What Yuvraj Singh needs to do to be considered for the World Cup
Over the past three months, the Indian cricket team have proved that they are capable of beating the best sides in the world in alien conditions. With maiden series victories in ODIs in South Africa, T20s in England and Tests in Australia, the team appears to have entered its best phase.
So reliable have India's players become, that at least 12 of them are picking themselves for cricket’s biggest tournament in June-July this year, the World Cup 2019.
But the team’s mixed results over the past month or so have been disturbing to say the least. Many experts were expecting World Cup favorites India to whitewash Australia 3-0 during the ODIs in Australia, and most realistic fans were hoping for at least a 2-1 series victory during the T20 leg of the New Zealand tour. But some shocking performances since the start of this year - with and without Virat Kohli - have forced the team to do a self-interrogation.
Through the course of the 11 limited overs internationals India have played this year so far, batting collapses have been a recurrent feature, the fielding has been below par and the bowling has been scratchy - especially in the opening and death overs. While the team managed to come back from tough situations quite frequently, the four losses India encountered during this phase were disappointing for a world-class team.
In the first ODI against Australia this year, the top of the batting order was blown away. And after sealing a series victory against New Zealand in just the first three ODIs, the team was bowled out for 92 in the fourth ODI.
India conceded over 210 runs in two of the three T20s against New Zealand - in a series where India experimented a lot more than expected.
However, the team attitude on the odd bad day has been a bigger problem than the selection. While the core of the team still looks pretty settled, the fringe players are doing themselves and the selectors little good.
While many of those outside the team management are looking at set numbers in terms of the seamers, all-rounders, wicket keepers and batsmen, I am not sure that the team management should be as headstrong.
At the moment, it appears that the team needs one more frontline seamer, one all-rounder and one wicket-keeper to cover the remaining slots. A backup opener might also be required in such a long tournament. If the cover wicketkeeper could also fulfill the role of a stand-in opener, half the selection issues would be taken care of.
While a fourth seamer would be a luxury India would love to have, the team still has seven international matches, a couple of domestic T20 tournaments and a few A tours to figure out the best man for the job. The second all-rounder would be another great luxury to have, given that India had only one specialist (and inexperienced) all-rounder in their 2015 World Cup squad.
The team could not ask for more if with all this, they get hold of an assured left-arm spinning all-rounder. With specialist opening batsmen, wicketkeepers, more than three seamers and wrist and finger spinners off both hands, the team would have all their bases covered.
But everyone would want all the 15 players to make a strong case going into the World Cup. The management has to be sure of each one of the players before they announce the squad.
One player who potentially fills the bill with experience, batting ability and bowling ability is Yuvraj Singh. Today’s Yuvraj Singh is not the same youngster who won the nation many tournaments single-handedly a decade ago. But to be fair to him, he has not been given the amount of confidence and backing as many other players - young and experienced - have.
Having played his last international almost two years ago, followed by average performances at the domestic level, Yuvraj's case is certainly not strong. But some 20-odd T20s in the next three months could just help him get hold of a ticket to UK in the nick of time.
Yuvraj - despite his match-winning abilities and portfolio - clearly won’t be picked just on the basis of experience, emotion or instinct. And the selectors have made that thing quite clear in the last two seasons.
While a good run in the Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy and IPL 2019 might turn some eyeballs his way, there is one other area he can work on to make a strong case. India’s second-highest wicket-taker during the team’s 2011 World Cup victory, and the country’s sixth-highest wicket-taker in all World Cups, has not really bowled a lot at any level in the last three years.
Scoring big runs for his state team Punjab and IPL franchise Mumbai Indians is a given. But wickets in the middle overs can just make his case stronger.
For that, India’s legendary all-rounder would have to dedicate himself to a regular bowling routine at the nets and convince his state or franchise captains to give him a few overs regularly.
If Yuvraj has to appear in this year’s World Cup, he will have to work double shifts and train hard enough to get the best out of his batting as well as bowling. He will have to get his name on the batting leaderboard as well as the bowling charts to create an outside chance.
Yes, a phenomenal IPL season with the bat - of the level of Virat Kohli’s 2016 season - would surely get the selectors talking. But with that not likely happening for any of the players in such a tough format, a few wickets would certainly help the southpaw’s case.
Being one of only eight players in ODI cricket to have scored over 8,000 runs and taken over 100 wickets, experience is Yuvraj’s biggest asset.
With continuous exposure and regular rotation of their key players, the management are doing their best to ensure that they pick a fit and in-form squad. But if Yuvraj’s priceless experience fits organically into the scheme of things, that would be the icing on the cake.