2000 was a turbulent year in the history of Indian Cricket. The nightmare tour down under continued with no change in the side’s fortunes. After a comprehensive 0-3 defeat in the Test series, the side continued to suffer through the ODI tri-series as well, winning just 1 match out of 8. After the tour, Sachin Tendulkar stepped down and in one of the most important decisions in Indian Cricket history, Sourav Ganguly got the job.
Just when the new skipper was starting to settle in, the match-fixing saga reared its head up to take the game by storm. Overnight, Hansie Cronje went from a revered figure to an outcast, and he started mentioning names, big names in world cricket, few of them Indians. Suddenly every match was under a cloud, was it fixed, was it not fixed, every poor performance raising a doubt.
While the darkest hour in Indian Cricket claimed a couple of its stars, it also opened up the spot in the middle order for a youngster by the name of Yuvraj Singh.
By the time he made his debut, most cricket fans were already aware of the precocious talent of this young man. His exploits in underage cricket, and in Under 19 World Cup, in particular, meant his debut was eagerly awaited. He first got his chance in the ICC Knockout tournament in Kenya, and boy did he take that chance.
After failing to get an opportunity to bat against Kenya in the first game, Yuvraj got his chance against the might World Champions Australia. Walking into bat at 90/3 after the dismissals of the holy trinity, Sachin, Sourav and Rahul, it would have been natural to have some butterflies in the stomach. However, if there were any nerves, the young man showed no signs of them.
A glorious straight drive off Ian Harvey got him going, followed by a pull smashed to the square leg boundary, and the runs just started to flow. There was one blemish when he edged a McGrath delivery but thankfully for him, the very safe Mark Waugh somehow let that go past his hands and he carried on. Several trademark flicks, lofted drives, square cuts, on-drives later, he eventually was dismissed caught and bowled by Shane Lee while trying to accelerate at the end. As he walked off after scoring 84 from 80 balls, he got a well-deserved standing ovation from everyone in the stadium.
However, he was not done for the day yet. With Australia progressing smoothly at 86/2 in the 16th Over, Yuvraj produced the first of his brilliant moments in the field, to get rid of Ian Harvey. It was a slower ball, as most balls were with Venkatesh Prasad, Harvey was too early into the shot, the ball was in the air and Yuvraj, stationed at covers, produced a full-length dive to catch it with both of his hands.
Next wicket his fielding brought, was even more important. Michael Bevan was well set, and looking to do what he so often did during his career, guide Australia through in a chase. He knocked a ball to mid-off who was on the edge of the circle and took off for a single. One of the quickest runners in the game, Bevan thought he would complete the run, but Yuvraj turned out to be quicker. A direct hit from mid-off found Bevan short and put India firmly on the path to victory.
It got a little close, in the end, thanks to Brett Lee’s cameo, but Yuvraj had done enough to earn the victory for India. It took him a couple of years to firmly establish himself in that Indian middle order, but that day in Nairobi confirmed it to everyone watching that this guy belongs on the international scene.