After spending six gruelling weeks in France, Yuvraj Singh returned to the cricket field on Sunday and scored a ballistic century to help India A beat West Indies A by 77 runs in the first of three one-dayers at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore.
A strong batting performance was the foundation of India A's win. Apart from Yuvraj, both Mandeep Singh and Yusuf Pathan made commendable half-centuries to help set West Indies A a daunting target of 313 in a match reduced to 42-overs-a-side after overnight rain had delayed the toss and the start of play. Half-centuries from Narsingh Deonarine and Ashley Nurse proved insufficient for West Indies A, and they were bowled out for 235 in 39.1 overs. (Also read: King of sixes, Yuvraj Singh, is back with a bang)
Put in to bat, India A had a tough start against some tidy pace bowling, with Unmukt Chand (1) dismissed by Miguel Cummins early on. Robin Uthappa and Mandeep Singh put on 39 for the second wicket, before Uthappa (23) fell to Andre Russell, caught at deep square leg when attempting a pull.
Despite Uthappa's dismissal, the sizeable Sunday crowd cheered because Yuvraj walked in next. Yuvraj abstained from playing big shots early on and focussed on settling in, while Mandeep took on the aggressor's role and raced towards his half-century, slog-sweeping a six off Ashley Nurse on one occasion.
India A soon crossed 100 and carried on strongly. Yuvraj found his rhythm, cutting Ronsford Beaton through point for four - his first boundary of the innings after facing 39 balls. He then claimed the maximum off a free hit from Cummins. Mandeep and Yuvraj had put on 100 from 112, when Nikita Miller found the gap between Mandeep's bat and pad and had him bowled for 67.
Yusuf Pathan then came in, and his association with Yuvraj proved decisive. Yuvraj, who brought up his half-century in 60 balls, locked his sights on Miller and hit him for three sixes and a four - all back-to-back. Miller was clobbered over square leg, hit straight down the ground, and then heaved twice over midwicket in an over that yielded 23 runs.
At the other end, Yusuf joined the carnival, taking 28 runs off Nurse. There was a huge six over long-on, a couple of fours at fine leg, and then two sixes over deep midwicket. Back on strike, Yuvraj then claimed 24 runs off Beaton, completing his century in the process - his first in 29 innings and nine months in any format.
The two had put on 125 runs for the fourth wicket, 85 of which came in just four overs, when Yuvraj's magnificent innings came to an end. He mistimed Nkrumah Bonner's harmless full toss and was caught by Beaton at midwicket. His maverick burst had helped him score 123 in just 89 balls, and the Indians were four down for 272 in the 40th over.
The batting carnage continued though, as Pathan went on to score an unbeaten 70 off just 32 balls, including two walloped sixes off the last two balls of the innings, taking India A's total to 312 for 4.
West Indies A attempted a brave chase, but their inability to keep wickets intact and a failure to stitch together a meaningful partnership proved their undoing. Bonner smashed four fours early on, but was dismissed for 16, caught behind off Vinay Kumar. Kieran Powell, the captain, and Kirk Edwards then put on 23, scoring some crisp boundaries in the process. However, Powell (17) skied Vinay to gift an easy catch to Sumit Narwal. Kirk Edwards fell three overs later, caught behind off Narwal as West Indies A were reduced to 58 for 3.
There was a brief resistance when Narsingh Deonarine and Andre Fletcher put on 54 for the fourth wicket. Fletcher hit a couple of fours off Rahul Sharma and then slogged Yusuf over midwicket. Deonarine took runs off Yusuf as well, hitting consecutive fours at one point. The two had revived the West Indies A innings somewhat, taking the total past 100, when the stand was broken. Fletcher (29) attempted to slog-sweep Pathan but top-edged the ball to give Chand an easy catch.
Deonarine carried on to score a half-century, but wickets fell all around him. Thomas (10) and Russell (1) fell in quick succession, before Deonarine himself departed, falling to Sharma for 57. West Indies A went on to cross 200, with Ashley Nurse scoring 57, but they were chasing an impossible target.
West Indies A needed something special. Their failure to do so ensured the day was Yuvraj's to savour.