Yuvraj Singh’s bat met the ball and the ground at the same time. It caused a light dust cloud in the area where the three had collided. The bat’s arrival was delayed to such an extent that the ball’s onward journey onto the stumps appeared imminent.
Instead, the fence ended up as the ball’s eventual destination, as it flew over Amit Mishra’s head. About then, the giant screen beamed 'a flash of genius' and reaffirmed what the world had known for close to two decades now – 'few in the world personify laidback elegance like Yuvraj.'
A lot of other batsmen would have appeared foolish after their late attempt at a straight drill would have failed, but not Yuvraj. The high backlift whirled in anticipation of Mishra’s delivery. It was a wrong one darted at a pace faster than usual by the leg-spinner.
On 14 off 17 balls amidst a sluggish start, Yuvraj’s dislike for spinners early in the innings could have come to the fore. But all that did come by was his blazing willow to bulldoze the ball to the fence. He did not seem likely to make that connection, yet he did so with élan.
The late punch is a shot that an in-form Yuvraj can dish out with his eyes closed. But after the 62 in his first IPL game of the season against the Royal Challengers Bangalore, the left-hander poked and missed more than he had caressed. It was, however, this late punch off Mishra that warned the bowlers about the southpaw’s return to form.
Yuvraj attributed his powerful knock, that wowed the Uppal crowd against the Royal Challengers almost a month ago, to a free mind. "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 couple of silent games later, questions were raised about the 35-year-old’s ability to deliver consistently. Doubts were raised about whether he merits a place in India’s Champions Trophy squad.
Suddenly, Yuvraj’s free mind was not as free anymore. And, it reflected in his game. In the seven games after the 62 against Bangalore, he got into double figures only twice – a paltry 26 remained his highest score.
Tuesday started off on a similar note. The Sunrisers Hyderabad had got off to another flier. They had lost their second wicket in Shikhar Dhawan at 75 after just 8.2 overs when Yuvraj trudged in. And for the next half-hour, his knock appeared to be heading towards a dead end. He missed as much as he played, and the ones he timed well, found fielders.
That boundary off Mishra, however, provided the initial thrust. With it, the warning had been issued. It was followed by another couple of hits to the fence off Mohammad Shami in the next over. With them, Yuvraj had warmed up.
Kagiso Rabada is the world number five ODI bowler. He had seen MS Dhoni complete chases that appeared mythical as a kid, but that did not daunt him when he squared up against the then India ODI captain in a Kanpur ODI in 2015. He defended 11 off the last over against one of the best finishers in the game. Ever since, the pacer has sent ripples in world cricket with his brand of sharp bowling.
But, by the time Rabada came in for his third over, Yuvraj was ready. He fired in a length ball on middle and leg at pace. Contrary to the effort that seemed to have gone into the delivery from the Delhi pacer, Yuvraj just flicked it off his pads over the fence behind deep mid-wicket. It was a shot he had stunned various fast bowlers with over the years. With it, on Tuesday, Yuvraj had rewound the clock. With it, Yuvraj had arrived.
From there on, none of the corners of the ground were beyond Yuvraj’s hitting arc. He drove, he swung and he pulled en route what was now a flamboyant half-century.
The late punch, similar to which he treated the Mishra delivery early on, to slide his knock into gear, was the shot he signed off with. The unbeaten 70 off 41 also ensured that doubts about his Champions Trophy squad would not clog his mind. His mind had been freed again, which means that Yuvraj could set the business end of the IPL alight.
"Important knock for the team. Delhi has the best bowling attack in the IPL. You have to be smart, you can't smash every ball. I just waited for the loose ball," a satisfied Yuvraj reflected on his innings in the break, after his knock had taken Sunrisers to 185 for three against the Delhi Daredevils.
But, Yuvraj’s joy with the bat turned into despair on the field as the Daredevils pulled off a heist. Delhi’s young Indian batsmen got them off to a blazing start after seeing off the impressive Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Once the Delhi batsmen had found a way to not allow Rashid Khan to pick even a single scalp with his leg-spin, Warner’s men were lost for ideas with the ball. Moises Henriques and Yuvraj bowled loose and short deliveries, while the inexperience of Mohammed Siraj and Siddharth Kaul was exploited by Corey Anderson, who led the hosts to a six-wicket triumph at the Feroz Shah Kotla.
It was Hyderabad’s first slip-up in three games. But, there may not be too many more, considering the starts Dhawan and Warner have been offering. Once the openers have played their part, the fans of the defending champions will await Yuvraj’s swagger to leave the opponents in a daze.