There are few who can make six-hitting look easier than Yuvraj Singh. Pleasing to the eye of a supporter, and demoralising for the bowler. And with Yuvraj, it’s not just the power with which he strikes them. Once he gets going, few sides in the world can stop that bat-swing. Like Pakistan found out on Friday at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Motera.
With India desperate to square the T20 series, Yuvraj came into his own, smashing a 36-ball 72, a knock that included six majestic sixes — each resembling a home-run. His belligerent lead act also ensured that the hosts posted a massive score of 192/5, eventually winning by 11 runs.
After two hard-fought and nerve-wracking contests, the arch-rivals drew level in a series that in many ways epitomised the symbiotic relationship between the two nations, on and off the field. One that is impulsive, combustible, buoyed with pendulum — like momentum shifts but always entertaining to the hilt. The drawn result also was a fair indicator of the closeness between the two sides in terms of the T20 format.
With both teams possessing impact-players, big-game performers even, the decisive contest was always expected to throw up a show of individual brilliance. And at Ahmedabad, it was Yuvraj who proved to be the centrepiece.
For starters, the pitch at the Motera was much in contrast to the green-tinged, bouncy, swing-friendly climes of the Chinnaswamy Stadium for the first T20. The pale, skin-coloured wicket was always expected to contain a substantial amount of runs. That seemed the case from the offset as Gautam Gambhir and Ajinkya Rahane began in attacking fashion against the Pakistan new-ball attack. But just like in Bangalore, both fell in quick succession after having given India a platform.
When Yuvraj walked out to bat, the score read 53/2. Dropped from the Test squad, and having failed in Bangalore, the 32-year-old left-hander couldn’t have asked for a more suitable situation to restate his credentials — in limited-overs cricket anyway. It was a painful beginning, however, as a Mohammad Irfan yorker hit him flush on his toes. He would then go on to make the Pakistanis pay, blow-for-blow.
Yuvraj’s major six-hitting zone throughout his career has been in the arc between wide long-on and deep square-leg. On Friday, he remained biased to his preferred region, peppering it with an array of aerial missiles. The first came off Shahid Afridi, as Yuvraj bent down on one knee and slog-swept the Pakistani veteran over the mid-wicket fence. The second was hit with similar contempt and in the same direction, but this time of Saeed Ajmal.
Then he hit two off two against Sohail Tanvir, both against short balls that sat nicely at waist-height, only for Yuvraj to bludgeon them with cross-batted heaves. While Yuvraj crossed 50, off just 29 balls, with the second, he had lifted India’s run-rate significantly. With two overs left and the score 158/3, India would have had their eyes set on a total close to 175. Yuvraj though had other ideas.
He unleashed hell on Ajmal in the off-spinner’s final over, hitting him for three consecutive sixes, bringing back brief memories of his famous assault on Stuart Broad five years ago. The first two came off poor deliveries from the wily Ajmal, both launched into the stands over the square-leg region. Ajmal did get his length slightly better on the third, but Yuvraj was in his zone now, and he smacked the fuller delivery over long-on with ease.
If Yuvraj was hard-hitting then Mohammad Hafeez was finesse personified. Rarely has a T20 knock showcased sweetness in timing as good as the one that the Pakistan skipper dished out in pursuit of his team’s target. Hafeez stood as the sole obstacle in India’s way, despite a few aggressive contributions from the top-order. But then Ashok Dinda, bowling an inspired spell, brought an end to his graceful account-55 of 26 balls-to end Pakistan’s resistance.
The fireworks had begun going off by the time Ishant Sharma bowled the last delivery of the Pakistan innings. But it was the pyrotechnics that Yuvraj provided earlier in the evening that really lit up the Ahmedabad sky as Pakistan concluded the first-leg of their condensed tour.