In January 2017, Yuvraj Singh made a comeback to India’s One-Day International (ODI) team after a gap of just over three years. India were struggling to find a reliable number four batsman in the 50-over format and they decided to turn their attention to the 35-year-old Yuvraj ahead of the ICC Champions Trophy which was scheduled for later in the year. Age might not have been on his side, but Yuvraj was a player who performed at his best when the big events came around and that would have been a consideration for his selection.
The left-handed batsman didn’t take much time to show his class as he made his highest ODI score in the second innings post his return. In an ODI against England at Cuttack, Yuvraj walked into bat at 22/2 – which soon became 25/3 – and ended up scoring 150 from 127 deliveries. It was a marvelous innings which saw him hit as many as 24 boundaries – 21 fours and three sixes.
Yuvraj began the Champions Trophy in fine style, slamming a 32-ball 53 against Pakistan. But in the following six ODI innings which included three matches against West Indies in the Caribbean, he managed just 109 runs at an average of 21.8 which saw him dropped from the side. It was the last time that he would represent the Men In Blue at the international level.
While his last impactful knock came in the 2017 Champions Trophy, his first such innings came in the same tournament (then known as the ICC KnockOut Trophy) during the quarter-final stage in 2000. Earlier in the year, he was named the Player of the Tournament in the ICC U-19 World Cup as India won the competition for the first time and he didn’t take much time to settle down at the senior level.
In his first ODI innings, he batted brilliantly against then world champions Australia. A 18-year-old Yuvraj wasn’t fazed facing up to the likes of Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie as he scored 84 from just 80 deliveries. His first big knock in international cricket had come in a crucial match which was a sign of things to come.
‘Clutch’ is a term widely used in sports, especially in American sports, to describe the most important of moments. And players who excel during such situations are obviously hailed for their ability to deliver when the stakes are high. In white-ball cricket, when you think of players who were at their best during clutch moments, Yuvraj will be one of the first names that will come to your mind. Higher the stakes, better the performance.
Heading into the 2011 World Cup, Yuvraj was in shaky form. In the 18 ODI innings before the tournament, he had managed just 366 runs at an average of 24.40 and a strike rate of 66.91. This run included just two half-centuries and a highest score of 58. Going into such a huge tournament, his form was far from ideal, but he was backed because come the marquee events, you knew you could count on the Chandigarh-born allrounder to be at his best.
In the last couple of ODIs before the World Cup, while playing South Africa away from home, Yuvraj had done well with the ball. And this was something he would carry into the premier ODI competition.
Yuvraj had a sensational World Cup. His batting form returned at the perfect time as he scored 362 runs at an average of 90.50 during the tournament. To go with his batting exploits, he was quite superb with the ball as well, taking 15 wickets at 25.13 apiece.
His most influential performance came during the quarter-final versus Australia. Against the team that had won three successive World Cups, India were 187/5 while chasing a target of 261. Not for the first time, Yuvraj played a match-winning knock under immense pressure. This time, he had guided the Men In Blue to the semi-finals of a home World Cup.
At the end of the tournament, it came as no surprise that he was named the Player of the Tournament as he played an instrumental part in India ending a 28-year wait for World Cup success. In fact, to date, he is the only player to have won the aforementioned individual award at both the U-19 and senior World Cups. Be it at any level, Yuvraj always performed at his best during the biggest of occasions.
After the World Cup success, he was diagnosed with cancer from which he soon recovered. A fighter at all times, Yuvraj made a comeback to international cricket. Unfortunately, he was not the same player and after a poor run in ODIs in 2013, he was dropped from the side. A return in 2017 saw glimpses of the old Yuvraj, but it was clear that his best days were behind him.
In June 2019, Yuvraj announced his retirement from international cricket after having not played at the highest level for a couple of years. It was officially the end of a career that played an immense role in India’s greatest triumphs in white-ball cricket over the last two decades.
Many batsmen will score more runs than Yuvraj, many will take more wickets, but when it comes to performances during ‘clutch’ moments – arguably only a few will manage to come close.