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Thursday, 17 November 2011

It’s Shutters for Yuvraj Singh in Test Cricket

Batting is cruel business, most definitely in the longer format of the game. Test match cricket is a true examination of batting skills, technique and temperament. With field restrictions and run rate pressures absent, the nuances of the pitch, its wear, the weather, match situation and session objectives, all present a whole new challenge. No wonder then that test cricket champions have always been good bowling attacks coupled with solid batting line ups.

Yuvraj Singh earned his first test call up in October 2003 at age 22, at his home ground of Mohali. His test record since, despite a few memorable performances has been chequered, one might say rather average. In 37 test appearances, stepping out to bat 57 times, including yesterday’s knock at Kolkata against the West Indies, he averages 34.80, with an away average closer to 29. Notably he has scored 80% of his test runs in matches played in the sub continent.

The shorter format is a different story though. Who can forget Yuvraj’s brutal willow in the first ICC Twenty20 World Cup of 2007, where he sent Stuart Broad into orbit six times in six deliveries? Awesome, clean, long hitting, at will and controlled. His contribution to the World Cup winning Indian team of 2011 has been the peak of his career so far. He scalped 15 wickets with his slow left arm, in addition to playing crucial knocks with the bat, amassing 362 runs, picking up four Man-of-the-Match awards, and the Player of the Tournament.

It’s like two different guys we are talking about, isn’t it? With the game now having settled to three formats, it is getting specialized. While in each country there are few exceptions i.e. players who can play and adjust to the needs of each format, equally there are others who have chosen to exclude themselves or are excluded from formats that don’t work for them.

In test match cricket, Yuvraj has not been the game changer or the reliable middle order batsman that he has been in the limited overs format. He enjoys the confidence of skipper Dhoni and the selectors, to be presented opportunities to resurrect his test credentials, first in the English summer following the World Cup, and then again in the current home series against the West Indies. However, it has not worked as desired and hoped. His apparent inability to deal with seaming conditions or even pace in placid conditions, are both suspect, more now than ever before.

So while the world is wondering when the 37-38 year old stalwarts of Indian batting will be replaced by young talent, it does seem prudent to replace the nearly 30 year old Yuvraj with a 23-25 year old.

This may all be moot. From the very apparent body language of Yuvraj on the field at the Eden Gardens today, after his dismal, almost embarrassing outing with the bat, in the Indian first innings, the message from the team management seems to be clear. The hero of the world cup will not be playing the next test at Mumbai or the Boxing Day test in Melbourne come December. It is now very unlikely that he will make the test squad for the Australian away series. Sensible for the team AND for Yuvraj Singh, I’d say.

We will most certainly see Virat Kohli in the side for the last test match against the West Indies at Mumbai. This will be his big opportunity to get ahead of two other strong contenders for the vacancy. I believe that Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma should present a good problem to the selectors when deciding the test squad for the Australian tour, in the next few weeks. Rohit averages over 63 in First Class cricket, has had several appearances for India in limited overs matches. Raina has played 15 tests, but has been in a similar mould as Yuvraj, more reliable and fluent in limited overs, but not best suited for testing conditions against genuine seam and pace.

My clear choice is Rohit Sharma, yes, ahead of Virat Kohli. Kohli has amazing big match temperament and a good cricketing brain. However he was visibly rattled by the genuine pace of Fidel Edwards in the West Indies earlier this year. That weakness will certainly be captured on tape, and will expose him at the test level again. Rohit, on the other hand, has the gift of extra time. The few additional nanoseconds of reaction time should give him the ability to stand head and shoulders above other contenders in really tough conditions. His opportunity in test cricket is yet to come, so difficult to say if he will pass the test of temperament, although his first class record of the longer format is most encouraging.

The Kolkata test is looking set for a fourth day finish, so let’s catch up after that!


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