Chennai: There are days when Yuvraj Singh feels it, days when he plays one level above the game around him. Today was one such day when on a two-paced pitch, despite mis-hits punctuating the innings, despite dehydration and vomiting on the field, despite Ravi Rampaul taking his first five-for in his first World Cup match, he played some breathtaking shots to bring up his first World Cup century. India might have lost their way once again in the last 10, going from 218 for 3 to 268, but it seemed an above-par total at Chepauk, which has been the fairest pitch of the tournament when it comes to balance between bat and ball.
Virat Kohli, who came back home to No. 3 thanks to a knee injury to Virender Sehwag, supported Yuvraj ably. In familiar environs of not being expected to go at a strike-rate of 150, Kohli did just what was required on a tough pitch after a tough start, scoring 59 off 76, letting Yuvraj take majority of strike in a partnership of 122 from 51 for 2.
West Indies will not be overly pleased with their effort because they could have made things much worse for India. Like they successfully did in the last two World Twenty20s, West Indies tried to bounce India out, and on a hard surface, they tasted some success at the top too. Inside the first 11 overs, two deliveries bounced over the keeper's head for byes, two batsmen got out to deliveries dug in short, one was dropped off another short delivery, but Sulieman Benn - who surprisingly persisted with the new ball despite the obvious plain and bouncy track - went for 21 in his three overs at the top. To make matters worse Sammy dropped Yuvraj twice, chances not easy but not impossible, at 9 and 11.
The man who fashioned West Indies' last win over a Test side other than Bangladesh, back in June 2009, Rampaul, was brought in to replace an unwell Kemar Roach, but the switch didn't hurt West Indies at all. The last ball of his first over reared up from just short of a length, and also straightened, catching the shoulder of Sachin Tendulkar's bat. Benn bowling from the other end meant West Indies didn't capitalise on that first over, but when Gautam Gambhir fell slashing at Rampaul, offering third man a catch, West Indies were still ahead.
This, especially considering that Rampaul and Andre Russell were charged up, and were pumping up some pace and bounce. Soon Russell squared Yuvraj up with a short ball outside off, Sammy at backward point got to the lob, but mistimed the leap and couldn't hold onto it. In the next over, Sammy managed to just get his fingertips to the return chance that flew over his head. The bouncers still kept coming; the odd ball still misbehaved, especially for the left-hand batsman; Yuvraj got dehydrated and barfed, but nothing seemed to be able to stop the Yuvraj specials in between, shots that kept the scoring rate up in the middle overs. Kohli was smart too: he had played 21 deliveries when Yuvraj came to join him, but so good was the strike manipulation that Yuvraj had played 12 more deliveries than him by the time their partnership ended.
During the partnership, Yuvraj pulled over midwicket, cover-drove for fours along the ground, swept the legspin of Devendra Bishoo, and on-drove Sammy over long-on for a majestic six. By the time the partnership was broken, again by Rampaul with a reversing ball just before the 34-over change, Yuvraj was struggling immensely. The singles went down expectedly, but he didn't hit out. That his partners kept falling - MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina followed Kohli for 22 and 4 - might have had a role to play.
The big hits didn't quite come out, but the lap shot exposed the short fine leg. Frequently Yuvraj got runs there, one such took him from 92 to 96. After he reached the century, he pulled Sammy over midwicket for another six. Once bitten twice shy, India kept the Powerplay for the last five overs, but Kieron Pollard removed Yuvraj with the last ball of the 45th over through a return catch off the slower ball.
That proved to be a big wicket because in the Powerplay, Rampaul continued his superb comeback, stifling Yusuf Pathan, then getting his wicket as India once again failed to play their quota of 50 overs, leaving the door open for West Indies.