Yuvraj and the over that changed everything

Updated: 19 September 2013 14:46 IST

When the Indian squad was announced for the first World Twenty20 in 2007, during the tour of England, there was no Sachin Tendulkar, no Rahul Dravid, no Sourav Ganguly and no Anil Kumble. The eminences of Indian cricket were to put their feet up after a gruelling tour that had seen them seal a first Test series win in the old country in 21 years.

How much do you remember of India's first Twenty20 international? Unless you're the Jay Gatsby of cricket tragics, chances are that the answer is 'not much'. I was there at the Wanderers on a blustery night, and apart from a brilliant spell from Zaheer Khan and an Albie Morkel slog-sweep off Harbhajan Singh that appeared to go halfway to Pretoria, little jumps out from the memory bank. India won with a ball to spare, but after the pasting in the one-day series that had preceded it, no one was running around the field waving the tricolour.

In a country where the Indian Premier League is now the centrepiece of the cricket landscape, it's hard to imagine just how much of a non-factor Twenty20 was even seven years ago. England had started its domestic Twenty20 competition in 2003, and South Africa had followed suit a year later. Pakistan conducted its first tournament in April 2005, while Australia introduced the Big Bash a season later. India, with the ghosts of 1983 everywhere, sneered at it all and remained very much a 50-over nation.

When the Indian squad was announced for the first World Twenty20 in 2007, during the tour of England, there was no Sachin Tendulkar, no Rahul Dravid, no Sourav Ganguly and no Anil Kumble. The eminences of Indian cricket were to put their feet up after a gruelling tour that had seen them seal a first Test series win in the old country in 21 years.

The apathy was not the cricket establishment's alone. After India's premature exit from the 2007 World Cup, almost all the leading players participated in the country's first Twenty20 competition, for the Mushtaq Ali Trophy. The board didn't even bother to sell TV rights, and the crowds stayed away. "You expect a lot more people to come in for games like this," said Yuvraj Singh, after Punjab had lost the final to Tamil Nadu. "In future the hype will be much more and I'm sure people will come in larger numbers and that will make a difference."

Little could he have known how prescient those words would be, or how much of a role he would play in that transformation. India went to South Africa as no-hopers, the major nation that didn't even take the format seriously. Back from England and exhausted, I wrote a half-hearted preview of the team's chances for ESPNCricinfo. I got one thing right. Under those to watch, I mentioned Yuvraj - "Dhoni, with his massive carves over the infield, will doubtless play a part, but the star man should be Yuvraj, whose uncanny ability to find the gaps on both sides of the wicket is unparalleled in Indian cricket."

Despite a bowl-out win against Pakistan in the opening phase of the tournament - and you could just imagine the hard-core traditionalists tearing hair out in clumps as they watched the farce unfold - there was no great buzz around the event back home. Then, India lost to New Zealand in the opening match of the second stage, a result that left them needing to beat both England and South Africa to qualify for the semifinals.

England in Durban. Four years earlier, Ashish Nehra had swung a World Cup game there, spewing up bananas pitch-side for good measure. This time, it was a different kind of swing at work. When Yuvraj marked his guard, 20 balls remained in the innings, and India were 155 for 3. A lofted cover-drive off Chris Tremlett got him going and he then took two fours off Andrew Flintoff, the second of them a hook that bisected two converging fielders. A hobbling Flintoff was not amused and had words to say at the end of the over.

He shouldn't have. As Stuart Broad prepared for his final over, Yuvraj was simmering. There was some history as well. In the one-day series in England, Dimitri Mascarenhas had walloped him for five sixes in an over at The Oval. On this, the truest of Kingsmead surfaces, it was poor Broad that felt the backlash.

The first ball sailed over midwicket and out of the ground. The TV graphics said it travelled 111m. As if they'd know. The second was clipped over square leg with a casualness bordering on contempt. After a pristine loft over extra-cover, Broad decided to change the angle and come round the wicket. A dismal full toss was duly carved over point for six more.

As the crowd started to bubble over, Broad and Paul Collingwood, his captain, had a chat. Back over the wicket. Same result, this time a monstrous on-bended knee thump over midwicket. The last ball of the over soared over wide long-on and into the history books. Sir Garfield Sobers, Ravi Shastri and Herschelle Gibbs had all hit six sixes in an over before Yuvraj, but without remotely the same impact. This was the over that changed everything.

In the space of six balls, Twenty20 cricket went from afterthought to front page. By the time India played and beat South Africa a day later to make the last four - Yuvraj missed out with tendonitis in his left elbow - even those who had derided it as hit-and-giggle cricket were aware of what was going on in South Africa.

Yuvraj himself came back to club 70 from 30 balls against Australia and though he failed in the final against Pakistan, India didn't. By the time the team returned to a tickertape parade in Mumbai, the explosion of interest in Twenty20 rivalled Beatlemania. From then on, it wasn't a question of whether the IPL would take off, but when. At board level, scorn gave way to a heightened awareness of what the shortest format could do for the coffers.

You sometimes have to pinch yourself to make sure it was only six years ago. The Champions League Twenty20 is already in to its fifth year. Yuvraj, after starring in a World Cup win and battling cancer successfully, is in Bangalore, on the comeback trail with the India A side. The IPL, despite all the scandals, has become the Holy Grail for most cricketers around the world.

We tell ourselves that every second counts. On September 19 2007, in a stadium by the Indian Ocean, it took Yuvraj just 288 seconds to push a boat out towards cricket's new world.

Topics : Cricket MS Dhoni Gary Kirsten Adam Gilchrist Yuvraj Singh Anil Kumble Sourav Ganguly
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