Dubai: The famous flourish of the bat was much in evidence as Yuvraj Singh tried to hoist a left arm net spinner of Mumbai Indians over where mid wicket would be – and it did not escape the notice of the omnipresent social media. It screamed how ‘Yuvi’ is trying to emulate his Indian teammate and former captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni for the helicopter shot which has yielded the latter so many sixes.
The quintessential braveheart of Indian cricket, looking trimmed down and fit at 37, is approaching what could be his last Indian Premier League (IPL) in the best manner he could. Yuvraj had been turning out for his state team Punjab in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, a T20 event which every cricketer worth his salt who were out of international commitments had been using as a tune-up for the IPL – though he did not score much to write home about.
It’s not a particularly happy space to be in for the erstwhile poster boy of Indian cricket. Most of his peers have been very much spent forces with the exception of Dhoni, who nevertheless seems to be laying out the roadmap for a fitting farewell with the upcoming ICC World Cup, while Yuvraj’s good friend Zaheer Khan has been anointed as the Director of Cricket for the Mumbai franchise and is believed to have played a role in going for the two-time World Cup winner at the last round of auction.
From someone whose name carried the highest price tags in 2014 and 2015 auctions (a whopping Rs 14 crores by Royal Challengers Bangalore and Rs 16 crores by Delhi Daredevils the very next year), Yuvraj had gone unsold after the first round of auction in December last year. It was not an altogether surprising response from the cold, commercial world of IPL - who could see the southpaw’s power waning with every passing year - till Mumbai finally closed the deal on his base price of Rs one crore.
“I still have enough fire in the belly,” Yuvraj said after finding himself in the Mumbai camp after the auction – and few would doubt him. There are two World Cup medals in his cupboard – both carrying the enough signature Yuvraj moments – if his six sixes in an over off Stuart Broad in the first-ever World T20 in 2007 remains etched in memory, so is his Man of the Tournament trophy for 2011 World Cup. After being there and done that, if there is any reason which still keeps the hunger alive – it could only be the urge to go out with a final flourish.
“To be honest, we had budgeted a lot more for Yuvraj and (Lasith) Malinga. At Rs 10 million, a player like Yuvraj is probably a (biggest) steal of 12 (sic) years. He has won every trophy there is to be won,” Akash Ambani, owner of three-time champions Mumbai famously said after the auction. May be, there could be some business sense in the words of the member of the Reliance family as insiders of IPL say the presence of the man who conquered cancer is still a big plus in the marketability of the teams to prospective sponsors.
A modest success in the upcoming IPL with the bat, coupled with a mentoring role for the batsmen of his team may be deemed by the management as a good investment, but it’s hard to assume that the fighter in him is working his guts out just for franchise cricket glory. The last time Yuvraj has turned up in Indian colours culminated in a poor series against the West Indies in 2017, and the retirement question had been popped up before him countless times.
The veteran always left the date open-ended, saying that he will take a call after the 2019 World Cup – implying in no uncertain terms that he had the cricket’s showpiece in mind as his swansong. A thought, which looks improbable as of now, with Indian skipper Virat Kohli leaving nothing to imagination when he said performances in the IPL will have no bearing on team selection for the mega event.
What does, then, the future hold out for the man whose appeal transcends cricket into a saga of grit and character? There is no guarantee that the sport which had been his lifeline will guarantee a fairytale ending – but Yuvraj Singh cannot be accused of not trying!