Few have exhilarated in the limited-overs format as Yuvraj Singh has; fewer still who have such formidable a record in the one-day game have exasperated in the longer, Test match version.
Is it a lack of technique that has prevented the 29-year-old from nailing down a Test match slot despite eight years and 37 games? Is it a lack of temperament? Of hunger, desire and ambition? Is it the absence of that single-mindedness and unwavering discipline that the five-day game necessarily demands? Or is it just plain bad luck, in the shape of untimely illnesses and injuries?
A combination of some of these aspects, one will have to say. Yuvraj the one-day batsman is a towering personality, an unbridled destroyer of bowling attacks, a colossus who can chart and change the destination of a match in the bat of an eyelid. The limited-overs platform has brought the best out of the left-hander because once he is in the India blues, he is fearless and intrepid, innovative and energetic, a bundle of enthusiasm and drive.
The contrast in the flannels is so stark as to be unbelievable. With the bat, he is timid and edgy. On the field, he looks bereft of vigour, not so much prowling as ambling along, his body language hardly encouraging. He almost looks as if he doesn’t want to belong in the longest version, as far removed from the truth as that might be.
It’s possible that in his heart of hearts, Yuvraj believes he was deprived of a slice of the Test pie during his best years because the Indian middle-order was packed with Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman occupying slots three through six. Maybe, just being in the squad and getting no more than the occasional game when any of these stalwarts was unavailable blunted his competitive edge, maybe it put him under enormous pressure because he always felt the need to keep proving – to himself and the others that mattered – that he deserved the place.
Pressure is a double-edged sword. A Laxman has thrived under individual and team pressure, calling on huge reserves of mental strength and an uncomplicated game built on solid basics – his innate grace and outrageous talent can sometimes mask the fact that his grounding is impeccable – whereas the likes of Yuvraj and fellow left-hander Suresh Raina haven’t quite coped with like demands because their game is not so much about solidity and steadfastness as it is about flamboyance and flair.
Did Yuvraj deserve to be left out of the squad for the third Test against the West Indies, after only three failures against the West Indies? Simple as the question might be, the answer isn’t as straightforward, not with a tougher, more demanding battle coming up next month.
It’s more or less certain now that the national selectors, their patience already stretched by his blow-hot, blow-cold Test record, have decided that Yuvraj the Test match batsman is a huge gamble in Australia. Hence the return of Rohit Sharma, in glorious touch this season but unlikely to play in Mumbai, what with Virat Kohli possessing the bragging rights for the moment.
Yuvraj can argue – and there is merit in that argument – that his Test career hasn’t necessarily got the backing and the support it deserves. The longest single run he has had is 11 Tests, between December 2008 and July 2010. In that period, he made six half-centuries in 15 hits with a highest of 86 against England in Mohali, two innings after scoring a stirring unbeaten 85 in Chennai during a spectacular run-chase alongside Tendulkar when India hunted down 387.
Those two counter-attacking near-centuries seemed to suggest that Yuvraj the Test batsman had come of age, that he had worked out what his best approach to the demands of the five-day game was. However, that continues to be far from reality, as evidenced not just by scores of 23, 18 and 25 in the three innings in this series, but his overall presence, or lack of it, at the batting crease.
With a plethora of younger men snapping at his heels, Yuvraj must decide – he should already have, long by now – if he is happy being a one-day giant, or if he wants to be remembered as someone who fought his way back to become a more than passable Test batsman. And it’s a decision only he can make.