As Yuvraj Singh turns 37 today, it is a great time to look back at the achievements of a celebrated cricketer. But Yuvraj Singh is also one of the unique players who revolutionized Indian cricket in more ways than one.
The stylish southpaw who is currently on Ranji Trophy duty for Punjab, is working hard to make yet another comeback to the Indian team - with the dream of winning another World Cup for India before bowing out.
Yuvraj, who has been a key figure in India's cricketing setup for almost 20 years now, has seen all the ups and downs in his personal and professional life as a sportsman.
The talented Yuvraj used to be a skating champion during his childhood and that is when his father decided to make him a cricketer. What followed was rigorous training and practising in the nets under floodlights, all organized by his father.
He was outstanding at the junior level, and a man of the tournament award at the victorious Under-19 World Cup in January 2000 was a testimony to that. Yuvraj impressed one and all with his attacking strokeplay in his very first senior international innings against arguably the best bowling attack in that era. What followed was many more match-winning performances for the country in a career filled with challenges.
With the bat, ball and his extraordinary fielding efforts, Yuvraj contributed in almost a dozen multilateral series victories, rare Test series victories and dozens of other tournament victories. Outside the international circuit, he has been brilliant for his state team and also contributed to his IPL franchise Sunriser Hyderabad's maiden title victory in 2016.
With 402 international matches under his belt, Yuvraj might not have the number of centuries to match up to many Indian greats. But the number of matches he has single-handedly won for his country - especially in big tournaments - is good to put most Indian cricketing legends to shame.
Winning the 2011 World Cup while going through cancer, and then making a remarkable comeback after over a year, spoke volumes of his character and inspired millions to fight back.
While many of his fans are hoping for his return before the World Cup, some experts are also demanding his inclusion because of his fighting abilities and experience in the middle order - an area India is still struggling to find stability at. Let us have a look at some of Yuvraj's best all-round performances in big tournaments, which shaped Indian cricket the way it is today.
Under-19 World Cup 2000
After a 358 for Punjab in a single innings the final of Cooch Behar Trophy in 1999, Yuvraj did not give the selectors any reason to leave him out for the Under-19 World Cup. Taking wickets right from the start of the Under-19 World Cup, Yuvraj's first big day came during the team's third match against New Zealand.
Batting first against a world-class opposition consisting of players such as the McCullum Brothers, James Franklin, Jamie How and Ian Butler, Yuvraj scored 68 on a tough wicket at more than run a ball. While the team was bowled out for 199, Yuvraj backed the bowlers with his left arm spin, finishing with 4 for 36 and a man of the match award.
He followed this with another 4 wicket haul in the very next game against Nepal, and an all-round performance in their last league game against Sri Lanka. His 24-ball 58 including five fours and five sixes, in the semifinal against an Australian lineup containing Mitchell Johnson, Shane Watson, Nathan Hauritz and Shaun Marsh, helped India post a score well beyond Australia's reach.
His 27 in the final against Sri Lanka helped India comfortably chase a small target of 179. In the final tally, Yuvraj scored 203 runs including two fifties in the tournament and took 12 wickets. India won seven out of eight matches, and only their second game in the tournament - against the Netherlands - was washed out.
How it changed Indian cricket:
This victory gave India many youngsters such as Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Reetinder Singh Sodhi, etc - who would change India's standards in terms of fielding, running between the wickets, and aggression in batting as well as bowling. Overall, the body language of the Indian players was changing.
The new generation of Indian players that followed was fearless and ready to take on any opposition in any conditions. This generation of players would try to win every match rather than settle for draws or scorelines of respectability.
International Debut during ICC Knockout 2000
After the match-fixing controversy, some senior Indian players were banned and the team had hit rock bottom as far as their performance was concerned. Not only did the team sparsely win any tournament, but they had also failed to reach any tournament final for over a year. This is when new players such as Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan and wicket-keeper batsman Vijay Dahiya got a look in, all making their international cricket debut during India's first game against Kenya.
While Yuvraj got a short spell of bowling in his first match, he did not get a chance to bat as the team was chasing a fairly manageable total. In their next match - the quarterfinal against World Champions Australia - Steve Waugh put India in to bat.
India looked to get off to a flyer with Sachin Tendulkar counterattacking his old nemesis Glenn McGrath. The course of things changed after the twelfth over and by the 19th over - India's top three batsmen - Sachin, Ganguly and Dravid - were back in the pavilion.
Facing a world class bowling lineup and an opposition which included players who had all been part of a World Cup winning squad at some point in their careers - Yuvraj did not break a sweat. Batting alongside veterans Vinod Kambli and Robin Singh, Yuvraj attacked Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie, Shane Lee, Ian Harvey and even Steve Waugh.
Playing his first ever innings at the international level, Yuvraj reached his fifty off 47 balls even as the rest of the side was struggling. He slowed down once India lost all their recognized batsmen and decided to attack Shane Lee in the 47th over.
Without thinking of a potential century, Yuvraj top-edged one and was caught and bowled for 84 on his 80th ball. His innings included 12 top-class boundaries.
Australia got off to a decent start, but a diving catch to dismiss Ian Harvey and a brilliant direct hit to dismiss Michael Bevan broke the spine of Australia's chase. India secured a rare ICC tournament victory against Australia, and Yuvraj continued his form in the semifinal against South Africa.
A 34-ball 41 from Yuvraj after the team's slow start helped India post almost 300 runs on the board. He also dismissed the legendary Jonty Rhodes to secure his first international wicket.
A 18-run cameo in the final and a tight effort in the field and with the ball was not good enough as Chris Cairns almost single-handedly helped New Zealand win a rare ICC trophy.
A 143 runs at a strike rate of over 100 and 2 catches in the tournament while batting in tough situations was a praiseworthy performance for a newcomer. For India, Yuvraj had the best economy rate, third best batting average and the best strike rate among the batsmen in that tournament.
How it changed Indian cricket:
In his first senior international outing, he showed the potential of a true batting all rounder. Not only was he successful in decimating the world's best bowling attack, he also bowled tight spells in the middle overs, could hold diving catches and change batsmen's fortunes with direct hits to affect run outs.
Over the years, Yuvraj became a mainstay middle order batsman, a permanent at cover point and a reliable bowler during the middle over. He was very much the attacking cricketer and batting all-rounder India craved for all the while.
Natwest Tri-Series in England, 2002
The 2002 Natwest Tri-Series in England was just the tournament Yuvraj Singh needed to showcase his consistency at the highest level. After a seesaw graph during his first couple of years, all eyes were on India's youngsters that also included Zaheer Khan, Mohammad Kaif, Harbhajan Singh and Ashish Nehra.
In India's first match at Lord's, captain Sourav Ganguly was in a mess as none of his main bowlers could penetrate in the first half of England's innings.
England were in a comfortable position at 201 for 2 in the 34th over, when three quick wickets from Yuvraj helped India pull England's total way below 300. With the bat, India got off to a decent start. But when India's skipper got out, India needed 131 at run-a-ball with six wickets in hand.
Yuvraj gave the perfect support to vice-captain Rahul Dravid, who looked to rebuild India's innings. The required run rate peaked during the last five overs, and that is when Yuvraj's attacking strokeplay came to the team's rescue.
Playing his first ever match in England, Yuvraj looked at ease even as England's bowlers managed to find some swing in overcast conditions. An unbeaten 64 off 65 helped India secure four points as they won the match with seven balls to spare.
In India's next game against Sri Lanka, Yuvraj's 31 was among many double figure scores by the Indian batsmen, who finally managed to comfortably chase a small target of 203. His unbeaten 19-ball 40 in a rain-marred encounter against England helped him build more experience and momentum as Darren Gough was back in the English attack. He affected three dismissals in the field and yet again managed a 37 while chasing a low total in India's second match against Sri Lanka during the tournament.
While he took a wicket and a catch, he got his first real bad game with the bat at the Oval, when India were chasing a target of 230 in just 32 overs in a rain-reduced match against the home team.
His performance in India's last league game - against Sri Lanka - was not too impressive either, even as he affected dismissals with the ball and in the field. India were yet to face their toughest challenge during the tournament final at Lord's.
Batting first, England looked to attack from the onset as the Indian bowlers struggled to find any help from the wicket. Marcus Trescothick and England's captain Nasser Hussain scored centuries, helping their team post 325 for 6.
The highest ODI score chased down at that time was 330, just a few months ago by Australia against South Africa. Such a big score was not and has not been chased till date in any tournament final.
Batting at the home of cricket and his favourite ground where he scored a century on Test debut, captain Ganguly counter attacked in the final of what had been a rather ordinary tournament for him with the bat. He made room outside the off-stump and came down the wicket to all the seamers, a strategy that worked. Virender Sehwag had a good time at the other end too, scoring 20 off one Ronny Irani over.
Though India surpassed 100 without losing a wicket scoring at over 7 runs an over, their dream start was soon countered by wickets left, right and center. Most of the Indian batsmen - including Ganguly, Sehwag, Dravid and even Sachin - got out trying to play shots.
When Sachin got out on the last ball of the 24th over to leave India reeling at 146 for five, half the nation - including many of the player's own families back at home - switched off their television sets.
India had lost their top five and needing 180 runs at almost seven runs an over with two new batsmen at the crease was clearly asking for too much. Yuvraj and his Under-19 World Cup winning captain Mohammad Kaif - playing only his 14th ODI innings - had other plans.
The duo were clearly not only playing for a place in the side, and decided to give it a go. While Kaif still started cautiously, Yuvraj dispatched every loose ball - sweeping Ashley Giles for a huge six over mid-wicket.
Just like his captain, Yuvraj did not hold back against Andrew Flintoff and scored most of the runs against his bowling. After a 121-run partnership, Yuvraj got out for 69 trying to paddle sweep Paul Collingwood after hitting nine fours and a sixer.
Mohammad Kaif played an innings of a lifetime and ensured a tense two-wicket victory for India - scoring 87 not out.
Though the Indian men's team has never lost a final at Lord's till date, this victory was a rare bright light among a string of around twenty losses in tournament finals for India during the first half of that decade. The importance of this victory over a country that tormented them for ages, was emphasized by the captain taking off his shirt and swearing at the Lord's balcony.
Yuvraj was the third-highest run scorer in the entire tournament with 254 runs at an average of over 50. He was also India's third highest wicket taker with five wickets at an average of 21.20 and affected many dismissals in the field.
How it changed Indian cricket:
Sourav Ganguly's act of taking off his shirt and swearing at the balcony of the most famous dressing room in all of cricket was nothing less than a statement. It showed the hunger of a team to win big cricket tournaments and that the captain treated the nation's expectations as his own.
This victory proved that any total could be chased in one-day cricket, and was followed by many bigger chases in the years to come.
This victory also proved that India could win multilateral tournaments abroad, as India had only won two such tournaments outside Asia till that point. The victory also proved that matches could be won from any position, even under enormous pressure. But only when you have players as sincere and committed as Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif to do the job.
India became the best side in the world after Australia and retained that position for a period of over two years. India scaled unprecedented heights in many important Test and ODI tournaments that followed.
Inaugural ICC World T20 in 2007
Before the beginning of the inaugural World T20, India were not enjoying a particularly great run in limited overs cricket. Having played only one T20 international before this tournament - the lowest for any participating team - India had won only one limited overs tournament outside India for over a year. Their performance at the 50-over World Cup less than six months before this tournament was their worst in 15 years.
Many of the senior players opted out of the tournament to give a chance to the youngsters. In terms of the number of matches played, Yuvraj was India's most experienced player going into the tournament. Neither Yuvraj nor the team got off to a great start, with India having to face a no-result, a tie (won by India in the bowl out) and a loss in their first three matches.
India had made it to the super eights though as Scotland could not win any match and lost out to India on net run rate in the first round. In their second super-eights match against England (India had lost their first super-eight match to New Zealand), all India could hope for was a victory against another side that was struggling. India got off to a flyer with Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag both scoring fifties.
From 136 for zero, India lost three wickets for 19 runs and it was up to Yuvraj Singh and newly appointed captain MS Dhoni to guide India to a winning score and a decent net run rate.
A verbal tussle with Andrew Flintoff after the end of the 18th over got Yuvraj going. A young Stuart Broad, who was bowling the 19th over, was greeted with a huge six on the first ball of the over.
Broad - who is among England's most successful fast bowlers - tried all lines and lengths - though he bowled mostly full throughout the over. Yuvraj did not hold back one bit and hit six sixes off that over. This was only the second such instance in international cricket and a first in T20 internationals.
Yuvraj's fifty came off just 12 balls, and it is still the fastest fifty in all of international cricket. He finished with 58 off 16 balls and missed the crucial match against South Africa, but the team did well and made it to the semifinal against Australia.
In the semifinal, India were struggling at 41 for 2 after 8 overs. To make things worse, Australia were playing the exact same squad that won them the World Cup a few months ago - which consisted of ace bowlers such as Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Bracken and Stuart Clark. But Yuvraj made full use of his form and attacked all of them.
In just 29 balls, Yuvraj scored 70 runs, yet again against a great bowling attack. His ferocious strokeplay, even against the likes of Brett Lee, inspired Robin Uthappa as well as MS Dhoni to score runs quickly. During the 56 balls while Yuvraj was at the crease, the team scored 114 runs and he got out with 15 balls to spare.
Matthew Hayden and Andrew Symonds did their best, but tight bowling from India during Australia's final overs helped India secure a 15-run victory and a place in the final of a tournament that was not being seriously looked at by many admirers of Indian cricket.
All of a sudden - India and Pakistan - the two surprise first round exiting teams of the 50-over World Cup that year, were playing in a World Cup final.
In the final, Yuvraj struggled as did most of the Indian batsmen. He was, however, part of a 63 runs partnership off just 46 balls with Gautam Gambhir - which was instrumental in getting India to a decent score.
India managed to hold their nerve in a nail-biting victory and the whole nation cheered as the disappointment of the 50-over World Cup had been wiped out.
Yuvraj was India's third highest run scorer in the tournament and possessed one of the best strike rates and sixes tally. But most importantly, his two innings in two of the most important matches were instrumental in India winning a cricket World Cup after 24 years.
How it changed Indian cricket:
Yuvraj's performance and India's victory in the inaugural World T20 drastically changed things. The Indian Premier League (IPL) was inaugurated just six months after India's victory and it opened to resounding success for the fans and the stakeholders.
Today, the IPL - besides a huge talent-scouting tournament - is also the biggest money-making tournament for franchises, players, broadcasters and sponsors.
Because of the resounding success of the World T20 became the next big tournament in cricket, and is almost as important as the 50-over World Cup. T20 became a big thing, and Yuvraj's impact in the tournament elevated his position as one of the most attacking middle order batsmen.
BCCI made a lot of profit in the decade to follow and ICC's revenues are today highly affected by Indian cricket. Because of the team's success, MS Dhoni subsequently became the ODI and Test captain and remained India's skipper in the limited overs formats for almost a decade.
Under Dhoni, India won multiple ODI and T20 tournaments including all the ICC trophies, and reached the number one ranking in Tests and won their first Test series in New Zealand after 40 years.
Yuvraj played an integral part in most of these victories and was India's vice-captain for a large part of this period. Most importantly, India regained their lost confidence and once again became a feared side in World cricket.
World Cup 2011
The first player whose name comes to the mind when one thinks of World Cup 2011 is Yuvraj Singh. If the 1981 Ashes is referred to as Botham's Ashes, the 2011 World Cup can certainly be referred to as Yuvraj's World Cup.
Having enjoyed a great run between their World T20 victory back in 2007 and this World Cup, India - who were hosting the tournament along with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh - were being seen as favourites according to many experts.
The team was playing a good mix of youth and experience and started the tournament with a bang in the opener against Bangladesh. Their second match against England ended in a tense tie, with Yuvraj scoring a 46-ball 50 in his first knock in the tournament. In India's very next game against Ireland, Yuvraj achieved his first ever five-wicket haul and scored an unbeaten fifty to achieve a rare double.
He followed this up with a similar performance in India's very next match against the Netherlands, this time taking just two wickets. Though Yuvraj could not do much in India's only loss in the tournament to South Africa, he ensured at least two wickets with the ball in all of the remaining four matches in the World Cup.
In India's last league game, Yuvraj played a huge role in comfortably taking India through to the quarter-finals. Coming into bat at 51 for 2 after 8.3 overs, Yuvraj battled fitness issues in tough conditions in Chennai. Suffering cramps and cancer symptoms, Yuvraj batted on to score his first World Cup century which gave West Indies a challenging target.
In the quarter-final against Ricky Ponting's Australia, who were attempting to win their fourth consecutive World Cup - India were in the middle of a tense chase when Yuvraj came in to bat.
Within nine overs of his arrival, India lost two another wickets to leave the side needing 74 runs at run a ball with five wickets in hand. Three of the world's fastest bowlers - Brett Lee, Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson were breathing fire at the other end.
Batting with the last recognized batsman Suresh Raina, who was playing only his second match - everything was up to Yuvraj. Raina's confidence on such a huge stage inspired Yuvraj too, and he attacked Brett Lee and Shaun Tait with cover and square drives through the off side.
Ten boundaries between the pair meant India needed only four off the last 15 balls, and Yuvraj hit a trademark cover drive off Brett Lee to secure yet another ICC tournament victory against the best team of that era.
While he failed with the bat in the semifinal, he bowled and fielded well to support the main bowlers to register a historic victory against Pakistan. In the final, his usual number five batting position was taken by out-of-form Indian captain MS Dhoni.
Luckily enough for India, Dhoni found his form at the right time. Gautam Gambhir lost his wicket while trying to get to his hundred with a boundary, and India still needed 52 when Yuvraj came in to bat.
Yuvraj played his natural game and did not have to sweat much as the Indian captain was having a blast against the Sri Lankan bowlers at the other end. He was at the other end when Dhoni hit Nuwan Kulasekara out of the park with just four needed.
His 362 runs with the bat at an average of over 90, and 15 wickets with the ball were instrumental in India winning the ODI World Cup after 28 years.
How it changed Indian cricket:
India has been a dominant force in world cricket ever since the victorious World Cup 2011 campaign. This victory was a result of immense hard work put in by the players and the management after a dismal World Cup 2007 campaign in West Indies.
Before the tournament, besides bilateral tournaments, India had won various multilateral ODI tournaments during the lead up to the World Cup, including CB series in Australia, Compaq Cup in Sri Lanka and the Asia Cup 2010.
While India suffered a poor run for around two years after the World Cup victory, it also coincided with Yuvraj's absence from the team due to his cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery time.
However, after the World Cup win, India became a force to be reckoned with in ICC tournaments. India went on to win ICC Champions Trophy 2013, reached the semi-finals of World Cup 2015 in Australia and ended up as the runners-up of ICC Champions Trophy 2017.
At present, the Indian cricket team have become a more aggressive side and have been tough on all players who failed to perform - whether junior or senior. This is very similar to the culture of the world champion Australian team that dominated cricket for quite a while.
Yuvraj, however, performed outstandingly during many of his comebacks after the World Cup victory. Having made four comebacks after the 2011 World Cup victory, Yuvraj is looking for a fifth and final comeback to add to India's glory.