As the ball sailed into the stands, so did our fear.
International cricket is a tough place… emotions or sentiments count for little and are far removed from the arena. Just one rule that applies — the weak perish and the strong survive.
Yuvraj Singh has seen that happen to him in the Test arena — the bowlers have targeted his weaknesses over and over again. His value as a cricketer in the shorter formats is immense, the five-day format hasn’t been kind to him. In a sense, he had experienced the harshness of cricket first hand.
So even though it was a great personal triumph for him to get back on the field, New Zealand were certain to come at him hard. He knew that. He also knew that just making up the numbers was an exercise in futility.
If you want to come back, then you must want to be the best. Nothing less is expected. Nothing less was expected from Yuvraj either.
And it took one towering six off Daniel Vettori to make all the fear go away; one six hoicked over mid-wicket in a manner that the left-hander has made his own over the years. Elsewhere in England, Stuart Broad came wide awake — another nightmare might be heading his way.
Before he played that shot there was a fear he never might be the player that we’ve all grown to love; the player who shredded the opposition to bits when the mood took him; the players whose utility to the team made him pretty much indispensable in the shorter formats of the game.
But how good did he look?
As far as first impressions go, he looked fit, fitter than what most of us will remember. The hard yards in the gym have done enough to give him the look of a sportsman. But looks can often be deceiving – because it takes time to build stamina back up to the old levels.
The first thing one noticed was that he wasn’t fielding at his customary position at point. Instead, Dhoni posted him at square-leg. Perhaps it was an indication that the Indian skipper wants to ease him in slowly. Or perhaps even Dhoni wasn’t sure how Yuvraj would fare in his first competitive game.
Yuvraj’s first brush with competition came not with the bat, but with the ball. As soon as the field restrictions were lifted after the sixth over, Yuvraj was brought in to bowl his brand of pie-chuckers. The first over was good – he conceded just 4 runs. The second was closer to reality. McCullum waltzed down the over and hammered a six straight over the bowler’s head. Another ball was smashed back at the bowler a couple of balls later and it put his left hand out of commission for a while.
He was off the field for a while after that and then it was over to the batting. He looked nervous initially – a streaky boundary past the slips and he got dropped in the deep as McCullum and Kyle Mills collided while going for a catch.
That seemed to jolt him back to reality. His next shot was vintage Yuvi – the six off Vettori. But he still isn’t back to his fluent best. It will take time. By the end of his innings, he looked winded especially when he was being asked to go for the second run.
To compete with the best – he needs to become a lot better, quickly. He has a few more practice games before the World T20 and he will need to make each one count. As Dhoni said, ‘The pressure is off him,’ but he’s now on the cricket field and only performances – not how he got there – will matter.
As far as new beginnings go, this one hit the mark. But truth to be told, this was one small step, the giant leap is yet to come.