Mohali: When he turns up for the fourth One-Day International against England on Wednesday (January 23), Yuvraj Singh will not experience the same emotions Ravindra Jadeja did when he played in front of his home fans in Rajkot on January 11, or Mahendra Singh Dhoni did in front of an adoring Ranchi crowd on January 19.
After all, while it was the first such experience for Jadeja and Dhoni, Yuvraj has already played plenty of international cricket at the PCA Stadium in Mohali, not too far away from Chandigarh where he was born more than 31 years ago.
Saying that, a multitude of other bitter-sweet emotions must have coursed through Yuvraj when he stepped on to the park - the last of the 15-member Indian contingent to do so - on Monday (January 21) for the team's first training session ahead of that fourth ODI. Sweet, because, among other things, it was here that in October 2003 he made his Test debut. Bitter, largely because it was at the same ground, during the Champions Trophy in 2006, he sustained a sickening knee injury while playing kho-kho that all but threatened to end his career.
Wednesday will mark Yuvraj's first international appearance at the PCA Stadium since the semifinal of the World Cup against Pakistan, on March 30, 2011. Yuvraj was dismissed for a first-ball duck by Wahab Riaz, but hit back with the ball like he did for most of the competition, picking up Asad Shafiq and Younis Khan to play his part in India's celebrated 29-run triumph.
Between then - the highs of World Cup success as well as being named the Player of the Tournament - and now, Yuvraj has battled a life-threatening illness and emerged as a wonderful role model, providing hope to millions who have sought to draw strength, energy and inspiration from his no-holds-barred war against cancer. Riding on a groundswell of support and wishes from his family, friends and fans, and determined to regain his place on the international cricketing stage, Yuvraj has wended his way back into the national team, if only in the limited-overs formats for now.
After a middling World T20 - middling only on the field, but remarkable because he made the team in the first place so rapidly after making a complete recovery - he proved that illness had done little to erode his appetite with a double hundred in the Duleep Trophy and Yuvraj made it back to the ODI team for the three-match series against Pakistan, his first 50-over appearance for India since the final of the World Cup against Sri Lanka in April 2011. On bowler-friendly surfaces during the three matches against Pakistan, he only managed 2, 9 and 23, but on better pitches against England, he has gradually begun to assert himself, suggesting that he isn't far away from his best.
It might appear silly to talk runs and wickets when someone has waged the ultimate battle of his life, but there is little place for sentiment in competitive international sport. Today, Yuvraj Singh is just another international cricketer, simple as that. The past, however painful and mitigating as it might have been, is just that - the past - and that's exactly how Yuvraj would like it to be.
England might be silently wondering how long it will be before they face the full fury of Yuvraj's scything willow. He looked the part while making a sparkling 61 in Rajkot, as well as during subsequent knocks of 32 and 30 in Kochi and Ranchi respectively. The big one, however, hasn't been forthcoming; there is little to indicate that it may not be around the corner, so sweetly has Yuvraj been hitting the ball this series.
In some ways, Yuvraj has flown under the radar since his comeback. Junaid Khan's brilliance and India's batting woes grabbed centrestage in the Pakistan series while against England, the MS Dhoni-Ravindra Jadeja tandem has been as much in the spotlight as India's new ODI new-ball combine of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shami Ahmed. Yuvraj, happy to be relatively anonymous, has quietly gone about his business. He has chipped in with significant if not necessarily match-turning contributions with the bat, and has only been sparingly used as a bowler by Dhoni, despite Yuvraj's wonderful knack of picking up vital wickets at crucial stages.
"We also need to give him some time to mentally get used to the five-fielder rule because he is not a regular bowler," said Dhoni the other night after India had pulled off a sensational win against Pakistan in New Delhi. "Yuvi is a good bowler, but he is not a regular bowler. We are giving him some time, let him practice a bit more with the new rules in operation, and that's also one reason why we brought in Jadeja."