Let’s debate: Did Yuvraj Singh had it in him to be the Indian Captain?

Former Indian cricketer Yuvraj Singh represented India in 40 Tests, 304 ODIs and 58 T20Is between 1998 and 2017 but was never considered for national team's ODI and T20 captaincy.

Let's debate: Did Yuvraj Singh had it in him to be the Indian Captain?
Former Indian cricketer Yuvraj Singh holding the 2011 World Cup trophy in Mumbai. (Photo credit: Twitter/@ICC)

When one talks about Indian cricket’s biggest match-winners, then Yuvraj Singh’s name cannot be ignored, at least in white-ball format. Yuvi has been responsible for some of Team India’s biggest and most memorable wins in the past two decades, none bigger than the 2007 T20 World Cup triumph and 2011 World Cup win at home. The man for the big occasions, Yuvi left an indelible mark on both these ICC events and helped India become world beaters during his playing days.

Other than playing a lot more red-ball cricket for Team India, Yuvi accomplished nearly everything there was in ODIs and T20Is as a player. But, if there was one area where the dashing left-hander wasn’t even considered was the leadership role. The Punjab born cricketer played for close to two decades for India, but despite his status, reputation and skill level could never get the opportunity to lead the national team. The ones who started after him, the likes of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Suresh Raina at some point of time in their careers were the ‘stop-gap’ captains, but Yuvi was not even considered even once for even that role.

Two years after his retirement, Yuvi for the first time has expressed his regret of not getting the Indian captaincy. The only time the southpaw felt that he can become the Indian skipper was in 2007, right before the start of the inaugural T20 World Cup in South Africa. The responsibility though was handed to young MS Dhoni, who started his career six years after Yuvraj Singh made his debut for India in 1998.

“So, basically, India had lost the 50-over World Cup, right? I mean there was quite a turmoil in Indian cricket and then there was a two-month tour of England and there was also a month tour in between with South Africa and Ireland. And then there was a month of T20 World Cup so there were like four months away from home. So probably the seniors thought that they need a break and obviously, nobody took the T20 World Cup seriously. I was expecting to captain India in the T20 World Cup and then it was announced MS Dhoni will be the captain,” Yuvraj Singh said.

Well, one can’t blame Yuvraj for harbouring the dreams of leading the national side. After Rahul Dravid, who stepped down after the England tour in 2007, Yuvraj was already the batting mainstay in the line-up and the most experienced amongst the next crop of Indian cricketers comprising of Sehwag, Zaheer, Harbhajan and Raina.

The selectors though decided to give the captaincy reins to MS Dhoni who by then was enjoying a stupendous run in international cricket.

Former BCCI President Sharad Pawar who was at the helm between 2005 and 2008 in March earlier this year revealed how batting legend Sachin Tendulkar suggested the name of MS Dhoni to the Board after Rahul Dravid left the captaincy in 2007.

“I told Sachin that if both of you and Dravid do not want to lead the side, how will we go about things? Then Sachin told me that we have one more player in the country who could lead the side and his name is none other than MS Dhoni. After that, we gave the leadership to Dhoni,” Pawar had said.

Despite losing the captaincy race to Dhoni, Yuvraj said he never had troubles in getting along with the former Indian skipper.

“Yes, obviously, whoever becomes captain you got to support that guy whether it was Rahul, whether it was [Sourav] Ganguly, whoever in the future, end of the day you want to be a team man and that’s how I was. So, anyway, the seniors took a rest – Ganguly, Dravid, Sachin. So Zak [Zaheer Khan] says ‘I also should take rest, it has been a long tour’. I remember the first game was between West Indies and South Africa, right? And Chris Gayle hit a hundred off 50-55 balls. So Zak sends me a message in the night and he goes ‘Thank God! I rested for this tournament.’ and when we won the tournament he said ‘Oh no! I shouldn’t have rested’,” Yuvraj added.

The odds were indeed stacked up against India, and the team against all odds went on to win the tournament. Yuvraj played an important role in the Blues’ victory and was the third highest run-getter with 148 runs from six innings at an overwhelming strike rate of 194.73. The standout moment of the tournament came against England in Durban, when Yuvi smashed England pacer Stuart Broad for six 6s in an over, the only batsman to do so in T20 Internationals till date.

Yuvi credited the win to the fearless approach by everyone in the team, who played with a lot of freedom right through the tournament.

“But anyway, starting for the 2007 World Cup, we were a young team. We didn’t have an international coach or really big names. Lalchand Rajput was our coach and I think Venkatesh Prasad was our bowling coach and we were just a young team under a young captain which just landed in South Africa. I don’t think we had too much of a strategy, no one had a clue about T20 strategies because it was the first tournament. So we thought ‘Let’s just go and play the way you know’,” said Yuvraj.

Did Yuvi had it in him to lead Team India?

Yuvi

Former Indian cricketer Yuvraj Singh reacts after defeating Australia in 2011 World Cup semi-final in Ahmedabad. (Photo credit: Twitter/@ICC)

This might be in hindsight, but it is a good debate to have as to whether why one of the best white-ball format cricketers India has ever produced, was never considered to lead the national ODI or T20 side?
To begin with, Yuvi did his reputation no good by having poor couple of outings for Punjab Kings(formerly known as Kings XI Punjab) as its skipper. The team made it to the semi-finals of the inaugural edition in 2008, but hasn’t been able to replicate similar performance since then, barring 2014 season.
In 2009, Punjab finished at the fifth place forcing the team management to change the leadership from Yuvi to Sri Lankan legend Kumar Sangakkara who captained the franchise in 2010.

Yuvraj Singh as IPL skipper

Seasons

Matches

Won

Lost

Tied/NR

Win%

2008-09, 2011

43

21

21

00/01

50

IPL Captaincy Breakdown

Franchise

Matches

W/L

Tied/NR

Win%

Season

Punjab

29

17/12

00/00

58.62

2008-09

Pune

14

04/09

00/01

30.76

2011

Yuvi left Punjab after the 2010 season and was later bought by now defunct Pune Warriors India in 2011. He was also given the added responsibility of leading the side. The team though performed terribly under Yuvraj and finished as the wooden spooners, at number ninth position in the points table. Singh failed to inspire his team with the bat as well, and could manage 343 runs from 14 matches with just two half-centuries at a strike rate of 131.41. The very next year, India’s 2011 World Cup hero was diagnosed with cancer and missed the entire IPL season, only to return to the franchise in 2013 as a player. The team finished at the number eighth position and never participated again in the IPL.

Former Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly who played for Pune Warriors India and captained it in 2012 in Yuvi’s absence, dropped a bomb when he stated that the team management never though of the 2011 World Cup winner as a captaincy option.

“The management had decided not to make Yuvraj captain again after our first season (in 2011 where the team finished last). They thought he (Yuvraj) was not a captaincy material — not the one who could lead the side. It was a decision that was taken after our first season (2011),” Ganguly told a regional TV channel in 2013.

On the other side, Dhoni’s success as skipper made life difficult for Yuvraj Singh to even think of leading the national cricket team. Apart from the 2007 T20 World Cup triumph, Dhoni led Chennai Super Kings to two titles in the first three years(between 2008 and 2010) and in the process shut all doors for the southpaw.

The national selectors backed Dhoni and a year later in 2011, the small town boy from Jharkhand led India to its maiden 50-overs-World Cup title in 28 years on home soil in Mumbai. Yuvi though had his moment of glory, as he emerged as the man-of-the-tournament finishing up with 362 runs and 15 wickets from nine matches and was at the crease alongside skipper Dhoni when the latter hit the winning runs at the iconic Wankhede Stadium on April 02, 2011.

Did India miss out on Yuvi’s leadership skills? Well, some of the greats in the past- Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara to name a few have been masterful batsmen, but failed to live up to the expectations as a leader. A great cricketer is not always supposed to be a great leader- cricket has proven it time and time again.

Yuvi might have missed out on leading Team India, but in the hindsight it was a good thing for Indian cricket, as he went on to become arguably the greatest match-winner for the Blues in white-ball format, the country has ever produced.