Timing and wristwork were the hallmark of this elegant stroke-player. This helped balance what Yuvraj Singh lacked in terms of footwork. It also imparted power to his shots, and gave the illusion of effortlessness in those strikes as they sent the ball sailing into the stands. In full flow, Yuvraj Singh was a delight to watch. His clarity of thought was reflected in his role as finisher, in the number of unbeaten innings as he guided his team to victory in limited-overs chases. He was never one to give it away, on the field or off it.
From the bitter disappointment of the 2007 World Cup, a resolute Indian team rose, like a phoenix, with eyes set on the crown, and a Yuvraj destined to be king.
Many saw the opening faceoff with Bangladesh in 2011 as reprisal for the humiliation four years earlier. In actual fact, the Indian team would just have been looking to start off on the right note. Virender Sehwag (175) and young Virat Kohli (100 not out) ensured that India hit up 370 for four. Yuvraj did not get a hit, and his 7 overs were wicketless.
With Sachin Tendulkar in imperious form against England, Yuvraj joined the little master in the 30th over at 180 for two. They added 56 in 9.4 overs before Tendulkar left after scoring a tremendous 120. Joined by captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the pair kept up the momentum. Yuvraj’s fifty came off 46 deliveries. He holed out for 58, having faced 50 balls and struck 9 boundaries. India were bowled out for 338 with one delivery still remaining. Andrew Strauss led from the front with his superb 158. The match ended in a tie.
Yuvraj struck with the ball against Ireland. He had Andrew White caught behind by Dhoni, and then got the big man Kevin O’Brien to hit back a catch to him. Striking regularly, he had Porterfield slamming hard into the hands of Harbhajan Singh at cover. Bowling his stint of 10 overs unchanged, Yuvraj trapped John Mooney and Alex Cusack leg-before-wicket. He returned with a haul of five for 31 as Ireland were dismissed for 207 in 47.5 overs.
India found themselves in some strife at 87 for three when Yuvraj strode in. Kohli was run out not long after. Dhoni helped Yuvraj add 67. In alliance with a belligerent Yusuf Pathan, Yuvraj took India home by five wickets with 4 overs to spare. He returned triumphant with an exact 50, the first to achieve the feat of bagging five wickets and scoring a half-century in a World Cup match. His runs came off 75 balls and he struck 3 boundaries. The man-of-the-match award was rightfully his.
The Dutch teased a bit but the big boys marched on steadfast. Bowling round the stumps, Yuvraj trapped opener Wesley Barresi leg-before off the last ball of his first over to wrest his 100th wicket in One-day Internationals. Later he deceived the accomplished Ryan ten Doeschate in the air, and Zaheer Khan brought off a fine catch near the long-off boundary. Yuvraj finished with two for 43 off 9 overs as the Netherlands were bowled out for 189.
Pieter Seelaar struck thrice as a complacent India lost some quick wickets after a blazing start. Yuvraj sauntered in to a bit of a tangle at 99 for four. He added 40 with Gautam Gambhir before the latter departed. Captain Cool arrived now, and the pair coasted nonchalantly towards their goal. Yuvraj hit the winning boundary to square-leg, raising his own fifty as well as that of the partnership. He was unbeaten with 51, achieved off 73 deliveries and embellished with 7 boundaries. It was his third consecutive half-century and second successive man-of-the-match prize, and another in a series of finishing efforts with unconquered fifties.
Powered by Tendulkar’s 99th International hundred, India seemed poised for a huge total against South Africa. But once the great man departed, the home side collapsed from 267 for one in 39.4 overs to 296 all out in 48.4 overs, rocked by a five-wicket haul by the fiery Dale Steyn. Yuvraj fell for 12, and was unable to pick up a wicket in his 8 overs, conceding 47 runs. In a nail-biting finish South Africa won with 2 balls to spare and three wickets in hand.
India needed to regroup, and they did in their last league match versus the West Indies. Sent in at no.4 in the absence of Sehwag, Yuvraj settled into a long association with Kohli. The century partnership came simultaneously with Kohli’s half-century. India were now cruising. Dhoni assisted in a partnership of 45. Yuvraj raised his hundred off 112 balls. He was caught and bowled by Kieron Pollard for a magnificent 113, his lone hundred in the World Cup. The 123-ball knock comprised 10 fours and 2 sixes. India were bowled out for 268 inside 50 overs.
Yuvraj beat Devon Thomas in the air and had him stumped by Dhoni. In his next over he had Andre Russell caught by Yusuf Pathan at point. His two wickets cost 18 runs in 4 overs. West Indies crumbled to 188 all out. Yuvraj wrested another man-of-the-match award.
A vintage hundred by Ricky Ponting spurred Australia to a challenging total of 260 for six. Yuvraj broke Ponting’s 70-run second-wicket stand with Brad Haddin. He beat Haddin in the air and Suresh Raina dived forward in the covers to hold on. He then struck a huge blow as Michael Clarke tried to slam him on the on-side, top-edged and was caught by Zaheer Khan at mid-wicket. Yuvraj’s two wickets came at a cost of 44 runs in 10 overs.
A half century by Tendulkar set India on their way. Gambhir brought up his fifty but was soon run out. When Suresh Raina joined Yuvraj there were 74 runs needed off 12.3 overs with five wickets in hand. India need not have worried as 4 boundaries came off 7 balls from the pacemen, Yuvraj crashing three of them. Yuvraj reached his fifty in 54 balls. India were home with 2.2 overs to spare.
Yet again Yuvraj had carried out a gallant finishing job. His unbeaten 57 had come off 65 deliveries and was embellished with 8 boundaries. Yuvraj won another successive man-of-the-match prize, his fourth of the tournament, equalling the feats of Aravinda de Silva (1996) and Lance Klusener (1999).
Tendulkar battled the Pakistani bowlers on a tricky Mohali semi-final wicket as much as he rode his good luck. Yuvraj, much to his chagrin, was yorked first ball by the left-arm paceman Wahab Riaz. India totalled 260 for nine.
Yuvraj was on the spot with the ball and in his third over straightened one that crashed into Asad Shafiq’s middle stump. In his next over he deceived Younis Khan with a slower ball, inducing a spooned drive to Raina in the covers. Pakistan were now 106 for four in 25.4 overs and fighting to stay in the match. They were bowled out for 231 with one delivery left. Yuvraj’s two wickets cost 57 runs in his 10 overs. India won by 29 runs.
It was an engaging battle in the final at Mumbai, and once again Yuvraj played his part with the ball in the middle of the innings. He struck a huge blow as he bowled a slightly quicker one that had Kumar Sangakkara edging into the gloves of Dhoni. Then as Thilan Samaraweera combined with Jayawardene in another useful half-century partnership, Yuvraj had the former leg-before on the sweep stroke. Jayawardene went on to score a classy century, helping his team hoist 274 on the board for the loss of six wickets.
Dhoni took up the challenge head-on by striding in purposefully at no.5. His 119-run alliance with Gambhir (97) carried India to 223 for four. There were 52 runs required from 8.4 overs. Dhoni was irresistible, stepping on the pedal as the target came closer. He put his unmistakable stamp with his winning hit for a huge six over long-on with 10 balls still in hand. Yet again Yuvraj returned unbeaten in triumph with 21 runs to his name off 24 balls and having struck 2 fours.
Dhoni was unbeaten with a dazzling 91, having occupied the crease for just 79 deliveries and blasted 8 boundaries besides the winning six. He was the obvious man-of-the-match, the third captain to be bestowed with this honour in a World Cup final after Clive Lloyd (1975) and Ponting (2003).
There was no argument either about the choice of Yuvraj as the player-of-the-tournament. A tally of 362 runs with an average of 90.50 and strike-rate of 86.19, comprising a hundred and 4 fifties, was complemented by 15 wickets at an average of 25.13 and economy-rate of 5.02, including a five-wicket haul, with 3 catches rounding off a magnificent contribution.
(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email email@example.com).
The Big Book of World Cup Cricket 1975-2011
Published in India by Sporting Links