After Yuvraj Singh announced his retirement, a wave of nostalgia was bound to go through the Indian cricket fans. It was he who, as an 18-year old, stunned the world by scoring a brilliant 84 against the world champions Australia in his very first international innings, at Nairobi in 2000. The turnaround at Lord's in the 2002 tri-series final is the stuff legends are made of. It was again Yuvraj who led the way in India's triumphs at the 2007 World T20 and 2011 World Cup. Amidst all this achievements, there were several others worth remembering.
But most people may not remember one of the most important innings of his career which was responsible for him becoming a regular member of the Indian side. This knock came way back in 2002 in a low-profile bilateral home series against Zimbabwe.
Background to the innings
As everyone knows, Yuvraj's very first innings in international cricket led to high expectations from him. But the promise held out by the young cricketer at that time did not seem to turn into concrete results. There was one knock of 98* against Sri Lanka in 2001 but very little else in the matches he played after that 84 against Aussies. Not surprisingly, he was out of the Indian team.
Then, during India's 5-match ODI series against Zimbabwe at home in March 2002, he was given another opportunity. India went into the fourth match of the series trailing 1-2. They were set a target of 241 to chase which, in those days, wasn't as easy to achieve as it seems now. When India lost their fourth wicket for 132 in the form of Rahul Dravid, the team seemed to be in real trouble. Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag didn't play in the series due to injuries while Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman and Dravid were all back in the pavilion.
It was in this match that Yuvi was brought back into the playing XI and it was he who walked out to bat at 132/4. The person he joined at the crease was his teammate from the India under-19 World Cup winning team Mohammad Kaif. Another failure here may have seriously jeopardised his prospects of remaining in the national team.
With the required run rate at 6/over, two young batsmen at the crease and only bowlers to follow, the home team was in serious danger of losing the series in the fourth game itself. But what followed was a brilliant partnership between Kaif and Yuvraj. While the former played a steady innings and held one end safely, the latter provided a display of his class and that undoubted talent which had marked him out as special. His innings of 80* off just 60 balls took India to victory in the match and thereby, levelled the series. Eventually, the Sourav Ganguly-led team won the final ODI to clinch the rubber. But the fourth game and the innings by him established Yuvraj as a regular member of the team and he hardly looked back from that point onwards in his career.
The partnership we saw between Kaif and Yuvraj on that day was only a trailer of what was to follow in a few weeks time. Their legendary rescue act at Lord's would establish the two men as key figures in Indian ODI cricket's history. But it was that little-remembered ODI at Hyderabad that put Yuvraj on course to turn from a great prospect to a great player.