His 84 against the all-conquering Australians gave India new hope in the new millennium in Kenya. His partnership with Mohammad Kaif in the Natwest Trophy final against England in Lord’s 2002 was the epitome of the new, young and emerging India. In 2007, his six sixes in the World T20 and taking on the might of Australia in a new format helped India recover from the scars of their early World Cup exit. In 2011, he overcame cancer and gave India the World Cup title after 28 years. In a nutshell, all these achievements sum up Yuvraj Singh, the man for the big occasion and India’s ultimate match-winner.
Yuvraj epitomised the fearlessness, brilliance and aggression that was much-needed for India at a time when they were still Tigers at home and Lambs abroad. In the new millennium, Indian and world cricket was still reeling from the match-fixing scandal. His 84 against Australia and his 41 against South Africa came against two of the most feared bowling attacks at that time. Facing up to the might of Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock was no easy task for many seasoned campaigners but Yuvraj and his youthful confidence earmarked him as a future star.
In 2002, India was being tagged as the perennial bridesmaid of world cricket. The team would perform brilliantly in the league stages only to capitulate in the final. In the 2002 Natwest Trophy, India had played brilliantly in the league stages against Sri Lanka and England but in the final, they were 146/5 chasing 326. Yuvraj and Mohammad Kaif stitched a 121-run stand and his knock of 69, combined with Kaif’s unbeaten 87 helped India achieve their highest successful chase in ODI cricket at that time. The sense of belief that India got to perform in big tournaments was only due to Yuvraj.
Five years after the Lord’s miracle, dark clouds once again lingered in Indian cricket after the team were eliminated in the 2007 50-over World Cup. A new format was born courtesy Twenty20 cricket. 2007 was also the year of the World T20. India did not have much belief under the captaincy of MS Dhoni. However, Yuvraj looked upon it as an opportunity. He signalled India’s intent in the clash against England when he became the third player after Sir Garfield Sobers and Herschelle Gibbs to hit six sixes in an over.
The six sixes not only sealed Yuvraj’s greatness, but it showed that India were worthy competitors on the global stage. His exhibition of clean-hitting against the Australian line-up which included Mitchell Johnson and Brett Lee was a sight for sore eyes. The aggression and belief generated by Yuvraj’s knock were vital in India winning the tournament for the first time and showing they were now established world beaters.
In 2011, India was riding the wave under MS Dhoni but Yuvraj was battling his inner demons. During the World Cup, in each and every match, Yuvraj put in great performances with both bat and ball. At the same time, he was also battling the disease. Winning the World Cup and the Man of the Series Award was fitting for Yuvraj as he sealed his legacy.
Yuvraj’s legendary status was enhanced when he fought back cancer and made a comeback on the big stage. Despite his waning powers, England and Australia continued to face his brilliance at regular intervals. In the 2014 World T20, his 68 against Australia helped India reach the semi-final. In 2017, he smashed 150 in Cuttack and gave himself an outside chance to feature in the 2019 World Cup.
His retirement is the end of an era of Indian cricketers who helped India become the world beaters that they are now. Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman all retired before Yuvraj. With his retirement, it is the end of an era. Thank you, Yuvraj for all your contributions.