“My aim is to play the 2019 World Cup in England,” Yuvraj Singh remarked. On the face of it, his assertion sounded a tad ambitious, even preposterous. The reason being the 34-year-old has not played a One-Day International since December 2013. The last time he donned the India jersey was during the World T20 in India earlier this year.
However, a series of indifferent starts and a string of low scores in that tournament did not impress the selectors and the left-handed middle-order batsman was shown the door. By the time the showpiece event in England begins in less than three years, Yuvraj would have turned 37 — an age when most players hang up their boots, while some even become commentators or coaches.
On Thursday, Day 1 of the Ranji Trophy, the national selectors announced the squad for the first three ODIs against New Zealand. Yuvraj did not find his name in the list of 15 players.
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No eyebrows were raised, and not a soul was surprised. If anything, it just showed how much the odds are stacked against him. Yuvraj, however, would seek solace in the manner in which Gautam Gambhir has staged a comeback to India’s Test squad. Like his former India teammate, the Delhi captain too was out of favour with selectors for some time. But he fought it out, churning out consistent scores at the domestic level to push his case. Gambhir’s inclusion would only spur Yuvraj on.
Task cut out
The Punjab stalwart, however, has his task cut out. India has a heavily crowded middle-order in ODIs, and like Gambhir, he can only hope to make a comeback only through some outstanding performances in this domestic season.
As captain of India Red, he had his chances in the recent Duleep Trophy, but failed miserably in those three games, managing scores of 17,21, 4 and 10. A series of soft dismissals, coupled with some lazy shot selection brought about his tepid exits.
Yuvraj had the opportunity to get back into form and much-needed rhythm during the Ranji opener against the Railways at the Palam Ground in Delhi on Friday.
Chasing Railways’ first innings tally of 331, Punjab were put in immediate strife. Yuvraj walked to the crease with his side reeling at 20 for three.
Going into shell
However, instead of taking control of the situation, their captain went into his shell. Against a disciplined Railways bowling attack, he found the going tough. Barring an extravagant cover drive off the bowling of part-timer Shivakant Shukla, Yuvraj looked fairly subdued.
In the end, he was dismissed for nine measly runs — edging an innocuous Manjeet Singh delivery to a widish first slip. The Punjab captain had consumed 35 deliveries to score those nine painstaking runs. The worrying trend about his batting in recent times has been the inherent lack of fluency.
When in full flow, Yuvraj scores at a decent click. Those languid drives and wristy flicks, which he could orchestrate almost at will, are now coming in a trickle.
Just 62 runs in five domestic innings perfectly illustrate his lack of form. Ahead of an arduous Ranji season, Punjab would be hoping their talisman gets back into some sort of batting form if they have to make an impact in this edition. The start, however, has neither been ideal nor auspicious. Yuvraj will also know that with every failure this Ranji season, he will have to answer more uncomfortable questions about his future in the game. More failures would also mean his long cherished dream of playing in England three years down the line would remain very much a dream.
Brief Scores: Railways 331 (SS Shukla 128, A Yadav 81, S. Kaul 5/85) vs Punjab 154/4. (G.Mann 66 no, Uday Kaul 57 no, D. Bansal 2/28).