Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni show cricket is not just a young man’s game

The grand double act by Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni in the Cuttack ODI against England on Thursday left cricket fans delighted and gave a thumbs-up for longevity at the highest level of the game.

Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni turned the clock back, the former stroking a career-best 150 and his partner making 134. Their record 256-run partnership pulled India out of early trouble towards a match-winning total.

It was only the third instance of two batsmen over 35 scoring centuries in the same ODI innings. Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara and Tillakaratne Dilshan did it twice at the 2015 World Cup, against Bangladesh in Melbourne and Scotland in Hobart.

The proliferation of limited-overs cricket and the demand it places on fitness and agility often gives the impression that cricket is rapidly turning into a young man’s game. However, there have been players who have bucked that trend.

Dhoni, who stepped down as limited-overs skipper before this series, has been active, scoring his first ODI century for three years. But Yuvraj made a huge point on being recalled into the side after three years.

The left-hander was handed an India comeback as a reward for his excellent domestic season. In Cuttack, more than how he paced the innings, his fitness and stamina stood out as he kept pace with Dhoni’s hard running between the wickets.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni acknowledges the crowd after reaching his century as Yuvraj Singh looks on. (PTI)
It has been a remarkable journey for Yuvraj, the star when India regained the World Cup in 2011 under Dhoni. However, his world turned upside down soon after as he underwent cancer treatment, raising serious doubts about a comeback.

Continuing to play well into the 30s requires not just fitness but focus and passion for the game. Sachin Tendulkar is a classic example. He has scored three ODI centuries after turning 35, all 150-plus knocks with the icing on the cake being the first ODI double century, against South Africa at Gwalior in 2010.

Quite a few players have taken advantage of modern training methods to continue playing, while the proliferation of T20 leagues has been a big motivation.

While Dhoni made a smooth captaincy switch from Chennai Super Kings to Rising Pune Supergiants in 2016, Yuvraj, with a base price of Rs 2 crore, was bought for a whopping Rs 7 crore by eventual champions Sunrisers Hyderabad at the player auctions.

“It feels great. It’s been a while since I got a hundred. I came back after recovering from cancer, the first 2-3 years were very hard. I had to work hard on my fitness and I was in and out of the team. I was not able to get a permanent spot,” Yuvraj said after the Cuttack win.

“There was a time when I was wondering whether to continue or not to continue. I think a lot of people have helped me throughout this journey. So, never giving up is my theory. So I never gave up, kept working hard. I knew times will change.”

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