To watch Yuvraj Singh bat, at the peak of his ability and form, is a thing of beauty and art.
It is an art, though, which we thought we had lost to age, injuries and time. Especially on April 6, 2014. There — in the final of the World T20 against Sri Lanka — Yuvraj Singh had stuttered to a 21-ball 11. He was criticised. He was humiliated. He was banished. He was... many thought... finished.
Even last year, when he was called up to the Indian squad and played the Indian Premier League, he seemed a shadow of his earlier self. Sure, there would be those big, clean drives, the bat moving at an elegant arc, the ball making that sweet sound off the bat before disappearing into orbit. But these seemed few and far between. Yuvraj Singh, the maverick, the king, the cleanest hitter of a cricket ball in India much before the likes of MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli had come on to the scene, was gone, or so it seemed.
But Yuvraj was never gone. He had retreated into the shadows, biding his time. Waiting. Practising. And soon he did arrive. Against England at the start of the year in the One-Day International series, he met an old ally in Dhoni and went berserk. A hundred and fifty runs arrived in just 127 balls.
But it was in the Indian Premier League on Thursday that proved just what makes Yuvraj Singh so tantalisingly beautiful to watch. Just before he came in to the bat, the broadcasters ran a poll asking, “Who do you think should come in to bat next?”.
Yuvraj was the overwhelming winner with 70%.
Sure, it wasn’t a completely flawless innings. He was lucky not to have inside-edged a Aniket Choudhary delivery on to his stumps and was dropped by Sreenath Aravind in the deep.
But there was so much to admire. Like his cover drives through the line. Nothing too complex, too complicated. The bat coming down in one gorgeous arc. Meeting the ball right in the centre. Dispatching it to the boundary line and sometimes beyond.
The Royal Challengers Bangalore’s bowlers thought they could get him on the short ball. Of course, they could have but Aravind dropped it and with it the match. Yuvraj just kept on playing his beautiful swivel pull. His hands are so good to watch. Moving so fast, the bat speed flashing by in a blur. Yuvraj may not be the strongest man in Indian cricket but his bat speed and fast hands can hit the ball out of any stadium.
Even his captain David Warner was in the mood for throwbacks.
“That’s the Yuvi I used to watch on TV,” Warner said. “Superb stroke-play, hitting it clean, and, you know what, he backed himself. And that’s the way we want him to keep playing.”
You can sense that a lot of Yuvraj’s gameplay is about confidence. When he’s in the best of nick, everything just moves together. Head, bat, feet, arms - they all sync and there’s destruction. But when he’s not in the best of form, things go awry. That’s what we saw earlier. But thankfully he managed to get over that.
“My batting has been up and down over the couple of years, but I am feeling really good at the moment. I just need to continue this good run forward,” said the left-hander on his 27-ball 62. “The comeback into the Indian team has really helped me. I am more free in my mind and I am not worrying anymore about making a comeback. I am just going to play according to the situation and express myself.”
A free Yuvraj, unburdened by pressure, is a Yuvraj Singh at the prime of his ability. And that’s not good news for the seven other IPL franchises.