The trademark sixes over midwicket © AFP
The trademark sixes over midwicket were back from Yuvraj © AFP

Sweet 16: that is a good number for Indian Premier League (IPL) teams. Reaching there is a safe zone and once you touch it, it means you have reached the playoffs. Of course if the God of luck and mathematics is furious then the case may alter, but that is yet to happen in 9 seasons. Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) became the first team in this edition of IPL to bag those sweet 16 points. They were not the favourites at the start of the tournament, and even the most daring gamblers would not have put their money on SRH, but they have been without doubt one of the most dominant forces in the tournament. Full Cricket Scorecard: Kings XI Punjab vs Sunrisers Hyderabad, IPL 2016 Match 46 at Mohali

Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) sniffed a win after the dismissal of David Warner. It is a known fact that the backbone of SRH’s batting is their skipper. With 567 runs at 56.70 and a monster strike-rate of almost 156, Warner has fuelled the Orange Army batting. Shikhar Dhawan coming good towards the middle of the tournament has helped, but SRH has been a Warner-show followed by their ever-dependable pace attack. READ: Yuvraj Singh’s 42 helps SRH defeat KXIP and qualify for playoffs of IPL 2016

SRH needed 83 from 47 balls when Warner was dismissed. Out walked Yuvraj Singh, and he showcased his ability of clean striking. His unbeaten 42 from 24 balls sealed it for SRH at his Punjab home ground Mohali and got Navjot Singh Sidhu jumping, “Yuvraj and MS Dhoni are the best finishers.” READ: Yuvraj Singh-Ashish Nehra brilliance: A ’90s kid’s nostalgia

Well that maybe an exaggeration that this lucrative league is used to but Yuvraj’s effectiveness cannot be undermined.

Missing out the first 7 games for SRH, the Yuvraj boost helped SRH to the top. Yes, his reflexes are not the same when compared to the days when he took Stuart Broad to the cleaners or flicked Brett Lee for maximums, but he still has a lot to contribute. SRH’s weakness was their middle-order. They had the quality of Eoin Morgan and Kane Williamson, but the former’s patchy form and Williamson’s problems with shifting gears was not helping them. Perhaps, Williamson is best suited to open in T20 cricket. It is unfair to expect Moises Henriques to bail the team out as the main middle-order batsman.

Yuvraj’s return has seen him amass 117 runs from 5 innings at 29.25 and at a strike-rate of 130. A top-heavy side will take these numbers from their middle-order chief whose role is either to accelerate or consolidate if there is an early damage. His knock of 39 from 23 against Mumbai Indians (MI) at a tricky Visakhapatnam surface saw SRH finish well. His 23 off 21 was crucial against Rising Pune Supergaints (RPS) in context of the game, which they won by four runs. SRH had just managed 137 and collapsed to Adam Zampa’s six-for. READ: IPL 2016: 16 Indian cricketers who can target national comebacks

That is not all that Yuvraj brings to the table. The young players look up to him and he brings in a wealth of experience, especially in this micro format. SRH’s strength is their pace battery, with the likes of Ashish Nehra, Mustafizur Rahman, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, and Barinder Sran having performed admirably. Yuvraj also lends the spin bowling option. His inputs as a senior to Warner are invaluable and his presence of mind saw him run out Dhoni when the latter had almost won it for his side.

He is a smart customer and the way he planned the chase at his Punjab home ground in Mohali demonstrates his experience. The Mohali track wore a green look but the mic’d up Yuvraj told the commentators that the green tinge is deceiving; Mohali is a batting surface underneath. He was right. READ: Yuvraj Singh’s contribution in recent success goes beyond numbers

Yuvraj is a package, a fighter, who contributed massively in India’s two World Cup triumphs. His return to international cricket after a brief battle with cancer has been an inspiration. At 34, he is still eyeing a Test cap and though that might be a distant dream at the moment you never write his determination off. But an IPL Trophy has eluded his illustrious career for long.

SRH have checked the first box by qualifying to the play-offs. The coveted trophy is now only a few games away. Yuvraj has been a key ingredient in the squash that the Orange Army has dished out. When he sniffs blood, he is often unstoppable and Indian missed Yuvraj in the ICC World T20 2016 semi-final. It may just be Yuvraj’s tournament from here on.

(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India’s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sports marketer , strategist, entrepreneur,  philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it’s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully and rivu7)