During the telecast of the second One-Day International in Cuttack, Star Sports played a montage of Yuvraj Singh’s highest score against England. Previously – before Thursday that is – it was 138 not out, scored at Rajkot back in November 2008.

It was a long time ago. As seen in the footage, Yuvraj was baby-faced back then with a full head of curly hair. Another thing stood out – he adorned a light-blue Indian jersey. That strip had particular significance, for it evokes a whirlpool of memories in any Indian cricket aficionado.

There was the 2007 ODI World Cup disaster, a depth from which recovery seemed uncertain. MS Dhoni was handed the Twenty20 International captaincy, and the first ray of hope emerged when Yuvraj smacked six sixes in an over on a clear Durban night. The CB Series set forth a glorious era thereafter. On either side of that eventful 2007-‘08 season, these two scripted numerous moments together – as far back as the 2005-‘06 Pakistan tour to the 2011 World Cup.


Those were the days...

And all these years later, here they were at Cuttack – two 35-year-old-batsmen, battling a score-line that read 25/3. As the Indian innings progressed then,it was a representation of the years gone by – for those watching at the Barabati Stadium or at home/office/wherever possible – almost like a warped roller-coaster ride through some tear in the space-time continuum. This Yuvraj-Dhoni partnership was nothing short of time travel.

For some, it could have been a recollection of the classes bunked in college. For others, it could have been a blast-from-the-past, of those rare late-night conversations when former girlfriends listened intently as you talked about cricket. For some, it was about finding a spot in the jam-packed hostel common room to see those successive sixes blasted off Stuart Broad. For others, it was about reaching home early from work as they reeled in chase after chase in a world-record run under Rahul Dravid’s captaincy.

For everyone, unmistakably, it was a remembrance of that night at Wankhede when the World Cup came home after 28 years.

The World Cup comes home. Image credit: Indranil Mukherjee / AFP
The World Cup comes home. Image credit: Indranil Mukherjee / AFP

Inside the boundary ropes though, such emotions do not matter much. Certainly not when the top three batsmen, including Virat Kohli, are gone without 30 runs on the board. The one bonus of that top-order collapse was the time available to both Yuvraj and Dhoni, to size up the conditions and rebuild this innings.

Yuvraj, welcome back

For Yuvraj Singh, this was the best opportunity to prove a point. Mind you, it was not so much to his detractors but to the Indian selectors themselves. When the team for this ODI series was picked, it was almost as if MSK Prasad and company didn’t know what is the way forward. They included Yuvraj and Manish Pandey,a call-up from the past and a hope for the future, both eligible to bat at number four.

Yuvraj’s knock then became a validation of the short-term thinking of this selection panel. What if he didn’t get these runs? With no more series before the Champions Trophy, what would have happened then? Well, Yuvraj would have survived as he always does, on the back of his aura, past laurels and some good form off late. What would have the selectors done, though?

As the cliché goes, Yuvraj put on a vintage display. The trademark pull shots came out, his footwork was in pristine position, and the drives started booming later in the innings. Perhaps it helped that leg-spinner Adil Rashid was missing, or the simple fact that Eoin Morgan did not show enough faith in the spinner he picked – Moeen Ali – either. Even so, there was no stopping Yuvraj on this day, for every run scored was a marker of steely determination, of making this opportunity count.

Meanwhile, Dhoni was operating on a different wavelength, as he usually does. While it sure made for fine fireworks that Yuvraj was at the other end, it wouldn’t really have mattered if it had been Pandey instead. The former skipper got the perfect situation that his batting prowess demands today – overs to knock around the ball without worrying about strike-rate, time to get set, and then go ballistic at will.

His innings did underline one very important point though, and herein Yuvraj’s presence factors in. The debate over Dhoni’s ideal batting position is now settled, at least for the near foreseeable future that stretches until the Champions Trophy.

Experience is the watchword, and Pandey would have been unable to provide that cushion in June. Whether this Yuvraj-Dhoni arrangement can carry on – with results – in the longer term (read 2019 ODI World Cup), however, is a debate for another day.

Poor England!

They scored 350 in Pune. It was not enough. Then, they scored 366 in Cuttack. It still was not enough. If the English players don’t want to get out of bed on Friday, it would be understandable.

Belief was the watchword in the first ODI. That stunning Indian chase was a reflection of the exuberance imparted in the Indian Premier League, and many overseas teams have learnt this fact in the last 4-5 years. In a way, that same belief was also the watchword in this second ODI, only this time it was coupled with the immense experience of the Yuvraj-Dhoni combine.

Yes, England are aggressive in ODIs/T20Is nowadays, and quite adventurous, exciting to watch even. Yet, they are still relative minnows in the small matter of playing limited-overs cricket on sub-continental pitches. The passage of play during the middle overs in both Indian and English innings is a keen pointer herein.

As Yuvraj-Dhoni sped towards a 256-partnership, skipper Morgan did not know how to operate his attack. Chris Woakes – their best bowler on the day – did not bowl between overs 9 and 37. Rashid was unavailable, Joe Root was not tried, and Ali only bowled six overs (0-33).

In comparison, Kohli had to take the dew factor into account during England’s innings. He made sure that only pacers were left to bowl towards the end, and as such, used up the spin quota quickly – Ravindra Jadeja finshed his overs by the 30th over, and Ravichandran Ashwin was done by the 40th.

Together they snapped up 4/110 in 20 overs – Jason Roy, Root, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler – all batsmen who mattered in this tall, improbable chase. Not for the first time this winter then, India’s better quality spinners defeated England.

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