TOWARDS THE fag end of the day during Punjab’s Ranji opener against Railways at the Air Force Sports Complex at Palam, captain Yuvraj Singh was involved in an animated session at the nets with opener Manan Vohra. That match was meandering towards a drab stalemate, but at the practice wickets, the team’s most seasoned pro was passing on some valuable batting tips to the youngster.
The session was intense and lasted more than an hour. Following the stint with Vohra, Yuvraj, the batsman, now got down to business — indulging himself for the next 30 minutes to get some much-needed batting practice ahead of a long and arduous domestic season.
The whole episode may seem inconsequential. But, it only underscores Yuvraj’s hunger as a batsman and the passion in leading his young side. Out of the Indian team for several months now, and a string of pretty inconsequential scores in the recently concluded Duleep Trophy had raised serious doubts about the 34-year-old’s future in the game. Even the start of this Ranji season was inauspicious — Yuvraj scored just 17 and 9 against the Railways and was desperately seeking a turnaround in fortunes.
The session at the nets with Vohra was perhaps a definitive indicator of how badly he wanted to get back to his prolific and belligerent best.
Back in form
Luckily for Punjab and their captain, the turnaround came at Lahli, against Madhya Pradesh. Roaring back into form with a sublime 177, Yuvraj hit back at his detractors and even allayed his own fears.
But he was not done yet. Two games after his high at Lahli, the Punjab captain notched up his career best score in first-class cricket — an emphatic 260 against Baroda. A day before Diwali, Yuvraj’s strokeplay lit up the Feroz Shah Kotla. His near flawless innings was an exhibition of skill and grace. In doing so, he also helped Punjab secure three vital points as they managed to overhaul Baroda’s mammoth tally of 529 in their first essay.
It was only fitting that the batsman giving Yuvraj company for the most time was none other than Vohra. Not surprisingly, the captain’s inputs at the end of Punjab’s opening Ranji game seemed to have done wonders to Vohra’s confidence.
Plagued by inconsistent starts and poor conversion, the 23-year-old finally came good by stroking 224. His 343-run stand for the third wicket with his captain proved to be the cornerstone of Punjab’s emphatic reply.
With three points in their kitty, Punjab and their captain can breathe easy for now. They are still some way off from qualifying for the play-offs, but an in-form Yuvraj will surely give them a semblance of hope.
Brief Scores: Baroda 529 and 37/0; Punjab 670 (Yuvraj 260, Vohra 224; Swapnil Singh 4/169). Points: Punjab 3, Baroda 1