore an expected call by Yuvraj in the end. Perhaps the timing was a bit off considering that all the attention is on the World Cup.
Now with him ending his career for good, it is time to remember Yuvraj just for his great cricketing exploits rather than his struggles of the past few years.
Yuvi you have made us all proud. Together with your gang, you were part of perhaps the most celebrated generation of cricketers. You can rest well now.
(Chandresh Narayanan is former cricket writer with The Times of India, The Indian Express, ex-Media Officer for ICC and the Delhi Daredevils. He is also the author of World Cup Heroes, Cricket Editorial consultant, professor and cricket TV commentator.)
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