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Our romance with Yuvraj gets a new chapter

"If a biopic was ever made on Yuvraj, then this match would make for a brilliant climax."

yuvraj singh
Flamboyance is attractive, isn't it?

It was not much, but  at least, it was something. It was a high-profile comeback. Any comeback for a player of his stature has to be high profile. It had been his third since 2012. 

The previous match he had played was still on everyone's mind. It was 660 days ago, on 6 April 2014. It was a final, the World T20 final. Half the world felt his career was over after the match.

They had reasons to. India were cruising, with Virat Kohli batting like only Virat Kohli does, well on the way to setting Sri Lanka a huge total to chase. He came to the crease in the 11th over. He departed in the 18th, having scored a painful 11 off 21 balls. The flamboyance which defines him was missing. So was the charisma and the confidence.

Kohli couldn't get the strike. And, he couldn't put bat to ball. India failed to be the first team to lift the title twice. He was blamed for the defeat. He was abused more in the following week than most people are in their entire lives. His house was stoned. His career, according to most, all but over. 

But, there were people who supported him as well. In his prime, rarely had any player from his generation have as big a fanbase as him. Flamboyance is attractive, isn't it?

And he wouldn't budge. He wouldn't go down without a fight. He had overcome cancer to play cricket. He had never lacked the strength, the courage or the will. For he was India's prince. 

****

It's India's 67th Republic day. It's Australian day as well. Both the teams are playing the first of a three-match T20I series in Adelaide.

It's his day. The first time he wears the Indian jersey in 660 days. The jersey with #12 at the back.

Today, the critics seem to be heavily outnumbered by his supporters. After almost two years, chants of 'Yuvi, Yuvi' engulf the stadium. Nothing can beat this. This has to be Yuvraj Singh's day.

Out in the middle, Kohli and Rohit Sharma, followed by Suresh Raina shred the Australian attack into pieces. MS Dhoni promotes himself. Yuvraj doesn't get a bat. In the stadiums, on the internet, the disappointment is apparent. Too apparent. It was supposed to be his day.

He's given an over with the ball. He goes for 10. More disappointment. This was not what it should have been.

Then, in the dying stages of the match, debutant Hardik Pandya bowls a wide half-volley. Chris Lynn smokes it through extra cover. The camera turns towards the boundary, in what seems like an impossible effort to maintain pace with the ball.

Except the ball doesn't reach the boundary. It's caught by the fielder at extra cover. There's a perfectly timed jump. The safest reverse cup. And the softest of hands. There's Yuvraj. His first contribution to the Indian team in 660 days. 

The internet, just like the stadium erupts with joy. India eventually manage a comfortable win. Yuvraj's only contribution is that catch.

It was not much, but at least, it was something.

****

maxwell stumping
The famous ‘Yuvi-Dhoni’ duo bamboozled Maxwell

The next game is in Melbourne. India are batting first. Much like the first match, the real and the virtual world are abuzz with excitement about Yuvraj's comeback. They are desperate to see him bat. The excitement is surreal.

This time too, the top order comes out all guns blazing. Dhoni promotes himself. The overs run out. Yuvraj doesn't get a bat. Disappointment is abject, in the stadiums and on the internet. And it's more than the previous game. 

Dhoni compensates by giving Yuvraj a bowl. Smiles return to some of our faces. And Yuvraj makes them wider by getting Glenn Maxwell. It's the sort of ball that made Kevin Pietersen call him a 'pie-chucker'. Slow, loopy, almost lazy. But it's gotten a wicket, an important one at that. And it's given people a reason to smile.

His two overs go for just seven runs. The spell plays a crucial role in keeping the Aussie batsmen in check. India manage yet another comfortable victory, and with that, the series with a match to spare.

Yuvraj walks back looking more content than in the previous game. He took an important wicket.

It was not much, but at least, it was something.

****

The final game is at Sydney. The place where Yuvraj recorded his highest ODI score of 139.

It's a Sunday. The stadium is packed an hour before the match. The 'Yuvi, Yuvi' chant hasn't been louder any time on this tour. People, as was the case in the previous two games, are waiting for Yuvraj to bat.

India are fielding first today. Their bowlers are being thrashed left, right and centre. Dhoni calls upon Yuvraj once again. And he gets Maxwell again, off the first ball he bowls. The stadium goes berserk. The commentators screech with ecstasy. His teammates mob him. It's insane. But then, it's Indians, it's cricket and it's Yuvraj.

His two overs go for nineteen today. Shane Watson registers the second highest T20I score of all time. India are set 197 to win.

The mid-match analysis now focusses mainly on Kohli, Rohit and Dhoni where it was once focussed on Yuvraj. His prime, his best days are behind him. But there's still a lot of fight left in him. There always is.

The top order continues its superb form. It seems Yuvraj will fly back home without getting a hit in the middle. But then, Rohit and Kohli fall in quick succession and he staggers out. Tall, lean. Classy as ever. With unmatched grace.

51 are required off 31 balls. Leg-spinner Cameron Boyce, with pretty evil looking eyes, stands at the top of his mark. 'Yuvi' is trending on Twitter. The stadium is the noisiest it has been all summer. There are shouts of 'sixer, sixer'.

He readies himself. Boyce bowls it flat on off. Yuvraj plays a forward defence. Anti-climax. The stadium sighs.

But then, the pain begins. The excruciating kind. Off the next seven balls, in a tight chase, Yuvraj manages just two. It's the penultimate over of the innings.

He's playing and missing more than Ashish Nehra would. He's toeing the ball more than Jasprit Bumrah would. The Indian dugout, much like the people in the stadium, looks morose. Off the last ball, he edges a single.

The critics have finally woken up. They have given their verdict. Yuvraj's career is over. He is done. Finished. They say he can't handle the pressure anymore, he can't finish matches off for India anymore. As harsh as it seems, many of his fans feel the same way. 

As the feeling sinks in, there's one thought which must be going through everyone's head. Is this how it was supposed to end? Was Yuvraj's story too romantic to be true?

There's a sea of sadness everywhere.

The last over begins. 17 are required. Yuvraj is on strike. Most people have lost hope. But he hasn't. First ball, out of nowhere, without any confidence or momentum, he picks up a length ball from Andrew Tye and flicks it over long leg for four. It's vintage Yuvraj. He's pumped now. The stadium comes back to life.

Next ball, yorker. Smashed over mid-wicket for six. An almost impossible shot. It's something only Yuvraj can pull off. And he does. The shouting and the screaming in the stadium reaches untouched highs. He takes a single next ball and Raina rounds off a thrilling chase with two two’s and a last ball boundary.

yuvi raina
‘They are behaving like drunk uncles at Indian weddings’

It's almost as if India has won the World Cup. Raina runs to Yuvraj. The players rush to him as well. They are behaving like drunk uncles at Indian weddings. Jumping up and down. Hugging Yuvraj as if he's their newborn baby. 

VVS Laxman loses it on-air in the commentary box. The critics seem to have disappeared all of a sudden. The internet is breaking with love for Yuvraj. 

Yuvraj is soaking all of it in. The satisfaction, the joy of being at the crease as India close off a tough chase. He's done it so many times in his prime. He won't get to do it too often now. So, there is this sense of nostalgia within us, within him. 

As India take a lap of honour, being the first team to whitewash Australia at home, the crowd that's left just chants 'Yuvi, Yuvi'. Moments like these make you wonder how he manages to get so much hate. But that's for another day. This is the time to cherish Yuvraj for the pleasure he provides us.

This innings meant a lot, to a lot of people. As one Twitter user put it, "If a biopic was ever made on Yuvraj, then this match would make for a brilliant climax."

But Yuvraj will want more. A lot more. And he will fight till the fight can no longer be fought. That's just who he is.

This was just a 15 run innings. 

We waited two years for it.

It was not much, but at least, it was something.

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