The year 2000 was a year of metamorphosis for Indian cricket. On the brink of being relegated from its venerated position of a religion after the damaging match-fixing episode, cricket in India needed a strong leader to guide it out of the storm. That leadership was provided by Sourav Ganguly.
And while ‘Dada’ was elevated to the position of the ‘King’, Indian cricket needed a new ‘prince’. And the choice became quite clear when a young southpaw announced himself on the international stage at the Gymkhana Club Ground in Nairobi. Yuvraj Singh had made a non-descript debut against Kenya, where he bowled four overs without taking a wicket and didn’t get a chance to bat.
Yuvraj’s reputation as a big and clean hitter of the ball had preceded him due to his exploits for the triumphant U-19 World Cup winning team he was a part of earlier that year. He had finished the tournament as the ‘Player of the series’.
The then 18-year old’s chance came in the crucial quarter-final against Australia in the ICC Knock-out Tournament, the predecessor of ICC Champions Trophy, when the team was in a spot of bother against the best pace bowling line-up, comprising of Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee, in the world.
But Yuvraj was not one to be intimidated by reputation of the opponent, a trait which has characterised his international career. He blasted his way to an 80-ball knock of 84, which left the Australians wondering what had just struck them.
Almost 17 years later, Yuvraj, now a 35-year old veteran of 299 one-day internationals is on the cusp of becoming only the fifth Indian cricketer to have played 300 ODIs. Yuvraj will follow the likes of Mohammed Azharuddin, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid to the landmark when he takes to the field against Bangladesh in the semi-final of the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy and stays as passionate about contributing to India’s success as he was in his first match.
“It is a big achievement for me to complete 300 games for India. When I started playing I was just happy to play for the country. Been a long journey and there have been a few ups and downs. Not looking to do anything extraordinary, just contribute to the team’s cause. The team is bigger than my landmark,” Yuvraj said on the sidelines of Team India’s practice session ahead of the semi-final.