The last few ICC tournaments have not been particularly happy for Yuvraj Singh. He missed the 2016 World T20 injured, was left out of India’s squad at the 2015 World Cup and many fans blamed his stodgy 11 off 21 in the 2014 World T20 final for his side’s defeat to Sri Lanka. The more nonsensical ones even threw stones at his house in Chandigarh to make their point, albeit achieving very little except confirmation of their own idiocy and ingratitude. On Sunday, the only windows in danger were those in the Edgbaston stands as Yuvraj, timing both the ball and moment perfectly, turned back the clock to, well, the One Day International series against England earlier this year — the point when his latest international renaissance seemed complete.
His knock against Pakistan was an essay in simplicity, one of the greatest commodities any batsman can possess and which, when in form, is Yuvraj’s greatest strength. He arrived with the score on 192-2 in the 37th over, which might appear a launchpad as potent as those you find at Cape Canaveral, but in fact India’s innings was in severe danger of losing its previous momentum.
Earlier on, Shikhar Dhawan had done some time travel of his own, with his upper cuts piercing the English drizzle the same way they had during the 2013 tournament. The Sunrisers opener is one of the few tourists to visit Britain and seem to enjoy the rain, but after he holed out to a full toss, Rohit Sharma and Kohli lost their way. They accumulated a stolid 56 in their 73-ball partnership before one of their customary run out mix-ups ended the former’s innings. Rain had also intervened, while Pakistan’s fielding was ragged and their bowling, particularly from Wahab Riaz, was at times as wayward as president Trump’s fingers when tweeting.
In short, it had been a covfefe of a match when Yuvraj walked in, crying out for someone to take it by the scruff of the neck and impose order. Despite that stellar series against England in January, the Dhawan’s Sunrisers teammate had by his standards a relatively modest IPL, showing signs of his true international ODI form only towards the back end of the tournament.
In Birmingham, he was at the front of India’s efforts. Yuvraj's innings served as the languid catalyst that began to spur a slightly stalled innings well beyond what Pakistan always seemed incapable of chasing. He got going by punching Riaz through mid-on before receiving a huge slice of fortune when he was dropped by Hassan Ali off the bowling of impressive leg spinner Shadab Khan who, like many teenagers, was left feeling deeply annoyed by his elders.
Yuvraj then slapped another of Riaz’s scattergun bullets through the off side, playing the sort of southpaw rock back square cut Richie Richardson would have seen had he ever shadow batted in the mirror. It transpired, however, that no one would regret Ali’s drop more than Ali himself. With the new ball, he had bowled with fizz and discipline and even induced an inside edge from Yuvraj that whizzed past the stumps.
Now, with both luck and the ball having slipped through his fingers, the Pakistan pacer was punished as India’s stalwart took advantage of his reprieves. Ali bowled full and Yuvraj drove to the long off fence with such ferocity the advertising hoardings winced. Ali dropped short, he went for six over midwicket, Yuvraj employing that familiar swivel pull where the ball seems to wait for him not vice versa. Ali overpitched completely, and two further full tosses were dispatched with grace over mid on. When the bedraggled bowler finally trapped his nemesis in front, Yuvraj had made a brutal 53 off 32 balls. Ultimately, it was Hardik Pandya and Kohli — with the acceleration of a leopard spotting a particularly succulent zebra on the horizon — who posted India’s imposing total of 319 on the board. However, it was Yuvraj, 35 years young, who injected the vigour into it.
Ageing can be a brutal and unpleasant experience for some sportsmen. The will to compete increasingly being slapped in the face by the realities of the body. It has been a very mixed couple of weeks for those a little past their vintage. Francesco Totti might have left the stage draped in dignity, but John Terry swam off it in a sea of his own hubris and Tiger Woods’ sporting decline is unlikely to be halted by his own arrest for a DUI offence in Florida. Yuvraj, though, moves on serenely as he heads towards his 300th ODI, which is likely to come in the semi-final of this tournament. He can even now, with that glorious swing, sometimes still make time hold its breath.