When you see Yuvraj Singh trudge in to bowl, the first thought that strikes you is not about trying to block him out. Rather, all you think about is a way to smash him out of the park.
That’s what Kevin Pietersen wants to do as soon as he sees Yuvraj take the ball but somehow, the left-arm orthodox spinner gets him out each time. Yuvraj has dismissed KP on six occasions (four times in ODIs, once in Tests and once in a first-class game) and slowly but surely, he has established himself as a bowler who takes wickets.
During the 2011 World Cup, he was one of India’s most successful bowlers and even in the T20 format he has established himself as someone skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni can trust. And his five-wicket haul against the England XI showed that perhaps the improvement will not be restricted to just the shorter formats.
He isn’t a non-regular bowler anymore. He isn’t a bowler who you can call a sureshot wicket-taker either. But he is someone who has developed a knack of taking crucial wickets. So how did this happen?
Former chairman Kiran More can notice the change in Yuvraj’s focus.
“When I was chairman of selectors, he would not really concentrate on bowling. He would come in and just roll his arm over. But now he bowls a lot. The other day, I looked up his statistics for ODIs and found that he has over 100 wickets now,” More told Firstpost.
“On the face of it, he seems to be pretty innocuous but his line and length is deceptively good. He doesn’t get the ball to turn a lot - in fact, he even doesn’t know which ball will turn. But then who said that you need the ball to turn square to take wickets. His dismissal of Ian Bell was a classic left-arm bowlers dismissal and even though he isn’t a frontline bowler, you can count on him to bowl a good 15-20 overs in a match and that’s important.”
On the other hand, former India batsman Praveen Amre – who is acting as batting coach to Suresh Raina and Robin Uthappa these days, believes that Yuvraj’s improvement as a bowler has a lot to do with the experience that he has gained as a player.
“It looks like he isn’t doing much but he has learned how to bowl to a field and perhaps more importantly, he makes the batsmen play him. He gets a lot of caught and bowled chances and most of the times, he takes them. He draws on his experience as a batsman and bowls in areas that batsmen are generally uncomfortable in,” said Amre.
“A lot is made of how he takes the pace off the ball but that is only part of the story. If you just take the pace off the ball, the batsmen will eventually get the better of you. But he keeps varying his pace and that makes the difference. These are subtle variations and with every match you can see him grow as a bowler.”
Former India spinner Venkatpathy Raju, who was also a selector, casts a bowler’s eye on Yuvraj and decides that he isn’t anything special.
“See, he is a good bowler. He has good height – which gives him natural flight and a very clean and strong action. But I think his greatest advantage is that he is under no pressure when he comes in to bowl. No one expects him to take a wicket, and he always has his batting to fall back on. That allows him to experiment. He is dangerous because he is a clever cricketer. He uses his experience to find chinks in the batsman’s armour,” said Raju.
“But it’s also not just about wickets. When he comes in to bowl, batsmen are looking to hit him out of the park and often that proves to be the cause of their downfall. And now, he is recognised as a bowler but batsmen are still confused when they see him in the attack – do they attack him or play normally? Remember, he will be your fifth bowler in a Test. So when he is bowling, your regular bowlers are getting a rest. It’s a problem for the opposition, one that should delight the Indian team though.”
Yuvraj’s all-round show (he hit 59 and took 5-94) during the first warm-up game against England in Mumbai will certainly make the selectors think about picking him for the first Test which begins on November 15.
Skipper Dhoni still seems to have some doubts about Yuvraj’s fitness but if the physio gives him a clean bill, he will certainly bring more value to the team than a Suresh Raina or a Manoj Tiwary.
Come Monday, the selectors will certainly have a big decision to take.