Mumbai: For close to nine years, Yuvraj Singh has been one of the most talented batsmen in world cricket not getting his due. Well, luck finally seems to be running his way as the man admits in this exclusive interview with Neo Cricket and cricketnirvana.com
We saw a very emotional side of yours at an awards function for the 26/11 martyrs recently. You got teary-eyed. What was that about?
We saw some really horrific sights after the Mumbai attack. Everybody was quite devastated to see all that. I was just honoured to be there with the people who lost their lives to save ours. Hats off to the NSG commandos for what they did for us.
Just to listen what the families were saying – it’s easy to say that somebody has died but you generally won’t feel the pain unless it’s someone from your family. It was quite an emotional moment for me.
Emotion is something you thrive on. We all remember the 6 sixes you hit after Andrew Flintoff said something to you…
That was more of aggression than emotion. Kind of an emotion you could say.
What did Flintoff say to you that got you so cheesed off that you decided to take the next bowler that came your way for six sixes?
Well, I didn’t decide on anything. I would have gone after the bowling even if there wasn’t a spat. I guess it charged me up because I was fuming, but I guess that made me concentrate more on every ball – better and harder. It was one of the best highlights of my career.
Was the fact that you had been slammed for five sixes earlier going through your mind?
Yes, that was going through my mind. After the Oval game, I got calls from my friends who were saying “you got slammed for 5 sixes.” Luckily we won that game! It was kind of funny, but I was not happy with what happened and felt that I had to give it back in some way.
After that I got out to Dimitri twice, in the same game and at Lord’s, so I said to myself that this wasn’t right. I prayed to God, that I have to give it back and it came at the right moment.
What exactly did Flintoff tell you?
People don’t want to know what he said to me. At the end of the day, you’re playing for your country and you want to go and do your best. Aggression comes when two teams, two players are competing. He’s a solid competitor. At the moment according to me he’s one of the best fast bowlers in the world. It was great competition. He said something and I did too, that’s what cricket is all about.
2008 has been quite a year for you. It didn’t start brilliantly, but you capped it by cementing your place in the Test side. How hard has that journey been, establishing yourself, after being in the Test team for eight years?
As a young kid when I started playing cricket I never thought it would take me eight years to play Test cricket regularly. You never know now also. I would never be thinking of playing Test cricket if it takes so much of time. It has been a long struggle for me honestly, I have been in and out, I have tried a few things, so I think everything comes with time and I should capitalise on it now.
We are a country that chases milestones and are fascinated by them. Would you reckon that the Chennai knock of 80 was the most important of your Test career so far?
I would say because it was the fifth day wicket, and it was turning heaps and chasing just under 400 runs and it was against an attack with Harmison and Flintoff and Anderson, one of the best attacks in the world right now. Performing against that attack and playing alongwith Sachin was fabulous. As a kid I dreamt that one day I would bat alongside Sachin and win a game for India.
That Test match was something special for me and especially after 26/11; it must have given a lot of people happiness. Another important knock I would consider one of my best is the 169 versus Pakistan at Bangalore. I had played after a year and was out for two Test matches and suddenly I came back because Sachin was injured and in that match we were 70 for 4. We didn’t win it but I think that was a crucial knock.
Just before the knock at Chennai you had back-to-back hundreds, fantastic hundreds, probably the best knocks of the year. Which one was more satisfying – the back-to-back hundreds or the 80 you made in Chennai with Sachin?
I wanted to get into form as soon as possible. When I batted the way I did at Rajkot I knew that I was not out of form. I was just taking some time out in the middle. The second knock was more important because we were 20 or 30-odd for 3 and England were looking good so I took my time and played according to the wicket. It gave us a 2-0 lead and put more pressure on England.
You’d say that would be slightly more satisfying…
Both were different. Rajkot was a great wicket to bat on and Indore was slower so I had to really apply myself. I am happy with the effort, that I could shift gears and had a strike rate of 200 plus.
How did you really take your journey through 2008? Australia was not a tour you’d want to remember. You had a great chance to cement yourself in the side. What kept you going on the belief that you would make it to the Test side in this manner?
Before Australia I was really batting well for six months and suddenly there was a drop of form. It happens to everyone, but it happened to me on an important tour, which I had hoped would never happen. But the harder things come the better you learn, so I can’t repent on it, it happens. After that I didn’t get too many big scores. I scored a few runs in the ODIs.
However after that playing in the ODIs I got two hundreds. I was just not capitalising on my starts. When things are not going well for you, you have to be mentally tough so I put 2 and 2 together and worked on my batting and knew the way I was working – I said 2 or 3 months back that I would finish the year on a high.
Would you reckon that because there was a lot of criticism- it could be understood that a cricketer goes through a slump- but there was a lot of paparazzi, there were pictures and allegations that you were distracted because of someone, who was also there in Sydney. How true were those allegations?
I generally don’t think about what the criticism says as long as I’m true to myself. It’s just sad that when you don’t do well you get related to things off the field. I have no issues, I am true to myself and want to do well for the country, and these things don’t matter to me because I know I am giving 100% for the country.
You proved that, yes. There was a lot of talk at the time about the People magazine interview where you bared your heart out that there were two emotions involved. That probably gave more credibility to the rumours going about at the time that you were involved with a film actress and that was distracting you?
I never said something was distracting me. Anything that distracts me from the game I would never go towards. It is just something I said and it’s finished and I do not want to look upon it or talk about it. It’s part of your upbringing and that’s the way you learn about it. What’s more important is my cricket, my friends and my family. If that is fine then these things don’t bother me.
Let’s move on to something more exciting. What was it like captaining the King’s XI?
It was a great opportunity for me. I look forward to captaining India one day and this will help me towards it. To get to know those players, taking the pressure of captaincy, winning big games, learning how to handle yourself after losing games, it’s a big learning curve. We had an outstanding year, we had just one bad game, but that’s the way T20 is.
It’s so interesting you say that you dream of captaining India. Since the 2003 World Cup, it has been said that there is captaincy material in Yuvraj Singh, but as is the case, nothing comes easy, you have to fight for everything, and when Dravid resigned you were in the best form of your life. It must have been a tough time for you not to have got the captaincy?
I wouldn’t say tough time. It was a hard pill to swallow; things never just fall for you. I want to always be in the thick of things, I thought about it for a little while and said what’s important for me is the team and country so let’s get out there and play as a unit.
It’s surprising it didn’t show at all that you found it hard on the field with your batting and your performances.
You have shown great support to Dhoni and in his dream run Yuvraj has had a big role to play…
Dhoni was someone who was very young and he didn’t have too many games in international cricket and taking on the captaincy he needed a lot of support. He got a lot of support from the team and has been very good as a captain. He was very calm. I think as a young captain, like Graeme Smith, it was very important that Dhoni got the support and belief of the team.
Did Dhoni know that you were upset that the captaincy was not with you? Because Sehwag, Dhoni and you are the 3 most important people on the field and without the three of you, India don’t stand a chance…
We never really discussed it. More than your own feelings, it is important that you gel as a team. So we never talked about who should have been the captain. Whoever is the captain is in charge and it is the team’s job to support him.
With Dhoni’s winning percentage and his success do you think that the selectors took the right call? Or is it just that the team is so good at this point of time that it really doesn’t matter who is captain? Like Australia…
I really think it is the team that gets the result. Obviously the captain is important, but the team gets the result. You tell Ricky Ponting to captain Zimbabwe or Bangladesh – not that I’m saying Bangladesh is a bad team- but they don’t have great players like Australia, India, or South Africa.
The captain is very important, the role is important. Whatever Dhoni’s done has been outstanding, he’s been cool and calm but the result really comes from the team.
Yuvraj, if you see over the last 3-4 years, in 2005-06 you scored almost 110 runs, your average was about 58-60, but the rankings never reflected that. You should have been at the top at least once or twice, that’s the level of success your batting has had.
Are you disappointed that someone like Dhoni who came after you managed to get to those rankings twice and someone like you who has been playing for 8 years having got the runs hasn’t scaled that peak?
The rankings don’t really matter because someone might play more matches and score and come above you. It is important that the team knows about you. Dhoni has been very consistent for the last two years, his average is more than 45, and he deserves to be at the top.
But it’s not all about the ranking. The ICC said Sachin is no.26 so you don’t believe that. Everyone has got an opinion. They all know that Sachin is one of the greatest batsmen of all time.
Where would you have ranked Sachin if you had the chance?
Top 5 at least. In the class of Sir Garry Sobers, Sir Don Bradman, Sir Viv Richards, Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden.
Talking about Sir Garry Sobers, Greg Chappell and Hanif Mohammad had said there’s a bit of Sobers in the way you bat. Have you ever gone back and seen tapes of Sobers to see if there’s a little bit of him in you?
My dad always gives me tapes of Garry to see how his batting is. It is quite similar. But he’s Sir Garry Sobers; he’s got great records. It feels great to be batting like him. It gives me the shivers to be compared to someone so great.
Have you had a chance to meet Garry Sobers?
I met him in the West Indies, but he was busy, so maybe I will get to meet him properly during the next tour of West Indies.
Laxman loves batting at no.3, he now bats at no.6. Dravid has always been at no.3. Where does Yuvraj Singh want to bat in the Test side?
Every batsman wants to bat up the order because you get to see the new ball and you have batsmen with you. Batting lower you don’t get much of an opportunity. It’s important where your team wants you to bat and where is your best position. I never thought what number I would like to bat. Wherever the team wants me to bat, I will bat.
Personally where would you like to bat, hypothetically if you were given the chance to choose?
Maybe we’ll talk about this when my seniors retire in two-three years. Then I’ll tell you where I want to bat.
You’ve been successful with your left-arm spin, of late. Getting the better of KP is not exactly easy. What is the weakness in him that you’ve spotted that so many bowlers are struggling to find?
There is no weakness. KP is a great batsman. Only once I have got him out in Tests. In ODIs you have to score continuously and every time he tries to up the run-rate he’s been getting out to me. Sometimes he thinks that ‘this guy is a useless bowler, I want to throw him out of the ground’, and he’s been getting out like that. He hates getting out to me and I love getting him out.
KP and you are two of the hardest hitting batsmen in the world today. Have you ever wanted to try the switch-hit?
I’ve tried it but that is something exceptional that only he can do because he changes his grip and you have to practice that for many hours. He’s strong and you got to have strong wrists. That’s an exceptional shot, but I think I’ll just stick to my normal batting.
You’re not going to try that again…
No, I think I have enough shots to score runs when I’m going so I don’t think I’ll try it but I will work on it.
There’s been a bit of controversy. Sachin had said that in the case of an lbw, the batsman should be considered a left-handed batsmen and Virender Sehwag says the batsman should be considered right-handed. What would you reckon? Should it be treated as a left-handed batsman, because he’s changing his grip?
I don’t know what to say on this. Obviously if you are changing your grip, the rulebook says that you are a left-hander and according to the pitch and length you are out. But it is a very difficult shot and I think the batsman should be given the benefit if the doubt. There are two aspects so I can’t really judge it. Whatever the ICC and the umpires say, it’s their call.
You’ve played the IPL and T20. How can T20 help cricket, not as a commercial interest, but otherwise?
Good Test players can up their tempo with their skill and change their game but T20 really makes you think. There is little time to think, it’s all about quick thinking. Try and outsmart the bowler. It really gets you moving and helps in the 50-over game.
Otherwise batsmen would start attacking from the 35th over, now they attack from the start, especially with this third powerplay rule. ODIs are going on a high after T20 cricket.
Do you reckon it helps Test cricket in any way? Like when batting in Tests after playing T20, do you think it helps in any way, like upping the run-rate?
Nowadays Test teams are playing at a faster pace. Teams want to win; you’re not there just to play. Cricket has become more aggressive and you want to score runs at least 4 runs an over. The public wants to see some kind of pace, of ODI not T20. You don’t go by what they are saying but Test cricket has become a faster game.
You’ve got a tour of Sri Lanka coming up. Mendis got the better of you, the lat time, you got out to him 3 out of 5 times. Do you agree that the criticism that you’re suspect against spin is just?
No. Mendis has got a lot of batsmen out many times. He was someone who’s bowling I could not understand. Like Murali, the more you play him the more you understand him. He surprised a lot of batsmen. I was not doing well and was getting out to everyone.
I was not doing well; I had five bad innings so it was just not him. Now it will be different because I’m in good form and hopefully we’ll get the better of him.
Has Team India decoded what Mendis is bowling?
We obviously chalked it out in Sri Lanka. Raina and Dhoni played him well. The more you play of him the better we’ll get at it.
What do you think is so special about him? Is he a special bowler?
He’s an exceptional bowler to be honest, the way he spins the ball with his fingers, it’s very hard to do that. He’s an exceptional cricketer, the more you play him the more you’ll understand him. Every player has his weakness.
If you had a choice to face Murali or Mendis, in the last over, and you had 20 runs to get, who would rather face?
Well, if there were 20 runs left to win a match and I’m batting on 50 or 60 then any bowler can come and bowl to me. It’s not a hassle.
But what if you had just come in?
Anyone. With 20 runs to win, the bowler is on the back foot.
We’ve seen two greats bow out of the game. Ganguly and Kumble. Has the team taken the shock of their losses, in the ODI and Test team?
Yes. They are great players who have left the game and did so much for the country; obviously we are going to miss them. But the game goes on. Tomorrow anyone will retire the game has to go on. What they did was special and hats off to them.
Who’s the best left-handed batsman in the world today?
Lara and Hayden have retired so it has got to be Sangakarra.
What about Yuvraj Singh and Gautam Gambhir?
Gautam is doing exceptionally well. He is going to greater heights. He has stepped up the mark in the last two years. Critics used to say he only scored against weaker teams but he proved a lot of people wrong. I’m getting there. I believe that if I’m a consistent player in Tests I will get there.
Any plans beyond the Sri Lanka tour? There is a tour of New Zealand, which is said to be one of the toughest tours for an international cricketer…
I hope the wickets are no like the last time we went to play. It’s a big challenge for us because we’ve not won for a long time in New Zealand, but this time we’re going with preparation.
Which is the face-off that excites you the most? Putting Mendis in his place or establishing yourself in New Zealand as someone who can play on any surface?
I have many challenges. Whatever I have done consistently I want to do that, whether it is going to Sri Lanka and getting runs consistently or going to New Zealand and playing swing and seam, I’m up for the task, I will get there.
Any message for the people of India on Republic Day?