Yuvraj Singh: The amazing comeback of Kevin Pietersen's nemesis
After beating cancer, he is ready to resume mocking England and, in particular, the batsman for whom he reserves extra scorn
From the start, Yuvraj Singh was trouble for England. He went out at Lord's in a lost cause and played an innings of such cheeky assurance that it not only helped to win the match but also prompted India's captain to bare his chest on the hallowed dressing room balcony and swing his shirt round his head.
That was 10 years ago – had it been 10 before that Sourav Ganguly, the offending shirt twirler, might have been strung by his tails in the committee room until he apologised – and Yuvraj has added a litany of dominant, thoroughly irritating interventions since. It is as if he saves something extra for England in general. Oh and Kevin Pietersen in particular.
Actually, it is not as if he does it, he positively relishes it. He is alluringly cocky, the original playboy cricketer. This is why, a mere three months after recovering from cancer, he is likely to be recalled to India's Test side for the first match of this series against England.
Yuvraj has never cracked the Test code in the way that he rapidly discovered the secrets of limited overs cricket but at 30 his experience at No 6 is likely to be deemed necessary in a team trying to regroup in the wake of the retirements of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman.
If there was no intention of recalling him he would hardly have been picked for India A's draw with the tourists earlier this week when he did everything that could have been reasonably expected by scoring 59 and taking 5 for 94 with his slow left arm.
Doubts cast by the captain, MS Dhoni, about Yuvraj's durability in the five-day game following his illness can be dismissed. Only two weeks ago, in his first first-class match for almost a year, he scored 208 for North Zone against Central Zone in the Duleep Trophy, an innings lasting more than five hours spread over two days.
The other contender for the No 6 batting position is another batting allrounder, Suresh Raina, who is five years younger and has also proved to be more comfortable in the limited overs arena. Raina led India A this week, which might give him a slight edge in the pecking order, but did not perform quite so well which might peg him back again.
Not so long ago, it would not have mattered too much since Dravid, Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar were likely to acquire runs somewhere along the line. Now, while India will begin as outstanding favourites on what seem certain to be turning pitches, it matters a great deal.
Their openers are experienced but well short of prime form, Dravid and Laxman have gone, Tendulkar has been in scratchy touch and the young genius Virat Kohli needs help from somewhere. Yuvraj will easily resist suggesting to the selectors that he is not ready to provide it.
Such a withdrawal would not be in his nature and he has spent much of the past year combating an illness, precisely to get ready for this moment. He was diagnosed with mediastinal seminoma last November, a form of cancer which is curable but still horrific. He went to Boston in the United States for treatment, and a successful course of chemotherapy finished in April. By August he was picked in India's squad for the World Twenty20.
Playing Test cricket again would complete a remarkable period in Yuvraj's life and career. Although he was a pioneer in dragging India's fielding from the dark ages – he ran, dived and jumped, components that did not always, or indeed usually, feature in most Indian teams from the 1930s to the 1980s – his fitness and approach were increasingly questioned.
He often recalls being dropped from the Punjab Under-15 team for poor fielding. But there was never much doubt that he would make it. His father Yograj Singh played a Test and a handful of ODIs for India and was so keen on his footsteps being followed that when Yuvraj brought home a gold medal for winning the Indian schoolboy roller skating championship the father threw it away and told his son to concentrate on cricket.
Shortly before the 2011 World Cup Yuvraj was dropped and brought back for the competition, it seemed, only with deep reluctance. He responded by winning the man of the match award four times and being made player of the tournament.
Six months later, it transpired that his sleepless nights and coughing fits were caused by something more profound than the desire to do well in the World Cup and the constant demands of India's fans. If he plays in Ahmedabad, England will know he is around for he will delight in telling them.
Somehow, England have always fallen prey to his assertive personality, which has seemed more telling than his talent with the bat or the ball. That match at Lord's in July 2002 defined the contest between them.
India, chasing 326 to win in the days when a higher second innings total had been scored only once, were out of it at 146 for 5. But Yuvraj, hitting straight and clean, and Mohammad Kaif, put on 123 to bring the tourists back into it. When the winning runs came with three balls left, Ganguly's jaunty response was by way of mimicking Andrew Flintoff who had done something similar on the pitch at Mumbai months earlier when England won a tight match.
Yuvraj has kept on doing it to England and England have clearly never liked it. In the inaugural World Twenty20 he struck six sixes off an over from Stuart Broad to long on, backward square leg, extra cover, point, midwicket and back to long on.
It was a sizzling moment on the way to India's victory which changed cricket forever. (In fairness, it should be said that Broad exacted some retribution when Yuvraj became the first victim in his scintillating spell of five wickets in 16 balls including a hat-trick in the Trent Bridge Test last year).
Then there was the unbeaten partnership of 163 with Tendulkar in the 2008 Test in Chennai which secured an improbable win by four wickets in a match that looked lost, or at best drawn. How Yuvraj loved that and the feeling was that he loved it more than Sachin, for whom most of the plaudits were reserved. It is as a bowler that Yuvraj has reserved his most scornful moments for England and particularly as a bowler to Pietersen. He was at it again in Mumbai this week when the batsman, anxious as usual to make a point, drove a ball straight back to an elated Yuvraj.
This was merely a variation on a theme. Yuvraj has dismissed Pietersen four times in one-day internationals, more than any other bowler and, to much glee, did so in the famous Chennai Test of 2008. Brought on with that specific purpose when Pietersen came in during England's second innings, Pietersen was decidedly hesitant and pretty soon pinned to the crease to be lbw.
The notion that Pietersen was Yuvraj's rabbit would not have had much opposition that night. Pietersen may justifiably protest that there have been plenty of times when he has successfully launched assaults but it is nowhere near as much fun, as Yuvraj well knows, to recall them.
It would be an emotional return to Test cricket after such a traumatic interlude. Yuvraj Singh has always been a cricketer who adds to the gaiety of the moment.
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