Incredible things have happened in the past but when Yuvraj Singh swayed his willow like a wand, there wasn't any better sight in the world, as he smashed Stuart Broad all over the Durban boundary for six sixes. But what if in a parallel world, Andrew Flintoff’s sledge worked for England?
Welcome to Durban, the year is 2007, India are fighting England for a place in the knock-out stage and Andrew Flintoff is standing in the way. He’s welcoming Yuvraj Singh at the crease with a sledge, there seems to be nothing holding him back. Equally, the left-hander is pumped up, heated by the comments and dreaded by thoughts as Broad steams into the bowling attack. A slap right on the face as Yuvraj takes the attack to Broad with a massive six. He’s done it in the past, can he make one into two? In a bizarre attempt to pull a short delivery, Yuvraj finds the fielder and is absolutely shattered by it.
India are 177/4, which turns into five as Dhoni walks back the next delivery. Flintoff is not just smiling but laughing at the stupidity of the Indian batsmen as they crash to just 191 on the board after 20 overs. England are off to a skater, with 53 on the board in just 5.4 overs, which they aim to build on. With Vikram Solanki’s dismissal, India breathe a sigh of relief but Pietersen and Collingwood ensure England are in the chase. Flintoff, who has been handed the task of chasing the total, ends up making the chase easy. His expression is evident - mocking and ecstatic.
With that loss, India find themselves out of the tournament, with Dhoni’s young men falling narrowly short of the target. But a proud BCCI hangs on to the young skipper. Meanwhile, England go through to the final, where they face the rampant Proteas, who have been chalking opponents for fun. However, fate has it that they go on to lose the final, as Gibbs and the rampant Proteas lift an ICC trophy, albeit in the shortest version.
All eyes are on India, who are set to host their first-ever edition of Indian Premier League. After it’s a grand success, they have a decision to make - who would make it to the national squad? Unfortunately for Ravindra Jadeja, he misses out as BCCI looks towards Yuvraj in vivid confidence. It could be a fairytale or it could end the dreams! On the back of a loss against West Indies, India aim to find form through the England clash and so is Yuvraj, who gets promoted at No.4 in the highest of pressures. While he trots his way to a slow start, the pressure is mounting to a pinnacle, where the left-hander throws his wicket, with the fans going numb. That was the moment.
Yuvraj was well aware that his T20 career with that performance was on the verge of coming to an end. The selectors confirm the same as they part ways with the left-hander and now have earmarked Ravindra Jadeja as the replacement, a smart move? The newspapers read “Yuvi-Cant.” But luckily for the Punjab-born cricketer, it provides him with the much-needed room to get his footing in Test cricket, a format that he only adored but never adapted completely. During the off-season, the left-hander is making adjustments for the same, before the tour to New Zealand.
In New Zealand, put under similar pressure at 4/238, Yuvraj walks out with a statement of intent, stroking two boundaries off his first ten deliveries. However, from thereon, playing every ball to its merit, the left-hander reaches his fifty and, in turn, puts on a partnership worth the match with Sachin Tendulkar. Their partnership takes India to a 271-run lead, allowing the bowlers to rip the Kiwi batsmen apart, thus giving India a famous innings victory away from home. The blood though isn’t dry yet, his hopes aren’t dead yet.
However, he fails in the second Test to put himself back under the scanner. In the third, however, he manages to change his fortune yet again, with scintillating counter-attacking innings, taking his runs tally to over 300 in the series. In the last hour of play, Dhoni trusts Yuvraj with the ball and he doesn’t disappoint, as India come away with a 2-0 victory over New Zealand.
In the 2010 World Cup, India have their focus right - no Yuvraj, Raina, Jadeja and Dinesh Karthik to shoulder the middle-order with skipper MS Dhoni. At the top, they promote Rohit Sharma, a move that has the potential to change a lot for them. Against Afghanistan, the Mumbaikar showcases his talent, with a 46-ball 69 and continues the onslaught against South Africa. A scintillating partnership with Suresh Raina ensures that India reach 200, an impossible target to chase, as they win two on the trot.
While they fail against Australia, the middle-order ensures a better display against West Indies and Sri Lanka to take them to the semi-finals. In the final, they face Australia yet again but this time, thanks to a scintillating cameo from Ravindra Jadeja, India chase down 183, to win the game and the title, their first ever against Australia. 1-0 to India.
Meanwhile, Yuvraj breezes his way to ease in 2010 and 11, against Sri Lanka, New Zealand and Australia, where he notches up over 1500 runs in the Indian whites, a never seen before aggregate from the middle-order batsman, who somehow has turned around his fortunes. His bowling too has been on the high, with over 15 wickets in the past year, which puts him on a high. However, with the World Cup around the corner, India rest him for the West Indies series. Post that, he finds himself in a spot of bother, with an injury just before the start of the Australia tour, but luckily he recovers before England tests in 2012.
Up next are England, a side who resembled New Zealand in more ways than one but what separates them from the latter was their spin attack, which was prudent. For India, it was a massive series, especially after the humble pies that their opponents served to them away from home. A boundary off the first ten balls this time, Yuvraj looks to build on his scratchy fortunes, turning them into gold dust, one at a time. Tete-a-tete against Kevin Pietersen, Yuvraj starts to remember his past meetings with England and all the pies that they have chucked his way.
In the thumping heat of Ahmedabad, Yuvraj scrapes his way through to a fifty but that fifty is propelling him to a bigger score. In just a session from thereon, the left-hander puts on 45 quick runs, falling five short of a century. But nevertheless, he makes amends with the ball where he picks up three wickets across the two innings to give India a victory. But there is something about Mumbai which reminds the Indians of Flintoff and his celebration and for Yuvraj, it reminds him of Flintoff, the guy who ended India’s hopes in 2007.
Dhoni wins the toss, elects to bat, on the best surface in the country for batsmen. India, however, get off to the worst start possible but with Pujara and Yuvraj still at the crease, there was a hope - a big one, rather. While Pujara knocks the ball for singles and doubles, Yuvraj takes on the English bowlers and together, they raise the 100-run partnership. It doesn’t end there as Yuvraj continues to plummet the bowlers, raising his helmet for a century. But this time he isn’t with Pujara but Ashwin, which shows how much time he has put at the crease, taking India to 500.
At 274/3, there stood a chance for India to make a comeback but Kevin Pietersen denies them of that with a brilliant century of his own. However, just after he gets to his century, Dhoni brings on Yuvraj, with the left-armer’s history against Pietersen. Immediately, he strikes gold, dismisses the lower order alongside Ashwin as India stage a comeback. With a lead of just 3 and a master-class from Sachin Tendulkar, India put on 230 runs by tea on Day 4. However, there was a twist, India needed quick runs, and in walked Yuvraj, who ironically had failed in the shortest format. Yet, with a blaze, he scores a scintillating 63, the best in the Indian winter, off just 32 deliveries to set England a target of 364.
On a tough day 5 pitch, with the ball turning square, it was going to be a straightforward choice from MS Dhoni to go with Ashwin and Ojha with the new ball. Ashwin strikes to remove the dangerous Cook as Ojha sets up Kevin Pietersen. Under pressure, Matt Prior and Stuart Broad try to resurrect the innings and head the match to a draw. However, as the day proceeds, it gets tougher for the visitors to handle the Indian spinners, as they hand India a 2-0 lead in the series. But the biggest smile comes at the post-match presentation, where Yuvraj walks to receive his man of the match award with a newspaper.
Everyone surprised by the act, are left in jitters to understand the left-hander’s motive before he puts a finger on the paper, which reads “Yuvi-cant” and answers all the question with a simple smile. Yuvraj remembers and so do the Indian fans after watching him in full flow.