India’s bid to become the first team to win the International Cricket Council World Twenty20 (T20) twice ended at the hands of Sri Lanka in Dhaka on Sunday. When the dust settles on the tournament, accusing fingers are sure to be pointed in the direction of Yuvraj Singh for their six-wicket loss.
The big-hitting batman has appeared out of sorts and a pale shadow of his former self throughout the competition. He made just the one real contribution towards India’s five straight wins that saw them start the final as firm favourites to hold all three limited-overs world titles at the same time.
However, other than 60 from 43 balls in India’s group-stage win over Australia, Singh’s next highest score has been just 18. Since MS Dhoni now prefers to use the likes of Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja as his main fill-in bowlers, the 32-year-old’s influence in the team has begun to wane.
And when you also take into account his, at times, immobility in the field and lack of pace between the wickets—I have seen cruise liners turn quicker than Singh—then the left-hander really needs to be making an impression with bat in hand to justify his place in the team.
So what better situation to silence the growing rumblings and prove the doubters wrong than in the final of the World T2O, with Singh striding to the middle at virtually the halfway point of the India innings after the fall of Rohit Sharma’s wicket?
What’s more, waiting for him at the crease was the player of the tournament, Virat Kohli. All that was now required of Singh was to give his partner as much of the strike as possible, while at the same time playing himself in, with India seemingly well on course at that point to reach a match-winning total of 160.
And for the star of the 2007 World T20, that would have been a simple task indeed. However, much like Premier League champions Manchester United this season, Singh appears to have now lost much of his presence at the crease.
In fact, ever since Singh shone at the 2011 50-over World Cup and his subsequent cancer diagnosis, he and Kohli have virtually swapped auras. Their contrasting fortunes with bat in hand at Mirpur was stark.
In fact, at times it appeared as though the two players were playing a different game entirely, with Kohli’s strike-rate (SR) up at 132, while Singh’s was way down at 52 (compared to a career SR of 147), which for the sixth-best batsman in the world in T20 cricket at present is scandalous.
And with each dot ball, so the pressure ratcheted up on his partner at the other end, culminating in the 15th over from Sachithra Senanayake in which just two singles were scored, before the camera then cut to a clearly agitated India bench.
Meanwhile, all alone in the commentary box, former India captain Sourav Ganguly kept on imploring his one-time team-mate to get his once-feared slog sweep out of the bag against the Sri Lankan spinners.
And no doubt the Singh of three years ago would have done exactly that to help ease the mounting pressure on Kohli at the other end and propel his side up towards the 160-mark they were eyeing up as their innings got underway.
But on this occasion, the usually destructive left-hander was unable to get down on one knee to employ his release shot. Though the 50-run partnership soon came up off 39 balls, it was revealing that Singh’s contribution was just nine from a painful 16 deliveries.
Clearly by now something had to give. The India fans even started to get on their former darling’s back, while next men in Dhoni and Raina could be seen nervously fiddling with their bat handles in the dugout.
And after Lasith Malinga returned to further torment the lacklustre and listless left-hander, Singh proceeded to hit the first ball of the 18th over, a full toss from Nuwan Kulasekara, straight down Thisara Perera’s throat at long-off.
In the end, it was a wholly appropriate way for Singh to bring an end to the torture—in his pomp, the big-hitting left-hander would have deposited the ball out of the ground—but come the final reckoning, his knock of 11 from 21 balls cost his side vital momentum at a key point of their innings as Kohli crucially faced just seven deliveries in the last four overs.
And while Dhoni and coach Duncan Fletcher should also take some of the blame for not being flexible enough to rejig the batting order and send either Raina or the skipper himself in ahead of Singh, in the end, fingers will be pointed at one man, and one man only.