World Cup Heroes: Yuvraj Singh (Indian subcontinent, 2011)
Mumbai, 2 April 2011 – India vs Sri Lanka, 2011 World Cup Final: Mahendra Singh Dhoni hit the second ball of the 49th over of the innings bowled by Nuwan Kulasekara over long on for a six to seal a historic World Cup win for India. While the trophy win was a team effort with many Indian players excelling, the player whose performances were most instrumental in the win was at the non-striker’s end at that moment – Yuvraj Singh.
Yuvraj had been a key player in the middle-order for India but came into the World Cup with questions raised over his fitness and form. The southpaw from Chandigarh responded to his critics brilliantly with a fantastic all-round performance in the tournament as he scored 362 runs and took 15 wickets. Yuvraj won four Man-of-the-Match awards, and his consistent performances throughout the tournament also won him the Man-of-the-Tournament award.
Doubts before the tournament
Yuvraj had been dropped from the Indian ODI squad for the 2010 Asia Cup, which had raised some questions on whether he would be a part of the squad for the 2011 World Cup. But he soon made a comeback to the team for the tri-series in Sri Lanka and continued to be a part of the team for the series against Australia and South Africa, thus ensuring his spot for the World Cup.
While Yuvraj’s improvement in batting form wasn’t unexpected given his talent, his left-arm spin proved to be a surprise valuable asset to the team as he provided Dhoni a reliable bowling option – someone who could bowl the complete quota of 10 overs if needed and also pick up crucial wickets.
Throughout his career, Yuvraj has been considered a specialist batsman who could bowl a bit. But in the 2011 World Cup, Yuvraj played the role of a genuine all-rounder to perfection. With the bat, he showed maturity and responsibility and provided stability to the middle-order. He had been guilty of throwing away his wicket in the past, but in the tournament, Yuvraj put a price on his wicket and remained unbeaten in four out of eight innings. And when asked to bowl, he contained the run flow and picked up wickets with his left-arm spin, proving that his “pie-chucks” could cause significant damage to the opposition batting line-up.
Yuvraj’s bowling enabled the Indian side to have the luxury of adding an extra batsman to the XI and fielding only four specialist bowlers (though the “part-timer” Yuvraj often outperformed the “specialists”). This was especially useful in the quarterfinal and semifinal where Suresh Raina, a specialist batsman coming in at number 7, scored invaluable runs which ultimately ensured that India won both games.
Anonymous start to the tournament
Yuvraj didn’t have much to do in the opening game of the World Cup against Bangladesh at Mirpur. It was a Virender Sehwag-Virat Kohli show as India batted first and put up a mammoth total of 370-4, with Yuvraj not getting a chance to bat. He shared the responsibility of bowling the quota of overs for the fifth bowler with Yusuf Pathan, and had a tidy but non-impactful spell of 7 overs where he went for a run a ball – a decent return in a high-scoring game.
India got off to a winning start to the tournament, but Yuvraj was yet to make his mark.
First sign of form with the bat against England
India’s second game was against England in Bangalore. Batting first again, India got off to a strong start with Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir all among the runs. Yuvraj was promoted to No. 4 after the dismissal of Gambhir at the score of 180-2 in the 30th over to continue the momentum and take India towards a winning score.
The then 29-year-old showed glimpses of his sparkling talent to score a quick-fire 58 from 50 deliveries; he combined well with Tendulkar and later Dhoni to take India to 305-3 in the 46th over. Yuvraj’s dismissal at that stage proved to be the trigger for a massive batting collapse for the Indians, and they were unable to bat out the full 50 overs.
Yuvraj again shared the fifth bowler’s quota of overs with Yusuf, and similar to the first game against Bangladesh, he failed to make much impact. This time India could only manage a thrilling tie against the English.
Yuvraj the bowler comes to the fore
After indifferent performances with the ball in the first two games, Yuvraj’s left-arm spin came to the fore in the game against Ireland in Bangalore. He surprised everyone with bowling figures of 5-31 which helped India dismiss the Irish for a meagre 207. The southpaw capped off the bowling performance with an unbeaten 50 to take India past the target.
The next game was against the other minnows in India’s group, Netherlands. Yuvraj continued his bowling form and took two wickets before following it up with another unbeaten half-century to lead India’s successful chase at Delhi.
Yuvraj won the Man-of-the-Match award in both games against the two non-Test playing nations for his all-round show. While his bowling returns made people take note, the fact that they came against weak oppositions, combined with ordinary figures in the first two games, meant that there were doubts if he could continue the run against the stronger teams that India was to play in the following games.
A game to forget against South Africa
For the second time in the tournament, India saw a strong start being wasted as the team crashed from 267-1 to 296 all out against South Africa in Nagpur. Yuvraj failed with the bat, scoring just 12 runs.
The player was unable make an impact with the ball either, as he failed to take any wickets in the eight overs that he bowled. India were handed their first (and as it later turned out, their only) defeat in the tournament.
Match-winning century against West Indies
India’s final group phase game was against West Indies in Chennai. The team, batting first, lost both openers cheaply and Yuvraj came out to bat in the 9th over to join Virat Kohli. The two put on a century stand to take India out of troubled waters and into a more comfortable position before Kohli was dismissed. Yuvraj, however, carried on despite seeing Dhoni and Raina depart in quick succession, scoring a fine 113 from 123 deliveries with 10 fours and two sixes.
Yuvraj picked up two wickets with the ball to complete another fine all-round performance, and won yet another Man-of-the-Match award.
Dream comes true against the Aussies
India faced off against defending champions Australia in the quarterfinals at Ahmedabad. Ricky Ponting’s fine century led Australia to a total of 260-6 on a tricky pitch. Yuvraj was India’s best bowler as he picked up the crucial wickets of Brad Haddin and Michael Clarke.
India’s run-chase saw almost all batsmen getting starts, but none managed to capitalize on them, getting out at the wrong time. The team seemed in a spot of bother at 187-5 needing 74 runs more as Suresh Raina joined Yuvraj in the middle.
While there were several overs left for India to chase down the target, the memories of batting collapses against England, South Africa and West Indies were still fresh in the mind, and the experience of their opponents to win from difficult situations in World Cups meant that the left-handers had a tough task at hand.
But Yuvraj and Raina combined brilliantly to put on a match-winning partnership as India chased down the total with more than two overs to spare. Yuvraj scored an unbeaten 57 and was awarded the Man-of-the-Match for a record-equalling fourth time in the tournament.
After the match, Yuvraj said that he had been eagerly looking forward to facing the Aussies for quite some time.
“I have been thinking about beating Australia in this World Cup for one year, that I would be there till the end and win the game for India. I honestly thought about this 365 days of the year. I have been dreaming of this,” he said.
Yuvraj, the bowler, once again does the job against Pakistan
Arch-rivals India and Pakistan faced off in the semi-finals at Mohali. India won the toss and chose to bat first. Sachin Tendulkar played a charmed innings (in which he was dropped five times, had an LBW decision reversed by the third umpire and survived a close stumping chance) to lead India to a fighting total of 260. Yuvraj, however, flopped with the bat as he was clean-bowled by Wahab Riaz for a first-ball duck.
Pakistan’s chase seemed on track with Asad Shafiq and Younis Khan in the middle near the half-way mark, before Yuvraj dismissed both batsmen in quick succession. The double-strike helped India take control of the match, which they eventually won by 29 runs to advance to the much-awaited final.
World Cup glory
The win over Pakistan in the semifinals meant that India had reached their third final in World Cup history. Wanting to emulate the feat of the 1983 winning team and hoping to avoid the disappointment of 2003, the Indians had co-hosts Sri Lanka standing between them and the trophy.
Batting first, the Lankans put up a challenging target of 275 on the board, mainly thanks to a classy century by Mahela Jayawardene. Yuvraj was the pick of the Indian bowlers once again as he dismissed the dangerous Kumar Sangakkara and Thilan Samaraweera, both when the two batsmen were looking set to form a big partnership with Jayawardene.
India’s chase got off to the worst possible start with Sehwag getting out off the second ball of the innings. Tendulkar followed his opening partner to the pavilion soon after. Gambhir, however, took charge of the run chase courtesy of good partnerships with Kohli and later Dhoni. But a rash shot led to Gambhir’s dismissal with 52 runs more to get, which gave Sri Lanka some hope of a comeback.
But Yuvraj, who came to the crease upon the Delhi left-hander’s dismissal, had other plans as he calmly set about continuing the chase. The Yuvraj-Dhoni duo got India home with 10 balls to spare for a famous win.
It was the third time that Yuvraj had won a world title, the first being the Under-19 World Cup in 2000 and the second being the inaugural World T20 in 2007. While the player had done very well in both the previously mentioned tournaments, his performance in the 2011 World Cup was an incredibly special one, which will stand out as the highlight of his career.
A true champion
What made Yuvraj’s performance in the 2011 World Cup even more remarkable was the fact that he played the tournament while his health was deteriorating, as later confirmed by the fact that he was battling cancer.
To excel in a World Cup requires a special effort, and for Yuvraj to do it at a time when he was suffering from the disease (even though he didn’t know about the disease during the tournament) meant that it was a truly inspired performance by the player.
While the 2011 World Cup was the greatest achievement by Yuvraj Singh on the cricketing field, it was his undergoing chemotherapy to cure the cancer and subsequent swift return to international cricket which will count as his biggest win in life.
At the time of writing this piece, Yuvraj’s name is being discussed for inclusion in the squad for the 2015 World Cup as a replacement for Ravindra Jadeja, despite him not being in the list of 30. However, irrespective of whether Yuvraj makes it to the final 15 or not, his name in World Cup folklore will be cemented forever.
Yuvraj was undoubtedly the outstanding player of the 2011 World Cup, but he is also a true champion in life and an inspiration to not only cricketers but everyone across the globe.