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Where did it all go wrong for the boy who used to turn cricket balls into lemons? Sandeep Dwivedi follows the curious case of a gifted cricketer who somehow lost his way....
At the famous Mumbai maidans just outside Churchgate, the bar to judge a batsman is historically high. It is higher for those who don't belong to the city. When it comes to cricket, Mumbai is proudly parochial and notoriously inexpressive about the batting skills of someone who doesn't have Shivaji Park or Dada Union mentions on their CV.
But in the mid-'90s, the maidan-regulars made an exception — unbelievable for a batsman from north India. As a 14-year-old day-scholar from Chandigarh at his father Yograj Singh's playing-days mate Dilip Vengsarkar's academy at Azad maidan, Yuvraj Singh shattered a few myths. He belied that stereotypical image of batsmen from the North. He wasn't dismissed as another air-head slogger but was seen as a technically perfect batsman blessed with timing with a knack for hitting big sixes.
The tales about his tall hits that sailed over the palm trees lining the maidan and landed threateningly close to the crowd of evening commuters heading home, got exaggerated after every successive narration. "Ball ko limbu bana deta hai (He turns cricket balls into lemons)," they said, describing the ball's diminishing dimension when on the tip of the parabola that Yuvraj's towering sixes drew.
That was the time when the young left-hander was seen as someone the 'cricket mothers' crowding the maidans wanted their sons to grow up to be. Their desire was not misplaced as the batting prodigy went on to wear India blues two months before his 19th birthday. Suddenly, every kid wanted to be Yuvraj.
But a decade later, Yuvraj's image has taken a back flip. Whispers in the BCCI corridors say that Yuvraj is being seen as a negative influence on the youngsters in the team (apparently that's what the manager for the disastrous World T20 in South Africa has conveyed to the BCCI). It's been all downhill for Yuvraj this year. 2010 has seen him injured, out of shape, struggling to score runs, losing King's XI Punjab's captaincy and eventually, getting dropped from the ODI team because of loss of form.