Pune: Success might have eluded him in Test cricket, but when it came to cricket in coloured clothing, Yuvraj Singh was the undisputed master of the game. India won the first Twenty20 International against England in Pune on Thursday (December 20) by five wickets, but while India were the superior side on the whole, it was Yuvraj who made the difference with both bat and ball.
After the first eight overs of their innings, England were motoring along at just under ten runs an over after being put in to bat. With Alex Hales unbeaten on 48 from 24 balls, it looked like the England total would reach 180 or thereabouts. R Ashwin had bowled three overs unchanged conceding just 18 runs, but none of the others could restrict the scoring, which reached 51 for one by the end of the powerplay overs.
Ashwin was also the sole wicket-taker at that stage, having first bowled a maiden over to Michael Lumb (1) and then trapped him leg before attempting a slog sweep.
Hales, however, owned the first few overs. Fours and sixes flew off his blade as he made the inexperienced Indian bowling attack look pedestrian. Luke Wright also pitched in with some lusty blows as the mayhem Eoin Morgan, England's captain, had predicted on the eve of the match was well and truly on.
By the end of the eighth over, India had tried five bowlers apart from Ashwin - Ashok Dinda, Parvinder Awana, Ravindra Jadeja, Piyush Chawla and Virat Kohli. So Mahendra Singh Dhoni turned to the one man he trusted most in such situations- Yuvraj. And Yuvraj didn't disappoint.
Yuvraj first had Wright (34) miscuing a heave to long-off, where Ajinkya Rahane took an easy catch.
Then came the big wicket in Yuvraj's third over, the 13th of the innings. A straight delivery skidded past Hales's big blade to hit middle stump after Hales had hit seven fours and two sixes in a 35-ball 56.
Just two balls later, before the crowd had quietened down, Morgan perished too. Yuvraj bowled it flat and quick and Morgan (5) found Rahane on the long-on boundary.
From 89 for one after ten overs, England were stuttering at 100 for four and the big total, which looked there for the taking, suddenly looked far away. Yuvraj finished his four overs with figures of three for 19.
The innings never really recovered, even though Jos Buttler hit three sixes and a four in an unbeaten 33 from 21 balls and Samit Patel pitched in with a 22-ball 24. Dinda bowled a disciplined and pacy 19th over, where he conceded just two runs and had Patel caught at the long-off boundary and Tim Bresnan (0) caught at the midwicket fence to pull England back again. But 140 for six did become 157 for six by the end of the next six balls, bowled by the hapless Awana, as Buttler turned on the style.
The Indian reply started on a strong note with Rahane taking the initiative with two big sixes early on. Gautam Gambhir hit a couple of boundaries too as India reached 41 without loss by the end of the fourth over.
Then came the dramatic fifth over, bowled by Bresnan. Off the third ball, Gambhir (16) pulled a short of length delivery straight to Jade Dernbach at deep square-leg. The very next ball saw Rahane direct a catch directly to Stuart Meaker at short fine-leg, who juggled the ball a few times before putting it down. But Rahane (19), back on strike for the last ball of the over, mistimed a pull off a slower bouncer to Patel at mid-on.
By the end of the Power Play overs, India were 52 for two.
With two wickets having fallen and Kohli and Yuvraj intent on settling down before pulling out the big strokes, there was a moderately quiet passage of play for three overs, broken eventually by Yuvraj's six-four-six combination - all to midwicket - off Danny Briggs in the eighth over.
Late evening dew was starting to have a say in matters by then, justifying Dhoni's decision to field first, and groundspersons had to make regular forays trying to dry the outfield. The runs didn't dry up though till Wright, of all people, got the breakthrough. It was the tenth over and despite having hit a six off the previous delivery, Yuvraj (38) went for one big stroke too many. The ball hit the toe-end of the bat and was taken by Meaker on the deep square-leg boundary.
By that time, however, India were in their home stretch. 65 were needed from 60 balls.
The need of the hour was sensible batting, but Kohli was bowled by Meaker with one that kept a tad low and clattered into the stumps off the under-edge as Kohli (21) attempted a pull.
43 from 42 balls, however, was the sort of finish Suresh Raina and Dhoni have pulled off time and again for Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League. It was almost the same on the night as the two batted sensibly, holding back the big strokes for the most part and running their singles fast till Raina (26) was run out after miscommunication with Dhoni. That was only a minor hiccup though, as Dhoni (24*) sealed the win with 13 balls to spare.
The second and final T20I between the two sides will take place on Saturday in Mumbai.