Southpaws are a rare breed in cricket; they caress rather than bludgeon, and sizzle with their lofts and drives than mere muscling; much to the eternal delight of the connoisseur and layman alike. The Big Four, since the 1950s, have been Greame Pollock, Gary Sobers, Brian Lara, David Gower till India had its Saurav and Yuvi in the 2000s.
Shoaib Akhtar writes in his auto biography that when the Indian team visited Pakistan, the dressing room discussion was not how to contain Sachin, but a buccaneer called Sehwag and a silken smooth lofter like Yuvi; who were mercurial and murderous.
Commentating on Yuvi’s pulsating innings in the second One Day in Cuttack , yesterday , Nasser Hussain mentioned that Yuvi’s backlight of the bat reminded him of Lara at his best in a thrilling innings 153 not out , he played against the Australians at their best in Bridgetown 1998.There are also inevitable comparisons of his six sixes against Stuart Broad in 2007, with Sobers’ pyrotechnics against Malcolm Nash in Glamorgan in 1968. But to be fair to Yuvraj, Nash was no Broad and he demolished Broad in a Test match while Gary’s epic sixes were in an inconsequential county match.
It was always a tossup between Sobers and Pollock as to who the greatest left hander was till Sobers put Dennis Lilee to sword with a match winning 254 in Melbourne in 1971, prompting Bradman to comment that it was the best innings he had seen. However, Brian settled that debate in the early 90s with his record score by beating Garfield Sobers’ (356) in 1956.
Gower was the most silken smooth left hander England has produced, till our own Dada became the God of the offside with his square drives. But if one has to look for the mantle of Prince of On drives, the crown certainly belongs to Yuvi. While one can rave on and on about his high back lift and effortless lofting of balls, what struck me most in the Thursday match were the two straight drives he played, with the bat just kissing the ball to the boundary as a Mehudi Menuin would do in a crescendo, with his violin. Wah Ustad, Aap Ka Jawab Nahin.
Yuvi has been a finisher par excellence many a times for India, till Dhoni joined this elite club. MSD’s 93 not out , winning India the World Cup in 2011, is for me the greatest finishing innings by any cricketer since the World Cup took its baby steps in 1975. It’s serendipity that he was with Yuvi to pulverize England, his old bête noire in the Natwest final when he and Mohammad Kaif pulled off an impossible win for India. The finale then witnessed Saurav taking off his shirt and swinging wildly in the prudish Lords balcony, as a mark of India’s cricketing catharsis. Nasser Hussain was at the receiving end at that time as the English captain and as a cruel irony he was the commentator, watching beguiled that history can repeat itself.
Yuvraj has been the Pied Piper on both the occasions. His rare dispassion of comparing Yuvi with Lara is both timely and emblematic. Yuvi in the post match short speech was surprisingly very mellow and chastened. He recalled the contribution of his father Yograj, who weaned him away from skating to play cricket , a mother who caressed him out of cancer and a Guruji who has brought that inner calm to a genius ,who flirted with fame and indifferent form. Virat did mention that many thought that recalling Yuvi was a regressive step. As someone who has grown watching such incredible lofted driving of Yuvi in the past, he is prescient enough to realize that class is permanent, while form is transient. More, since he is next genius after Sachin Tendulkar in Indian cricket and an incredible finisher inone dayers too, like Yuvraj and MSD. Like the biblical Return of The Prodigal Son, Yuvi’s luminous 150 after a gap of his last century, six years back is both prodigious and cathartic. The troika of Yuvi, Dhoni and Virat as finishers should bring some real cheer in cashless India of 2017.
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