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Ranji Trophy: After 408 days and 28 balls, Yuvraj Singh gets off the mark

Yuvraj was unbeaten on 16 (43 balls) when play was called off for the day. (Express Photo by Amit Mehra)

There was a buzz around the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium in New Delhi on Wednesday morning and it was not without a reason – Yuvraj Singh was in town. Staying away from the international stage for over a year is never enough to put a dent in the southpaw’s popularity and the limelight tends to fall on the part of the cricket field he is occupying. Yuvraj, who was recently released by Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) ahead of Indian Premier League’s 2019 auctions, had returned to play for Punjab versus Delhi in the Ranji Trophy fixture. The 37-year-old had earlier made way for youngsters in the squad but returned for the Group B fixture between the two sides. He replaced Shubman Gill, who had to join India A on their tour of New Zealand.

Yuvraj Singh plays a shot against Delhi during Ranji trophy match in New Delhi on Wednesday. (Source: PTI)

The last time Yuvraj had featured in India’s premier domestic first-class competition was in October 2017 when Punjab squared off against Vidarbha at Mohali. Captaining the side, Yuvraj could only muster scores of 20 and 42 in two innings. Since then he never featured in whites. So the moment he stepped out of the dressing room in the first session of play, the delight among the sparse crowd was evident. Everytime the ball went to him, there were loud cheers. However, Yuvraj remained unperturbed, taking his position leisurely in his typically laid-back manner. Later on, when he was posted at deep mid-wicket, he even missed a ball and it ended up crossing the fence for a boundary. But it hardly mattered as the 100-odd people even cheered to that!

Around noon, word spread quickly that Delhi had been bundled out for 107 and there was a chance that ‘Yuvi’ might walk out in the middle. There was a noticeable increase in the number of people in the stands as several schoolchildren turned up at the venue to watch their star perform. At 98/3 when Jiwanjot Singh walked back to the pavilion everyone at the stadia finally had their money’s worth- after 408 days, Indian cricket’s most elegant left-handed batsmen arrived at the crease.

However, Singh had to wait for 28 deliveries to get off the mark. This was primarily due to the nagging leg-stump line that Delhi’s Vikas Mishra and Pulkit Narang decided to stick to with Gautam Gambhir monitoring proceedings from the slips. But Yuvraj was in no mood to let this opportunity pass by. Despite the jeers and the whistles not once did he look uncomfortable or bothered by the surroundings. The ball wasn’t rocketing off the surface, it was gripping and turning. But Yuvraj in 2018 displayed maturity and awareness and dug deep to play himself in. He was eating up deliveries but not once did he seem to mind it as slowly but surely the ball kept hitting the middle of his willow.

Yuvraj Singh and Mandeep Singh remained unbeaten at the end of Day 1. (Express Photo by Amit Mehra)

At one point it seemed like he was on course towards Cheteshwar Pujara’s record of 53 dots before getting off the mark. However, with a fine paddle sweep for four of the 29th delivery, Yuvraj finally got his scorecard moving as the stadium erupted in huge cheers. From thereon, he looked at ease cracking two more boundaries which included one of his trademark booming cover drives. At the end of day’s play, Yuvraj was unbeaten on 16 (43 balls).  Feroz Shah Kotla is a lucky ground for Yuvraj Singh. In 2016, he scored a match-winning 260 vs Baroda which in turn led to his India call-up. Will fortune favour him again? Only time has the answer…