Is Yuvraj Singh really rested or dropped?
Well, this has been the biggest talking point in the Indian cricket fraternity since Sunday evening.
The assumption of a possible end of Yuvraj’s career began right after the national selectors announced a 15-member limited-overs squad for the upcoming five One-day Internationals (ODI) and a T20 International in Sri Lanka and the southpaw’s name was missing in the list.
According to MSK Prasad, India’s chief selector, it is not the end of the road for Yuvraj.
"Yuvraj Singh is rested, not dropped. We've started a policy where a set of players will be given chances for next 4-5 months," Prasad said in a press conference in Colombo On Monday.
However, he further went on to add, “Doors are not closed on Yuvraj and [Suresh] Raina, but we are laying down strict parameters for fitness for 2019 World Cup. Anyone who fails this fitness parameter will not be considered."
So, here lies the important question. Does Yuvraj, who will be 37 in 2019, fit into this scheme of things of the think-tank, especially under the ‘strict parameters’ of fitness and form?
Well, under the present circumstances, it doesn’t seem so.
After an average outing in the ICC Champions Trophy in June and followed by a quiet tour of West Indies, Yuvraj's place was under scrutiny. Since his 32-ball 53 against Pakistan in India’s first match at the Champions Trophy, Yuvraj had gone six innings without a half-century, and managed only 57 runs in his three most recent innings in the West Indies following which he was dropped from the side for the last two ODIs.
Of late, with Yuvraj and MS Dhoni around in the middle-order, running between the wickets during the middle overs had hurt India’s gameplan. The duo, especially Yuvraj found strike rotation a little more difficult than usual. Make no mistake, on his day, when he is able extend his stay at the crease and go on to make up for the slow scoring with his flamboyance, the Punjab batsman looks spectacular. But, following his 150 against England at the start of this year, the veteran hasn’t had such kind of a day.
However, it has been learnt that the selectors are more concerned about his fitness than form. These days, Yuvraj is not acrobatic as earlier. In fact, during Champions Trophy, at times skipper Virat Kohli literally had to hide him on the field. In one of his recent tweets, his former teammate Zaheer Khan pointed out this issue quite aptly.
— zaheer khan (@ImZaheer) June 12, 2017
Besides, with the emergence of all-rounders like Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja, Yuvraj’s utility as bowler has also been downgraded. Now-a-days, with so many bowling options around, Kohli hardly needs those 5-6 overs of slow left-arm spin from the southpaw.
Thus, this so called ‘rest’ was inevitable, feel many insiders. At mid-thirties, time is running out for Yuvraj and by omitting him from the squad the selectors probably showed the first definitive signs of looking beyond Yuvraj for the 2019 World Cup. Instead, they are looking to groom a fresh middle-order batsman.
A look at the replacements
At this point of time, Manish Pandey and KL Rahul seem like the most likely candidates for the role.
Pandey, the right-handed Karnataka cricketer announced his arrival on the international arena in January last year when he scored an unbeaten 104 in Sydney ODI to take India past the finish line against Australia. Courtesy his consistency with bat in domestic circuit as well as in the Indian Premier League (IPL), Pandey has been knocking the India selection door for quite a few years now. But due to injuries and presence of Yuvraj in the line-up, he hasn’t got the kind of exposure, which this talented cricketer deserves.
Pandey last played an ODI against New Zealand in October 2016 but was later sidelined due to a side strain, which he sustained during the IPL this year. However, he made a comeback in the Vijay Hazare trophy (Inter-state List A competition) and had a productive outing.
Earlier this month, he led India A to victory in the tri-series in South Africa and topped the run-charts with 307 runs in five innings, which left the selectors with no choice but to call him back.
Meanwhile, along with Pandey, eyes will also be on KL Rahul – the Test opener, who has been brought back in the limited-overs set up.
Rahul started his ODI career with a debut ton against Zimbabwe last year, but failed to make a significant impact in 50-over white-ball cricket after that. This year, he featured in the side in the three-match ODI series against England at home, but scored only 24 runs in three innings. Then, during the IPL, he sustained an injury and subsequently lost his spot in the England-bound Champions Trophy team.
However, his recent form at the Test level, in which the youngster scored seven back to back half-centuries, forced the selectors to pick him in the squad along despite the presence of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan.
However, Prasad, has confirmed that the team management will use Rahul at No 4 in the batting order during the Sri Lanka ODIs.
Finally, Yuvraj’s omission will be an opportunity for Ajinkya Rahane to fix his limited-over’s career. Though he has been a regular member of the squad, but in ODIs and T20Is Rahane has not been a first-choice option in the playing eleven for the team management. In the past, he was criticized for getting bogged down in the middle overs. However, of late, the Mumbaikar has shown improvement on this aspect.
Leading into the 2019 World Cup, it seems, Kohli, Ravi Shastri and the rest of the team management have identified that the exuberance of the youth is the need of the hour. It seems like via the five-match ODI series in Sri Lanka, they will be focusing on the core group of players, who can be crucial assets for the team in two years’ time.
And that, in all probability, means that Yuvraj's time has almost run out.