"It's the old swagger now. I can see it. I haven't seen this in a long time. Look at the way Yuvraj is walking, like he owns this place. He's back."
Dean Jones was bellowing these lines out in the commentary box after a booming off-drive from Yuvraj Singh, as India were chasing 139 for win against Sri Lanka and a place in the final. Setting aside the well-meaning television showmanship of Jones for a minute, it is worth watching the replay of that shot again - off the fifth ball of the 17th over, as he moved to 35 off 17 balls. Watch closely, and you'll see a fist bump between Virat Kohli and Yuvraj that was as powerful as the off-drive itself -- with Kohli visibly mouthing a loud 'Come on!'
It only goes to show that Yuvraj's innings against Sri Lanka was a little gem that was as crucial for him as it was heart-warming for his teammates. Everyone in that Indian dug-out wanted Yuvraj to hit form, not just because he needed it.
Yuvraj got out off the next ball, of course -- badly misreading a bouncer, not for the first time in his career, and miscuing it to deep fine leg. But when he walked back after making 35 off 18 balls, including three fours and three sixes, there was a feeling that India's biggest positive on the night would not be the five-wicket win over Sri Lanka or the fact that they have cruised to the final of this sub-continental tournament - it must be Yuvraj finally showing signs of getting back to his stroke-making best.
In all fairness, this was a match that barely clicked out of third gear right from the get go. Sri Lanka's start to their innings after being asked to bat by MS Dhoni was supremely sedate. India's energy on the field was just above optimum, characterised by the non-appeal against Shehan Jayasuriya off Jasprit Bumrah - which the umpire did give out. Sri Lanka made 47 runs in the first 10 overs. Even the 91 runs made from their last 10 overs was not wham-bham T20 action.
India's chase was no different either. Nuwan Kulasekara caused a flutter with two early wickets - both Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan failed for once -- but that didn't spark the match into action either. Kohli and Suresh Raina then put on a 54-run partnership without much of a fuss -- plodding around the ground with an occasional flick or cover drive that caught the eye.
It was the kind of match where a free-hit resulted in a run-out. There was an odd feeling that the match was going at its own pace, without any of the usual razzmatazz associated with T20 cricket.
And then Yuvraj Singh came in, and lit up the proceedings.
His first ball was a crunching off drive straight to mid-off. The second ball he faced was short and wide, and he wasted no time in slashing it over point. On his fourth ball, he stepped down the track and hit a powerful, flat six just wide of long-on. Fifth ball was sent soaring high and mighty over midwicket -- and just like that he moved on to 18.
This was not the Yuvraj of the past few matches trying to get his eye in, to spend some time in the middle, however difficult it was to score runs. No. This was Yuvraj making use of the time he had spent in the middle in this tournament so far - a total of 95 minutes and 48 balls in his previous two innings.
In the aftermath of the win over Pakistan on Saturday, I had raised the question whether his 32-ball unbeaten knock of 14, where he was incidentally beaten many a time, was a sign of his batting struggles or was it a case of doing the job required of him to see the match through. The answer, as it most often is, lies somewhere in the middle. But this much was undeniable that being not out when the winning runs were scored would have done Yuvraj's self-belief a world of good. And at this level, that little bit extra mental-edge can be the difference between being in and out of form.
After the match Pakistan, Dhoni was quick to point out that he was satisfied with what he was seeing from Yuvraj, perhaps preempting questions about his struggles that night. After this little cameo against Sri Lanka, Dhoni reiterated it.
"I have already told that the more time he gets, the better for him. When you return to international cricket there is a lot of pressure from yourself, there are people's expectations as well. Then the first few matches go out in just figuring out what to do. Whether you want to go out and play the big shot. The problem being that if you don't do well in the first couple of innings then there is more pressure on yourself. I felt that his approach has always been very good. He gave himself two or three balls before playing the big shot. And as you saw, he's someone who can hit sixes at will. So if the same thing continues gradually, he will be in a very good position before the World Cup," said Dhoni after the win against Sri Lanka.
Kohli will get the plaudits, and rightly so, for a controlled innings of 56 from 47 balls. He barely moved out of auto-pilot mode throughout his innings - such was his authority over the conditions, over the bowlers. His cover drive was predictably cut off by Angelo Mathews field placing, but Kohli found ways to plunder runs at his own will. There is nothing new to see there - in the 10 innings he has batted since the turn of the year, he has made a whopping 601 runs. His T20Is career average is beyond 50 now. He is batting in a zone, as they say.
But, on Tuesday night, India not just gained a place in the Asia Cup final, they gained Yuvraj Singh. Like Dhoni said, that Yuvraj innings was not just important for him, it was important for the whole team. India would be hoping he can carry this form from here onward into the ICC World T20.
First Published On : Mar 3, 2016 02:26 IST