Eye on India: World T20 hosts’ struggles come back to failures of Yuvraj Singh

India's struggles at T20s can be traced back to those of Yuvraj Singh.

With Shahid Afridi’s future uncertain, there have been plenty of tributes to a player whose 20-year-long career was anything but boring.

His last scoring stroke at the World Twenty20, and possibly in the international arena, was a six. For all his bowling achievements, and the trademark celebrations on taking a wicket, it is the swash and buckle at the crease – however infrequent – that Afridi will be remembered for.

In 90 T20 international innings, Afridi hit as many as 73 sixes. But there’s another man, whose career is also winding down, who can point to 70 hits over the rope in just 47 T20 internationals.

Six of those came in one thrilling sequence against Stuart Broad at Kingsmead in Durban nearly nine years ago, as Yuvraj Singh provided the inspiration for India’s triumph at the inaugural World Twenty20.

He was that rarest of limited-overs performers back then – someone who could combine the destructive shot-making of an Afridi with the consistency that marks out the batting thoroughbreds.

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Against Australia in the semi-final of the same competition, he smashed 70 from just 34 balls. And as India’s title defence went off the rails in England in 2009, he was one of the few to save face, with 41 off 18 against Bangladesh and 67 off 43 against West Indies.

Less than two years later, as India won the World Cup on home soil, Yuvraj was MS Dhoni’s go-to man with both bat and ball.

His magnificent half-century in the quarter-final at Ahmedabad not only won India a tense game, it also ended an era of unprecedented Australian dominance.

By 2012, the golden boy had become the cancer survivor.

When he returned in the most abbreviated format, he made 34 in 26 balls against New Zealand at Chennai.

Telling though, he got out with six needed from three balls and New Zealand prevailed by a run.

Later that year, he made 72 from 36 against Pakistan.

When Australia came to India in 2013, there was a blistering unbeaten 77 from just 35 balls.

His Test and one-day internationals (ODI) careers may have fizzled out, but Yuvraj was still seen as the answer to India’s T20 middle-order hitting woes.

Against Australia, easily his favourite opponents, he turned back the pages during the World Twenty20 in 2014, stroking 60 off 43 balls.

It is seldom recalled now because of the painfully scratchy 11 (21 balls) in the final that played a big part in India’s defeat.

Since then, Yuvraj the destroyer has largely become an exercise in nostalgia. There were two sprightly innings at the recent Asia Cup, but they came against a Sri Lankan team that’s treading water, and an UAE side lacking big-tournament experience.

In this competition, his return has been 31 runs from 34 balls, across three innings.

The pitches India have played on have not encouraged fluent stroke play, but the huge difference in numbers between Yuvraj and someone such as Virat Kohli cannot simply be wished away.

Against Bangladesh at Bangalore, he repeatedly attempted the big loft over midwicket that once came as easily to him as a Lionel Messi nutmeg. He did not connect with a single one.

India go into the Australia game at Mohali today knowing that there is no margin for error.

Anything less than victory and they will be guests at their own party in the knockout rounds.

The openers, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, have also struggled, but it’s Yuvraj’s form that remains the biggest concern.

Once, his left-arm spin gave India a potent additional option – his T20 international average (17.77) and strike-rate (15) are both better than Afridi’s – but MS Dhoni has not trusted him with a single ball in this competition.

Ajinkya Rahane, who has been riding the pine, is not a noted six-hitter, and that might be the only factor that allows Yuvraj to keep his place on his home ground at Mohali.

Regardless of what happens in that game, one of limited-overs cricket’s great careers is almost over.

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