Yuvraj Singh: An ode to India's greatest ever match-winner
2nd of April, 2011.
"Dhoniiii... Finishes off in style."
And yet, you couldn't help but wonder. The most iconic moment in modern-day Indian cricket will now belong to arguably its greatest ever captain. Yet, there he was at the non-striker's end, the ever-adoring cohort, the friend to his captain - Bihari, he called him.
It was Yuvraj Singh's World Cup in every which way. He made 362 runs. He picked up 15 wickets. He was the Man of the Tournament. He was out on the hallowed turf at the very moment his team made his cricketing idol's World Cup dream, Sachin Tendulkar's World Cup drought, come to an end.
Maybe, that is the little imperfection in what was an otherwise perfect love story. Not like the protagonist in this story really cared about that little detail.
A few minutes after he ran up to his bat-twirling skipper to embrace him, he was holding up the greatest prize in the sport - it was something he'd helped India win. To put it simply, that's what Yuvraj Singh did. He helped India win.
His long-time teammate Gautam Gambhir today called him India's greatest ever white-ball cricketer. You may or may not agree with Gambhir, but in the context of being a match-winner, there wasn't a peer for Yuvraj.
It is a love affair that began as a teenager, as he helped India win the Under-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka in 2000. WV Raman, the current head coach of the senior women's team was a commentator in that tournament, and says that Ravi Shastri and he had already marked Yuvraj for greatness.
"We were gobsmacked by the talent of a youngster who sent the ball out of the ground effortlessly. We both were sure he would become a household name very soon. That boy went on to dominate the world for over a decade," he posted on his social media profiles today after Yuvraj announced his retirement from international cricket.
Soon, that baby-faced wonder was taking on the best in the world - thrown straight in the deep end. And this is going to be a common theme throughout this piece, Yuvraj Singh won games of cricket for India.
Imagine you're 18. Imagine you're batting for the first time in international cricket, after a docile debut against Kenya where your batting wasn't required. Imagine you're batting for the first time in international cricket against Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie, et al. Those mighty Aussies.
Well, you just imagined Yuvraj's first ever innings for India in international cricket. Surely, an 18-year-old couldn't survive that? Surely?
In his first outing as an international batsman, Yuvraj provided a glimpse of the future - he sometimes made the seemingly impossible look routine. It was probably his greatest gift.
And then, there was 2002. Lord's. The heartache of losing final after final still fresh in every Indian fan's memory. There he was, the match-winner. He wasn't going to lie down and accept another lost final. He set off with his captain in that U-19 squad. They were going to set that record right. They put on 121, Yuvraj was dismissed for 69, but in a time when television sets went off the moment Sachin Tendulkar was dismissed, there he was. Still a baby in international cricket, there he was, bringing those television sets back on.
"I'm a star. I'll give you hope," he screamed, albeit metaphorically.
Five years later, he didn't just give India hope. He played the two most-defining innings an Indian has ever played on the world stage.
Imagine hitting six sixes in an over, ending up with 58 off 16 balls, and pffftt... that wasn't even your best knock of that week.
That was Yuvraj in the middle of September 2007.
India was still fresh from the wounds of earlier that year in the Caribbean. They were facing Australia in the semifinal. They had laboured in the first half of the innings. In walked Yuvraj, at the fall of Gambhir's wicket. 41 for 2 in 8 overs, read the scoreboard. Australia were in command.
And then, Yuvraj unleashed himself at Kingsmead. His 30-ball 70 propelled India. For those who believe in the beauty of singular moments, that flick off his pads which soared 119 metres and over the square-leg boundary might end up as the greatest image of Yuvraj's career.
For this writer though, that greatest image would come five years after his Kingsmead epics in the World T20. It was a T20 international against New Zealand at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chepauk. A definite "I was there" moment for me.
When the crowd saw an Indian jersey with number 12 on the back walking out to bat, it pulled out something special. Chepauk usually reserves those receptions for its Thala MS Dhoni or for Sachin Tendulkar.
That balmy September night, a prince was making his return to doing what he so loved, after fighting off the dreadful disease that cancer is. Chepauk was making an exception this time. Of course, it was!
That comeback will define Yuvraj, in a sense too. Maybe a lot written about him will be about the fighter, the inspiration, the leader in the fight against cancer, and those would be absolutely justified.
Amidst all that, Yuvraj Singh was an absolute genius with bat in hand. He won his country a World Cup with even ball in hand.
We've not even talked about 2011 in much detail yet, but what's left to be said from those wonderful six weeks that hasn't already been said?
Maybe, just one line of Mark Nicholas gold from the commentary box when Yuvraj sent Younis Khan back to the pavilion in the semifinal in Mohali.
"Yuvraj Singh has got the Punjab going!" Nicholas exclaimed in that unique baritone of his.
For the best part of two decades, Yuvraj Singh didn't just get Punjab going, he got all of India going. He brought India what gives it most joy - wins in games of cricket.
Yuvraj Singh was a match-winner unlike any other.