What comes to mind if you hear these figures without context? 11 One-Day International matches, 10 innings, 372 runs at 41.33 with a strike-rate of 98.67.
They seem better than good, even perhaps excellent. So how does a man with those numbers, the exact ones Yuvraj Singh has had since his comeback to the Indian team, come to be dropped? Or well, not dropped but ‘rested’? Which could become ‘rotated’ if he suddenly signs up with an English county.
Here are some more numbers. Since January 15, 2017 – the date of Yuvraj’s comeback ODI against England – to date, those batting at No.4 in ODIs have collectively scored at an average of 39.04 and a strike-rate of 89.81. This is for ODIs among the top eight teams – which incidentally includes Bangladesh this year instead of Windies, and rightfully so. The No.4 position is chosen because Yuvraj has batted there in nine of his ten innings, with the other one at No.5 and against Windies.
Yuvraj’s bare numbers are superior to the global average of the top eight teams. And yet he’s not in India’s ODI team. And yet, it doesn’t feel wrong. That is the key. His exclusion does not feel out of place. To see why, it bears delving a bit deeper in his numbers.
Yuvraj has got more than 40% of his runs in one innings alone, the 150 he hit against England in the second ODI. That apart he has only one other 50-plus score, the match-turning 53 against Pakistan in India’s Champions Trophy 2017 opener. Take those two innings away and in the other eight, the numbers are a very middling average of 24.14 with a strike-rate of 77.52.
To be fair to comparisons, those two innings should also be excluded from the overall make up of what No.4 batsmen have done in this period. But because samples taken from a broader base tend not to fluctuate wildly given some exclusions, it gives an average of 37.26 and a strike-rate of 87.78 – lesser than before but very considerably above Yuvraj’s numbers.
There is also the matter of Yuvraj, the overall package. He trained at the National Cricket Academy when those who were selected for the India A team for the four-dayers in South Africa were there, and worked considerably on his bowling too, under the watchful eyes of Narendra Hirwani, as astute a bowling mind as you can hope to find. But when he played for India in this year, he has hardly been called on to bowl. Ideally, if he wanted to prove he was still a more than one string to his bow cricketer, that training and additional bite in bowling should have come before. And there’s also the fact that on the field, the Yuvraj of old is no longer there. The one who made India sit up and believe that they could have fielders at point who dived, who created an aura with their presence, who made the opposing batsmen believe they would have to manufacture a special shot to get the ball past him. Today’s Yuvraj – and it’s almost painful to type this – has to be hidden in the field. Painful because watching an athlete struggle at something he was a trendsetter at is never a happy sight. But the truth is that with the burden of being largely only a batsman, a hit-rate of 20% success is just not good enough.
And it’s especially not good enough if you have the calibre of batsmen of Manish Pandey and Shreyas Iyer waiting to get a look in. Forget about building a team for the 2019 World Cup, there is a strong case for ignoring that and having either, or both, of those two into the mix independent of that too.
Does this mean it’s the end of the road for Yuvraj as an international cricketer? No one can say with certainty naturally, but there seems to be a fairly strong circumstantial case for it. Pandey surely deserves an extended run, and with someone like Hardik Pandya growing in confidence and batting chops, there is added beef in India’s lower middle order to make Yuvraj’s capacity for big hits superfluous. Whatever the selectors say about ‘rest’ or ‘rotation’, is it feasible to drop some younger players without giving them a long rope? Especially if they see some success?
On the balance then, how would one class the Yuvraj recall? A necessary and moderately successful short-term call-up that did the job that the selectors expected? Or a needlessly nostalgic harking back to the past when the Indian team would have been better served by blooding a younger man?
The ostensible reason for Yuvraj’s recall was to lend experience in the middle order keeping the Champions Trophy in view. You could view it as Yuvraj having been brought in for a specific purpose, and judging the reasons for that purpose rather than the results.
Do the reasons stand up to scrutiny. If you have Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni in the top five after all, does it really matter that more experience is needed. Sure if you have two candidates equal in every other respect, experience will tilt the scales. But that was not quite the case for the Indian team. There was a touch of the emotional about Yuvraj’s recall, and while emotion is very desirable in cricket when shown by fans, it should be furthest from the minds of those selecting teams. In an all-time Indian ODI XI, Yuvraj would swagger into the middle-order, no questions asked. In today’s XI? Not so much.
But regardless, the call was made and Yuvraj didn’t exactly fail, though neither was he a rip-roaring success. Had he been one, then having him play on even after the Champions Trophy would have been a given.
But while the last memory of Yuvraj in India Blue might well be of a batsman who still retained a touch of magic, though couldn’t bring it out on the park as often as either he, his team, or his supporters would have liked. Perhaps it’s fitting that the exit is such. Fairy-tale farewells belong only in fairy-tales. Much better to fade with the glow of nostalgia still warm, than to be made to drag on well past sell-by dates.
For easily one of India’s greatest match-winners with the white ball, that much is allowed, and fitting.