Yuvraj absence a blow to Indian aspirations

Yuvraj absence a blow to Indian aspirations

It was on this stage, nine years back in Nairobi, that the Punjab left-hander first showcased his exceptional talent during his first hit in international cricket. In his second game – he didn’t get to bat on debut – in the ICC Knockout Trophy, the then 18-year-old pulverised Australia with an 82-ball 84, an innings of spectacular strokes against a quality attack.

That’s about as much joy this tournament has given him. Three years ago, in Mohali, Yuvraj twisted and badly hurt his left knee during a pre-training game of kho-kho on the eve of the match against Australia, an injury that kept him out of action for close to 12 months.

Wednesday’s latest misadventure, a fractured little finger in the right hand that will require at least six weeks to heal, means for the second time in as many editions, the 27-year-old will not complete the Champions Trophy. What a disaster, considering the vice-captain is such an influential member of what at full strength is such an intimidating middle-order.

Suddenly, there is a look of fragility about the Indian batting, which arrived in Johannesburg minus explosive opener Virender Sehwag, well on the road to recovery after shoulder surgery.

With all personnel available, India’s batting line-up makes for a wonderful mix of experience and exuberance, of solidity and flair, of studied caution and outlandish aggression. Sample this for a top-six – Sachin Tendulkar, Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj and Mahendra Singh Dhoni. It’s a bunch designed to send shivers down the spine of every opposition, especially with Suresh Raina and Rohit Sharma – also convalescing after a shoulder injury – waiting in the wings.

Now, minus Sehwag and Yuvraj, who between them have 444 one-day international appearances, in one fell swoop India have lost two entertainers, two match-winners, two impact players with the bat alright, but who are also more than useful with the ball. The void created by the absence of Sehwag and Yuvraj has left India with a somewhat frail line-up, more so given that Gambhir hasn’t played a competitive game since returning home from Colombo with a groin injury.

India have a tricky choice to make between Dinesh Kaarthick and Yuvraj’s replacement, Virat Kohli, for the sixth specialist batting slot. In Kaarthick’s favour is his experience, willingness and ability to play anywhere in the order; Dhoni has made his reluctance to use Kohli at the top of the tree all too clear, but the Delhi youngster has been in pretty decent form while Kaarthick didn’t make the most of his opportunities in Sri Lanka in Gambhir’s absence.

Plenty to ponder over, then, for coach Gary Kirsten and skipper Dhoni ahead of the big match against Pakistan on Saturday. One thing is clear, though – the responsibility on the batting big boys has increased manifold.

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