The two Singhs of Indian cricket - pals since their formative years - stand at the crossroads, gazing at the paths branching out. One leads to newfound success, one to oblivion and another one into the history books. But none of those are labelled. The next one month leading up to the finish of the ICC World Twenty20 will tell who stepped in the right direction - Yuvraj, Harbhajan or better still, both.
If one defeated death, the other knocked out scathing criticism. Neither of them gave up. That was important and counted in the end, as the poster boys of Indian cricket make a grandstand return in Chennai and will travel to Sri Lanka in hopes of setting the field on fire.
The picture was not so rosy six months back, especially for Yuvraj. Everything appeared dark, negative. It was like a photographer in his darkroom, washing the negatives in hopes of pictures full of life.
Yuvraj was on a hospital bed in Boston, cancer-struck. There was everything but cricket: family, friends, fans, prayers, wishes. But perhaps that's what worked in his favour. The cricketing void gave birth to zeal and Yuvraj made a fist of it. The treatment worked, Yuvraj fought and the combination led to a successful recovery. And here he is. Not amused after rain washed out his scheduled return to cricket, but surely looking forward to Tuesday in Chennai.
Yuvraj is just 30 and has more than 8000 ODI runs under his belt. A member of India's Twenty20 and ODI World Cup-winning teams, Yuvraj is tailor-made for limited-overs cricket, though he would any day shun that label to wear the Test whites again. But baby steps are needed after any dreadful illness. Yuvraj should be mindful of that. He has a good three or four years of cricket left in him, and India wants him back, especially to defend their title in the 2015 World Cup. Of course health comes first, but if Yuvraj manages to pull it off, it would be huge for a team in transition.
Yuvraj's pranks-playing pal Harbhajan made heads turn with his return to the Twenty20 squad. Handed the pink slip after India were routed in England and Australia, Harbhajan recovered from an abdominal strain, a leg injury and an awful Ranji Trophy show to turn the tables in the latter part of the English county season.
R Ashwin grabbed the opportunity while Harbhajan re-oiled himself, labelling his return 'unlikely'. Sourav Ganguly, though, never ruled his favourite chum out. "If you think of India's top three spinners, Harbhajan surely is part of that list. You can't keep a player like him in domestic cricket for long. He is one bowler who should be playing all three formats of the game," he stated.
And Ganguly wasn't throwing his weight behind Harbhajan without numbers to support: 406 wickets in Tests, 259 in ODIs and two World Cup wins are certainly signs of a champion bowler. And that he led Mumbai Indians to Champions League success without Sachin Tendulkar in the team also speaks about the respect Harbhajan commands from his team-mates.
But that's all behind him now. Not everyone advocated his return to the side, especially when Ashwin spun New Zealand into submission. Still the selectors showed faith in Harbhajan, and now he has to return the favour. At 32, Harbhajan too has cricket left in him, which, like Yuvraj, makes him as well critical to India's 2015 World Cup plans.
To conclude, it won't be wrong to admit that both Yuvraj and Harbhajan have their set of worries - albeit of a different nature. On one hand is Yuvraj, worried about how his body responds to the demands of international cricket after recovering from cancer. On the other is Harbhajan, who knows Ashwin is close on his heels. One more bad series and he would be left to lick his wounds in the IPLs and Champions Leagues.
But you can't deny that India needs both of them back, especially since stalwarts like Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman have retired, and Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan are close to checking out soon.