Yuvraj Singh’s “game-changing” innings is the reason India were able to numb Pakistan with a “clinical” performance. That was the conclusion arrived at by India captain Virat Kohli, who said Yuvraj transformed the match and his team-mates’ mindsets completely with his presence and his skills in a 124-run win over Pakistan in their 2017 Champions Trophy showdown on Sunday.
Yuvraj’s 53 off 32 balls was full of eye-catching strokeplay and helped India break free from a sluggish phase towards the back end of their innings. After a stable but steady start provided by the opening pair of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, India failed to press the accelerator, partly because of intermittent disruptions caused by the frequent rain at Edgbaston.
Yuvraj, however, launched himself as soon as he arrived at the crease – an approach that lifted Kohli’s confidence.
“The way Yuvi batted, it was the game-changing innings, to be honest,” Kohli said after the victory. “That gave all of us the confidence to start striking the ball well.”
Despite playing an ODI in England for the first time since 2007, Yuvraj showed no signs of struggle. He had missed both the warm-up matches as he was recovering from a bout of viral fever which had laid him low as soon as he arrived from India. Kohli has been a firm backer of Yuvraj, who, he believes has the game suited for big occasions like Sunday.
“The way he batted was the way only he can strike the ball,” Kohli said. “Hitting low full-tosses for fours and sixes, and even digging out yorkers for fours, was outstanding.”
When Yuvraj joined Kohli in the 37th over, the Indian captain was on 29 off 37 balls having just been involved in the run-out of Rohit Sharma and struggling to find a rhythm. He had started off neatly, but then got stuck – partly as a consequence of a rain delay that stopped play in the 34th over – something not often seen with Kohli, even during Royal Challengers Bangalore’s rough campaign in IPL 2017. Kohli admitted that he was never fluent until he reached the half-century mark and that the rain breaks muddled his thought process.
“I think till 40, I was easing into the game, taking my ones and twos like I always do,” Kohli said. “I could not go for the big ones because it was tricky. We went off about four times. And we came back in, and so as a player who likes to play the long innings till the end and usually plays like that for the team, it becomes very difficult to find momentum every time you come back and all you got to do is play yourself in again.”
However, Yuvraj, who struck 150 against England on January 19 in the last ODI series India played, imposed himself on Pakistan quickly.
“When Yuvi came in, we didn’t go back out again,” Kohli said. “So, he started striking from ball one and, as I said, that took pressure off me, and maybe I should have given him strike.
“That really deflated the opposition and that gave me a bit of time to settle in from the other end. When he got out, I took over. But I think his innings was a difference in the game.”
Kohli said that Yuvraj’s success always rubs off positively on the rest of the team.
“If he plays like that you know the team is always in a good space because you can really rely on him to come in and just play a match-changing innings, more often than not,” Kohli said. “And he will end up doing it three out of five times. That’s why we back him at that spot.”
Yuvraj departed 10 deliveries before India’s innings closed. Kohli and Hardik Pandya then stroked 34 runs off the remaining 10 balls to take India to a formidable total. Kohli said that by then he had found his mojo – he scored 36 runs off the last 11 balls of his innings – and Pandya’s big hitting came in handy towards the end.
“I decided to stay still and just back the strokes that I have, and a few connected, and that’s what happens in this sport,” Kohli said. “Momentum comes your way, it goes away, but you’ve got to stay patient. And when it comes back, you’ve got to capitalise on it. So I believe in myself, I can get 30 of 10 balls as well in the end. And it was just showing a bit more composure.”
Nagraj Gollapudi is a senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.