Everytime this IPL, I see Yousuf Pathan and Yuvraj Singh stride out to bat, I sense they are feeling heavy in the head, in a mind dominated with self-doubt than swagger. They quite seem to know that 22 yard strip and the 13 men on the field are waiting for them to cave in and fail yet again. It must feel like a Damocles sword hanging above their neck, with every passing failure in contribution. The IPL was created to make cricketers make the transition from their Demi God status to Cult Heroes who display feats of excellence that keeps moving the bar higher with every game. However when Yusuf and Yuvraj plod around time and again, with very visible signs of a confidence drought, it does little to keep the IPL heroes script or their own careers go in the right direction. Yet their failures keep them in the side, since they are star Indian players in the IPL, and the respective team management believes that persistence of star players helps in the long run. From a fan angle, I see a possible fix that may help the team management protect their heroes for the right reason, or get closer to the realization that these players are at the wrong end of a product life cycle curve.
Both these players come out to bat at a time, when either they have to put the pedal on the accelerator or they are chasing a target which requires some calculated lusty blows. Yuvraj ends up consuming deliveries to get his eye in, and then succumbs and struggles around before he loses his wickets, while Yusuf arrives confused, whether to settle or to slog, and gives his wicket away as the nerves and the Damocles sword of non-performance weighs on him. Maybe both these players need a change in their roles for their franchise to make the best use of them. If either of them was given 40 balls in a T20 contest to get their eye in early on, and score at a little more than run a ball, then they stand a chance to slowly get their confidence and swagger back, which is the key to their heroic deeds in the past. Looking at past IPL records, an average season for a top 3 batsman is in scoring between 300-400 runs for the season. Let’s say if we were to target 300-400 runs in 10-12 remaining games for each of them, with a strike rate between 100-120, its maybe a goal that’s workable to start with, which translates down to 25-40 runs a game, without any pressure of upping the ante. Both KKR and RCB have had a chequered relationship with having stable opening partnerships so far in the IPL. KKR have tried Pandey, Kallis, Gambhir and Uthappa at the top, with sporadic success for each of the 4 players, while RCB have had only Parthiv Patel who’s managed to have moderate success at the top, while the rest have failed.
RCB has allowed Yuvraj the benefit of playing at 4, and getting his eye in for the first couple of games, but Yuvraj’s still not the player we knew him to be or the player his price tag in the IPL suggests. Yuvraj seems to show shades of form when batting in the middle overs, but needs loose balls at the start of his innings to get the confidence back. Switching back to the World T20, James Muirhed fed him a few long hops in the crucial game and Yuvraj used that opportunity to get some runs, adrenalin and form to build an innings, which won India the game. In games with very tight bowling, Yuvraj has found it tough to build a longer innings, or play a short cameo, which was glaringly seen in the World T20. The IPL campaign started well for Yuvraj, with Rahul Sharma and Shahbaz Nadeem feeding him with long hops that Yuvraj used up well, to get some pressure of his back after the horrors of the World T20 final. He’s since then shown patchy semblances of form, but a tight spell or demanding situation still seems to get the better of him. RCB have not yet reached stability on the second opener to partner Parthiv Patel, with neither Nic Maddinson (now out of the IPL), or Rousseau setting the stage on fire. One assumes Gayle will find return with aplomb to his opening spot, but maybe its worth trying Yuvraj to open or bat at 3. Opening is a position that he has tried to bat at in ODI’s in 2001 and Tests in 2003/04 season, with very little success, but this maybe the bitter pill that Yuvraj needs to resuscitate his career, given his need to build innings without undue pressure, starting with the IPL (which has been Yuvraj’s bug bear for quite a while now).
It has reached a situation where it’s now or never for these players, whose careers are in steep descent like a parachute that fails to open. If KKR or RCB don’t see them in any other role than their current role, then it’s almost curtains for these players. As a last ditch attempt in the sea of doubt, throwing these players the life jacket, could help the franchisees decide if they can get these players to perform in a different role, or to invest their energies around a different core group. Not doing any action, and letting their high-price-tag players, fade into the oblivion can potentially increase resentment and the team’s morale at the end of the day. Maybe protecting our yesteryear heroes isn’t such a bad thing, if it helps in getting their swagger back.