Fit-again Yuvraj Singh set to reclaim his stage
One man's delight can be a complete nightmare for another. As opposing skippers MS Dhoni and George Bailey get set to lock horns in the solitary T20, watch out for Yuvraj Singh - the man evoking contrasting emotions in the opposing camps.
When George Bailey, the Australian limited-overs captain, reached his hotel room in Rajkot late on Tuesday (October 8) and flipped on the television, he was given a reminder he could do without.
Flicking through the channels and settling on the cricket, he was treated to an episode of India Victorious, on the host broadcaster Star Sports' channel. The game being replayed was the India-Australia World Cup quarterfinal of 2011, down the road from Rajkot in Ahmedabad, and Yuvraj Singh was setting the Sardar Patel Stadium in Motera alive with some typically muscular pyrotechnics.
After picking up the key wickets of Brad Haddin and Michael Clarke in a ten-over spell that cost only 44 runs, Yuvraj shepherded the chase of 261, top scoring with an unbeaten 57 that he later admitted was a bit of a dream come true. Yuvraj said that given Australia were the pre-eminent One-Day International team of his generation, he had spent many idle moments daydreaming about creaming the winnings runs against them in a World Cup knockout match.
Bailey watched the highlights of that innings on the eve of the one-off Twenty20 International and it brought back memories, not that he needed any reminding of Yuvraj's ample talents.
"He is a really dangerous player and his power is the thing that you got to be really careful of," said Bailey. "He can come in and look really casual and be working the ball around quietly. And then, without warning, he just has the capacity to clear the ropes. So I think with him it's about being really clear on your plans and trying to stay aggressive to him right throughout his innings."
Ever since Peter Jackson's multi-part movie based on JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings proved a blockbuster, headline writers have feasted on the opportunity to play with the title: Return of the King. Yuvraj, the permanent prince of Indian cricket, has given them plenty of opportunities, making comebacks from poor form, injury and eventually debilitating illness.
The latest in the long line of Yuvraj's comebacks had Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the Indian captain, purring with delight. "Yuvraj is a match-winner and we all know that. He is a big player and has always proved himself whenever questions have risen," said Dhoni. "Also the fact that he is a big match player; he performs very well in big matches, in tough series he does well. We are hoping that he will come back strong.
"Of course, he is looking good. In the net sessions that we had today he is batting well. It will be good to have him in the side also as a bowling option, having one more bowler obviously helps. Apart from having five proper bowlers, having a few part timers who can bowl, especially at this time of the year when dew might be there, we have more options."
For Dhoni, the process of welcoming Yuvraj back into the fold and allowing him to settle into his groove was all about keeping things as low-key as possible. While the hype off the field is inevitable - Australia's players were left gaping at the start of their practice session when India's players literally walked the ramp at the unveiling of the team's new ODI kit at an event for Nike - the atmosphere in the dressing-room was likely to be calm.
"We will try to keep it as normal as possible because once you are back in the side and it becomes like a comeback scenario, the kind of pressure on the player (is immense). It doesn't matter if you are one of the biggest match-winners or you have just made your debut and are coming back," said Dhoni.
"It is important to take the feeling away from the individual that he is coming back, because what is important is for the individual to be expressive on the field, back himself, have belief in his talent. If a player like Yuvraj backs the kind of talent he has got, ultimately that will show on the field. We try to keep it as normal as possible and take the undue pressure off him and hopefully it will work."
With Yuvraj, self-belief is never in question. Now that he has his body in pretty much the exact shape he wants it, all that's left is to reclaim the stage that he has made his own in his decade and more as an India ODI cricketer.