In the post-mortem of the India's meek surrender to Pakistan in ICC Champions Trophy, the two spinners, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, along with senior pros Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni were the major cause of ire of many people, who kept asking the selectors to drop the lot.
It seems the selectors have granted those people their wish, albeit in the guise of resting them, as all of them except Dhoni, found their name missing from India's ODI and T20 squad for the limited overs leg of the Sri Lanka tour, announced on Sunday.
While the selection committee has still kept the door open for Yuvraj, the time seems right for asking the more important question which no one seems to be asking: does the current India team need Yuvraj as an ODI player?
Let's take a closer look at both the sides of the deal.
A veteran of over 300 ODIs, Yuvraj is a player who has proven his abilities to play match-turning roles time and again, throughout his career.
The current Indian team's middle order, barring Dhoni and Virat Kohli, is still pretty thin on experience, something which will be addressed by keeping Yuvraj in the playing eleven.
It is worth noting that one of the foremost reasons for bringing back Yuvraj — a man who has acquired a taste for comebacks in recent years, was actually to bring some stability and big-match experience in the squad.
A cricketer worth his talent and proficiency would surely be a valuable asset going forward, not just in the value of the runs he scores, but also in terms of the mentor that he might have been to the likes of the Hardik Pandyas and Kedar Jadhavs. Having a senior arm around your shoulders is never a bad thing for any youngster, and considering this 'pie-chucker' arm is also adept at breaking a partnership or two, why wouldn't a team want him?
His bowling, though less used nowadays, has traditionally come to India's rescue whenever the ball was thrown to him. With some more overs under his belt, there is a good chance that he will once again become the partnership-breaker by the time India go to England for the 2019 World Cup.
In the context of this series, his previous stints in the Lankan island could surely have helped the squad, bearing in mind the fact that not many of the young crop have played an ODI in Sri Lanka before.
Yuvraj's career in numbers
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Yuvraj got a second wind in January 2017, but hasn't set the world on fire yet. His recent record is a testimony to such a claim. That being said, in the two games that Yuvraj did score some runs in, it became clear why the management still had faith in the 35-year-old.
In the second ODI of the series against England in Cuttack in the early part of the year, India were in a tricky situation at 25 for 3 at one point of time. It was Yuvraj, who along with Dhoni, first rescued the faltering innings, rebuilt it, and led such an assault that India put up a mountain of 381 runs. Simply put, not every player is capable of such a feat, which makes Yuvraj all the more special.
Yuvraj does seem to have a lot of fire left in him. Undoubtedly, the southpaw remains a man for the big moments.
However, there have been calls to reassess Yuvraj’s future, after India’s inglorious surrender in the Champions Trophy final against Pakistan. And to be fair , there is a point.
During the course of the Champions Trophy, there were numerous occasions where Indian bowlers felt hard done by Yuvraj’s sloppiness in the field.
One of the most prominent instances of such a display was seen in the India versus Sri Lanka match in the league stage.
It was the 19th over of the chase. Set a daunting target of 321, Sri Lanka surprisingly, were giving the Men in Blue a run for their money. Kusal Mendis and Danushka Gunathilaka — relatively unheard of names in the international circuit – had just started their carnage in what would eventually be a historic win for the Lankans. The young Mendis, in an attempt to further speed up the chase, scooped a Jadeja delivery over mid-wicket. With the ball in the air for a long time, and with Yuvraj running from long-on, the end seemed near for Mendis.
Instead, Yuvraj, one of India’s best fielders, even before fielding coaches became fashionable, misjudged it, and overran the ball, which then trickled over the boundary. If the fact that Yuvraj was not the same anymore needed any proof, this was it.
There is a reason why India does not use Yuvraj in his fabled backward point position anymore — he is, quite simply, not the best fielder in the team right now, unlike what had been the case mostly during his earlier phase of his career.
Age, along with poor fitness, is not a good combination for any sportsperson. By the time India head to Australia in 2019 for the World Cup, Yuvraj will be 37 years old. Even if we consider the recent trends of cricketers playing well into their 30s and in some cases, early 40s, asking for two more years of cricket from Yuvraj remains a daunting task.
It is anyone’s guess what Yuvraj’s form and fitness level would be in two years time.
His recent form too, while encouraging, is sadly not enough for a team that has built a reputation for being one of the best ODI teams of the modern times.
Yuvraj since his return
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It’s clear that although Yuvraj has made the right noises since his return, his scores, barring one or two occasions, have failed to justify the management’s faith in him.
As the selection committee’s decision to try out players in this series has shown, there already are plenty of batsmen who are eyeing Yuvraj’s berth in the middle order. With the return of KL Rahul, Rohit Sharma and Manish Pandey in the ODI team, all proven performers in their own right, it’s obvious that Yuvraj is in a similar position to his long-time friend MS Dhoni, another senior player who has the centre of much debate over his position in the ODI set up. While Dinesh Karthik, Risabh Pant, Sanju Samson are the front runners to take over once the era of 'Dhoni the wicketkeeper' ends. That none of them is quite up to the level of Dhoni as of now has worked in the former captain’s favour.
For the 2019 World Cup, the selectors seem to be following Dhoni’s philosophy of allowing a youngster to play 40-50 matches before the marquee event so that the occasion doesn’t get to him.
And in view of building a team for the World Cup, there doesn’t seem to be a more opportune time than right now.
There couldn’t be a better series for trying out new combinations, considering that this Sri Lankan team is not expected to put up much of a challenge. By dropping Yuvraj, the team management has the luxury of seeing how a Rahul, Pandey, or even Ajinkya Rahane might fare as a middle order batsman.
And although Yuvraj has been rested officially, it would do him a world of good to use this time off to think about how to get back to scoring ways.