“Champions Trophy: Where Heroes Become Champions” – this is the tag line the organisers are using to promote the ongoing edition of this elite One-Day International (ODI) event and it suits perfectly for someone like Yuvraj Singh, who burst onto the scene back in 2000 edition, when the tournament was known as ICC Knockout Cup.
A 19-year old Yuvraj made a breathtaking 84 against the Australians to help his team to outclass Steve Waugh’s team in the quarterfinal in Nairobi. That was just the second game of his career.
It has been 17 years since then. A lot has happened in Yuvraj’s personal and professional life. But one thing hasn’t changed – his fighting attitude and his ability as a game-changer.
On Sunday, in the ‘high-pressure’ game against Pakistan, the southpaw once again showed his critics that he is still a game-changer and an integral part of India’s limited-overs set-up.
The match against Pakistan was Yuvraj’s first ODI in England after 2007. Coming into this Champions Trophy, he missed both the warm-up matches due to an illness.
However, during his knock of 53 off 32 balls, there was hardly any sign of rustiness. In fact, with his typical front-foot pulls and drives, the southpaw looked at his vintage best.
When Yuvraj came into the crease in the 37th over, India were in a tricky situation. After a strong opening partnership of 124 in 24.3 overs between Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, the defending champions failed to press the accelerator, primarily because of intermittent disruptions caused by the frequent rain. At one point of time, Rohit’s strike rate was below 70. On the other end, Virat Kohli was new at the crease and was not able to find the fence frequently.
According to Pakistan coach Micky Arthur during that phase, Pakistan were hoping to restrict Indian under 270. But Yuvraj’s innings just completely changed the complexion of the match. Though early in his innings, Yuvraj was given a life by the sloppy Pakistan fielding, but like a game-changer, he made the opposition pay for this.
“The way Yuvi batted, it was the game-changing innings, to be honest,” an amazed Kohli said in the post-match press conference. “That gave all of us the confidence to start striking the ball well.”
“The way he batted was the way only he can strike the ball. Hitting low full-tosses for fours and sixes, and even digging out yorkers for fours, was outstanding.
“When Yuvi came in, we didn’t go back out again. So, he started striking from ball one and, as I said, that took pressure off me, and maybe I should have given him a strike.
That really deflated the opposition and that gave me a bit of time to settle in from the other end. When he got out, I took over. But I think his innings was a difference in the game.”
According to Kohli, who has been an instrumental figure behind Yuvraj’s inclusion in the India’s white-ball teams, his power-hitting at Edgbaston, inserted positively on the rest of the team.
“If he plays like that you know the team is always in a good space because you can really rely on him to come in and just play a match-changing innings, more often than not. And he will end up doing it three out of five times. That’s why we back him at that spot.”
Cricketers like Yuvraj are a big match player and when he is on song, age just looks like a number. Yuvi proves that once again on a world stage.