The year 2010 was not kind to Yuvraj Singh. It didn’t have to be this way for the man once regarded as one of the most destructive batsmen in the world, who announced himself on the international stage in 2000 with an 80-ball 84 in only his second One Day International (ODI) innings against a seasoned Australian side. In stark contrast, his 10th year in international cricket was spent searching for form and fitness, which also resulted in him being dropped, for the first time in eight years, from India’s One Day squad.
“It must be the toughest year I have faced in my decade-long career,” Singh says. “I’m glad it’s over.”
The slide started at the 2010 World Twenty20 in West Indies in May, where India were knocked out in the Super 8 stage by Sri Lanka. Singh scored just 74 runs in five matches, and stood at mid-wicket, a safe haven for mediocre fielders. A far cry from the elastic and electric fielder who prowled at point, and a low point for the man who hit England’s Stuart Broad for six sixes in an over to send millions of fans into a frenzy in India’s victorious campaign at the inaugural World Twenty20 in 2007.
Ecstasy and agony: Yuvraj Singh (left) celebrates his century in the first ODI against England in Rajkot in 2008; and Singh suffered a back injury during the match. Photographs: Santosh Harhare/Hindustan Times
On the day India were eliminated, Singh was also involved in a pub brawl in St Lucia, and on the team’s return, he was singled out for criticism for his lack of fitness and promptly dropped from the Indian squad for the Asia Cup, a multi-team ODI tournament, in June.
What was perhaps never fully acknowledged was that Singh had been struggling with a cartilage injury in his left wrist, one which he aggravated right before the World Twenty20 by rushing back into action for the Indian Premier League (IPL) in April. But after Punjab performed poorly at the IPL, there were questions about his commitment on the field.
“I think that was the worst part of the year,” Singh says. “The lack of sensitivity from everyone was a real setback. I don’t know where that story came from, but to say that I am intentionally underperforming was something I never expected. It was a serious allegation on my integrity and commitment to the game. It just showed how people perceived things and blew them up without even thinking what kind of scar it will leave on the individual.” Singh was replaced by Kumar Sangakkara as the captain before the start of the 2010 IPL season.
Photograph: Jack Atley/Bloomberg
Singh’s biggest nemesis, though, is not the public perception that he is a man who parties harder off the field than he plays on it, but his lengthy list of injuries. In the span of a few months starting from the end of 2009 till October 2010, Singh broke his fingers thrice, had a cartilage tear in his wrist, was troubled by a recurring knee injury, and suffered a series of neck sprains. After every setback, the inevitable and lengthy rehabilitation process followed, taking Singh further away from his goals on the field at an age when batsmen are supposed to hit their peak form.
“The back-to-back injuries left me emotionally and physically drained,” Singh says, “and because of those injuries, I never got time to settle back into a rhythm.”
Despite being left out of the ODI team, Singh made it back to the Test squad for a series in Sri Lanka in August-September. Singh grabbed his chance with a century in the first tour game where all Indian batsmen other than Gautam Gambhir struggled to score. He followed it up with a half-century in the first Test. Before the second Test, he came down with dengue fever, and was replaced by Suresh Raina, who scored a century on debut. Now Raina is the first choice for the No. 6 slot in Tests, and Singh is back on the sidelines, yet again nursing his decade-long dream of being a regular in the Indian Test squad.
“I had to remain patient with my injuries,” Singh says. “I didn’t want to rush into things again. Despite whatever was happening around me, it was important to remain focused and follow the process.”
In September-October, Singh went for a three-week stint at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore, which is equipped with the latest infrastructure for training and rehabilitation for India’s most talented cricketers. From there, it was back to domestic cricket, to try and get in as much match practice as he could.
Singh had been at these crossroads before. In the beginning of the 2005 season, his average had slipped below 30, he was failing consistently with the bat, and India’s then coach, Greg Chappell, was openly criticizing him. In a match against West Indies in August 2005, Singh found his catharsis. He came in with India reeling at 51 for 3 (and opener Sourav Ganguly retired hurt) and blasted a savage 110 off 114 balls to lead India to victory. When he reached his century, Singh roared and gesticulated at the Indian dressing room. That was the beginning of a stunning turnaround. Between November 2005 and May 2006, Singh pumped out three centuries and seven fifties in just 22 matches, averaging 62.
This time, Singh announced his return to form with an unbeaten 204 for the Rest of India team against Mumbai in the Irani Cup in October last year.
In January, he marked his comeback to the ODI team with a 68-ball 53 in the second game on India’s tour to South Africa. In the fourth ODI, he picked up three wickets, and finished the tour with two more in the fifth and final match. It was a performance that again reinforced why he is so crucial to the Indian ODI squad—with the bat, he is brutal and effortless when in touch, and with the ball he is a canny wicket taker disguised as an inoffensive left arm spinner. His record at home, where he averages 42.04 from 80 matches at a strike rate of 91.3, is second to none. The World Cup in the subcontinent is just the right stage for Singh, who also has the experience of playing in two previous World Cups.
“I tried to control what I could, to recover well, train hard and leave no stone unturned,” Singh says. “I would say comebacks are more difficult than making a debut. After injuries, you are worried about your movement on the pitch, and at the back of your mind is the obvious fear of getting injured again. When you’ve been around for so long, everyone expects you to do well from the word go.
“It was a year which taught me a lot about myself, about the world, and I would take it as a learning curve.”