By Nishad Pai Vaidya
Yuvraj Singh had declared his endeavor of reigniting his Test career and changing his image of a limited-overs specialist. Having been a part of the Indian set-up since the year 2000, Yuvraj has shown his brilliance in all three departments of the game in the one-day format. However, the same talent and flair hasn’t been found good enough to win him a regular feature in the classical format of the game. As a result, he has played only 35 Tests since his debut in 2003.
With the long season ahead where India play the West Indies at home and then tour Australia, Yuvraj sees an opportunity to cement his place in India’s Test side. He would be a contender for the No 6 position and would compete with the young Virat Kohli for that spot. But it wouldn’t be very easy for Yuvraj to break into this Indian Test side, as the top five spots are booked with only the No 6 slot up for grabs. The kind of form Kohli is in, it would be very difficult to ignore him, which means he is the hottest contender for the No 6 spot.
The arguments for Kohli’s inclusion ahead of Yuvraj are very strong and cannot be disregarded. Kohli may have struggled in his debut Test series in the West Indies, but he has shown significant improvement since then in One-Day Internationals (ODIs). Now ODIs and Tests are different ball games all together, but when you consider the fact that Kohli averages over 50 in first-class cricket, he advances his case strongly. He is technically very sound and plays with a very straight bat which will help him adjust to Test cricket. The problems he had in the West Indies may have been a wake-up call and we have seen him mature since then. His approach to batting in his latest ODI hundreds in Cardiff and Delhi highlight the fact that he has put a lot of thinking into his game and made the necessary changes.
The second argument in favor of Kohli’s selection is the long-term prospect he holds. India are looking into the future and having an eye on candidates who can take the places of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman in the near future. At 22, Kohli has many more years in international cricket and to blood him into the Test set-up now would be a smart move considering India’s long term plans. Yuvraj, 30 in a month’s time, has quite a few years of cricket left, but Kohli’s talent cannot be ignored as he has shown signs of making quick adjustments. Kohli inspires a lot more confidence when compared to Yuvraj.
In all probability, Kohli would play ahead of Yuvraj and one cannot avoid thinking about the latter’s Test career. The presence of some great names in the batting, form, fitness etc. have reduced Yuvraj’s Test career to a meager 35 matches. Given the promise one saw in him when he scored his first Test hundred on a seaming track against Pakistan at Lahore, one would have found it difficult to believe that seven years down the line, the same player would be struggling to cement his place in the playing eleven.
In 2005-06, when Greg Chappell was the coach, Yuvraj found himself as a near-permanent place in Test cricket. When Sourav Ganguly retired at the end of the Australia series in 2008, Yuvraj was drafted in to the Test squad to face England which gave him a second chance to blend himself into the unit. In his comeback game, he scored 85 and helped Sachin Tendulkar take India to a famous victory at Chennai which would have given the Indian fan as belief that Yuvraj was here to stay.
After the England series, Yuvraj continued to perform decently well in Tests but did nothing spectacular to cement his place at No six. He would get to a fifty and would invariably lose his wicket. In the middle of 2010, Yuvraj was having a rough period as he was struggling with both form and fitness. India faced Sri Lanka at Galle and as the Indian batting collapsed, Yuvraj held firm for his 52. One could see that he was determined to make amends but luck wasn’t in his favor as he got injured and Suresh Raina replaced him in the next Test.
Raina’s introduction into Test cricket was spectacular as he scored a crucial century on debut. As Yuvraj hadn’t really cemented his place, the team management chose him over Yuvraj for India’s next assignments. He had to wait till the tour of England earlier this year to get his next Test cap and he responded with a good knock in the first innings at Nottingham. But, Lady Luck had other plans as he got injured again. A few months since that incident, he finds himself in a similar position to the one he face in Sri Lanka.
Yuvraj hasn’t had the best of fortunes in Test cricket since the tour of Sri Lanka last year. But, it is a known fact that he has struggled whenever there has been movement in the air or off the seam and also against good spin bowlers. If he has to resurrect his Test career he needs to work on this aspect and ensure that he doesn’t repeat the mistakes he committed earlier. Kohli makes things difficult for him to get into the line-up at this juncture, but if and when he gets a chance, he needs to grab it with both hands. He should do something similar to what Raina did on the tour of Sri Lanka in 2010.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 21-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.")