After scoring a century and leading India A to a 77-run win against West Indies A in Bangalore on Sunday (September 15), Yuvraj Singh gave the impression of a man who had a single-minded focus on getting his career back to the dizzy heights it had scaled in the first half of 2011.
Over the past 12 months, Yuvraj has made a comeback after a fight with a rare germ-cell cancer, regained and lost his place in the Test side, and lost his place in the One-Day International side too. His fitness had become a concern and a poor show in Indian Premier League VI resulted in his exclusion from the Champions Trophy and the tri-series in the West Indies. (Read: The return of the king of sixes)
Yuvraj then went to France with Zaheer Khan, and worked with Tim Exeter, a leading private physical trainer, for six weeks. Sunday was his first foray back onto the cricket field, and the fruits of his labour were there for all to see.
Asked what it was that motivated him to keep coming back, Yuvraj's answer was a straightforward "My passion for the game."
He went on to describe what he had been through over the past year. "In the IPL, I had a back injury and things didn't go my way. I worked hard when I came back from cancer and it took a while for my body to get 100 per cent fit. The doctors said it would take me about a year to get fully fit. My body's improved a lot. I was focused on training, and I was focused on where I had my weaknesses - on my lung capacity and diet," explained Yuvraj.
"Tim Exeter has done wonders for me and Zak (Zaheer Khan) in terms of getting back," he added. "It (the trip to France) was organised by Ashish Kaushik from the National Cricket Academy (NCA). The NCA played a big part, it has always played a big part in me always coming back. Thanks to the NCA, thanks to Ashish Kaushik, the support staff, and obviously the people who believed in me."
Against West Indies A, Yuvraj was tentative at first and took his time settling in - it took him 39 balls to score his first boundary. Thereafter, he was a different player. He took the attack to the opposition, and smashed boundaries all over the park in a wondrous display of power. He ended up with an 89-ball 123, with eight fours and seven sixes.
"It's always amazing to get a hundred. It's the first game of my season, and everything fell in place," said Yuvraj. "I'd worked quite hard in the off-season and I was looking good, I was confident. I've been working on my batting and skills in the last couple of weeks and I just wanted to take some time at the start and attack when I needed to."
However, Yuvraj said there was no conscious effort to take his time to play himself in. "Most of my centuries are like this," he pointed out. "I take a few balls to get to 30-35, and then try and up the tempo. Most of my innings have been like that, because I'm a middle-order batsman and I can't just go in. I have to play with responsibility, have to see my team has a good total on the board. So I try and bat till the end, and that's how I've batted throughout my career."
Yuvraj said he was feeling "much better" following his stint in France and hoped for better things in the future. "I wanted to get my sharpness on the field, and I worked on a couple of things - running between the wickets, getting quicker, my strength. I'm definitely feeling a lot stronger and quicker on the ground. I'm moving quickly. I was always a quick runner, quick between the wickets, and a good fielder. So I just worked on those aspects and I'm feeling much better."
Yuvraj said he always knew he would be back to his best when his body and mind were in sync. "I always had the belief that when I'm feeling well from inside, when I'm feeling mentally good, I'm going to do well. It's taken a lot of time, because the body has gone through a lot. You can't just go through such a disease and come back and say 'okay, I'm going to be a 100 per cent.' It's taken a lot of time for my body to heal. And it's just getting better and better. I'm just happy with the way I hit the ball today and hopefully I can carry on with this form in the coming months."