Bangalore September 15: A sure-shot way of putting bums on seats for the relatively low-profile, non-international games played at capacity venues like the Chinnaswamy Stadium is the presence of big stars.
While India A’s Test squad has three of them featuring in two of the games, the limited-overs had one big drawcard – Yuvraj Singh. Without meaning any disrespect to the rest looking to make a mark, the attention among the media and the fans was on one man. It’s possible that what Yuvraj delivered on Sunday exceeded everyone’s expectations, probably including his own. Four months after his last competitive match, he bludgeoned 123 to power his side to 312 in a shortened game. West Indies A lacked the willpower to pose a serious threat and fell short by 77 runs in what was a rude initiation to their tour of India.
That Yuvraj had the hunger to make a return to the Indian side since his last international match in January was evident with a rigorous six-month rehab programme he underwent with Zaheer Khan in a small town in France. If doubts still persisted, his A coach Lalchand Rajput allayed them. He was lighter by a few pounds, he assured, looking fitter than ever. While his fitness and attitude were in the right place, the question remained if one could say the same of his batting.
The western stands at Chinnaswamy were not packed to capacity, but the numbers were encouraging despite the knowledge of a delayed start. During the two-hour delay, the decibel levels shot up each time Yuvraj appeared in his training gear, for throwdowns and then for the toss. The expectations surged, when India were inserted. As did the restlessness when the openers looked circumspect against a pacy spell by the West Indies seamers.
The wait ended when Yuvraj walked in at the fall of the second wicket at 47 in the 12th over. Andre Russell greeted him with a bouncer straight up. No flashy opening statements. Yuvraj began with the intent of biding his time, waiting for the opportunity to find the boundary. He was languid between the wickets, jogging the odd single as if conserving energy for the long haul. Mandeep Singh’s positive energy at the other end would have relieved the pressure off Yuvraj. Off his 39th ball, Yuvraj struck the first of his 15 boundaries – a precise cut off Ronsford Beaton that beat backward point and the sweeper. Prior to that, he showed signs of breaking free, pulling short deliveries by the spinners but straight to the fielders.
The first real sign of Yuvraj of the old came as a result of frustration. Hunched at the crease having failed to put away a free hit, Yuvraj took an off-stump guard. As Miguel Cummins approached the crease, Yuvraj covered the stumps and launched a full delivery over long-on. Timing, placement and power clicked in unison as Yuvraj unfurled a series of boundaries after his fifty, including pulls to deep midwicket and lofted drives over extra cover. A century seemed a very realistic possibility.
Yuvraj’s first fifty came off 60 balls. He needed just 20 for his second. He capitalised on a weakness even the senior West Indies bowlers have been guilty of in recent months – death bowling. Ashley Nurse and Nikita Miller were torn apart by Yuvraj and Yusuf Pathan who ransacked 125 for the fourth wicket in less than ten overs. Yuvraj began the assault with a slog off the left-arm spinner Miller sending the ball at least 20 rows back.
Yuvraj moved from 67 to the 90s in one over off Miller with consummate ease, pulling the second ball over deep midwicket, skipping down the track and launching the third over the bowler, bludgeoning the next – a full toss – several rows over deep midwicket again before depositing the fifth over long-on.
Yusuf bullied the offspinner Nurse in a similar manner after an over, smashing 28. As a fitting statement to the character of his innings, Yuvraj reached his century with a six – using Beaton’s pace to launch him over the sight screen. It was a muted celebration by his standards – a simple raise of the bat – a far cry from his roar at Ahmedabad during the 2011 World Cup though the pressure there was of an entirely different kind. The shot of the innings, though, was another straight six scooped off a yorker length. The follow through recoil of the bat, often associated with MS Dhoni, would have made a terrific still picture.
Ironically, a full toss ended Yuvraj’s knock. He failed to get the distance over long-on, giving Beaton a simple catch many yards in front of the rope. Yuvraj walked back with a satisfied smile, congratulated by Kieran Powell, and faced the stands to his right that had cheered his every move.
Narsingh Deonarine, speaking after the match, said the bowlers had plenty to learn from this experience. The seamers failed to get the yorkers in and the spinners failed to control Yuvraj and Yusuf.
“We missed our key bowler [Andre] Russell to injury and we had to get someone to fill,” Deonarine said. “The part-time bowlers really felt the pain of Yuvraj and Yusuf’s batting. The variations by the bowlers wasn’t up to standard and nevertheless it was the first game on the tour and we have two more to play.”
The chase, in contrast, was tepid. The West Indians were already spent after the hammering from Yuvraj and Yusuf and the lack of sizeable partnerships let them down. Deonarine was the only specialist batsman to convert his start to a half-century. The result was a foregone conclusion when they had lost their third wicket at 58. The one-sided nature of the contest, though, was the sore point. Still, it was a day well spent for loyal fans who witnessed a player look another challenge in the eye and conquer it.
India A 312 for 4 in 42 overs (Yuvraj 123, Yusuf 70*, Mandeep 67) beat West Indies A 235 (Deonarine 57, Nurse 57, Narwal 2-28) by 77 runs