Now, you can get all the USA Cricket updates via Facebook. Also follow us on Twitter via @dreamcricket
By Partab Ramchand
Move over Shahid Afridi! Yusuf Pathan is now the crowd favourite when it comes to sending the ball into the stratosphere.
It has taken some time for the 28-year-old Indian with the broad shoulders and steely wrists to come good. Indeed for some time he was considered a Twenty20 specialist. But by his recent performances he is now firmly entrenched as the side’s utility man in ODIs. Yusuf can bowl handy off spinners and has earned a reputation as a partnership breaker but it is his big hitting, the uncanny knack of repeatedly sending the ball high into the stands or even out of the park that has made him an opponent to be feared.
Only last month Yusuf hit his first hundred in ODIs and termed his match winning knock against New Zealand at Bangalore as ``the turning point’’ of his career. Few will disagree with this assessment. After being in and out of the side, after promising much but failing to live up to his potential Yusuf finally clinched the No 7 spot in the ODI squad. The one slot was the subject of much debate but that hundred meant that the arguments could cease and he would be the man at the pivotal slot for the World Cup. What the hundred at Centurion has done is to elevate Yusuf into a potential match winner - even in the mega event.
I recall that some cynics were not yet convinced and took the stance that one hundred against a weak New Zealand side did not give Yusuf the credentials to walk in five down during the World Cup. Now after two blistering knocks in South Africa I am sure even the cynics have now been converted to his side. The point to note is that Yusuf’s knocks can win matches from hopeless situations and put the fear of God in opponents as Graeme Smith has readily admitted. His brand of brutal hitting is the kind of approach that causes a severe dent in the opposition’s confidence.
Just ask Daniel Vettori and his men. They were smugly confident when Yusuf walked in. After all they had notched up over 315 and India were 103 for four in the 20th over. A little later it was 188 for five in the 34th over and shortly afterwards showers brought a halt to proceedings for about an hour. When play resumed, India still needed 113 runs from 14 overs, with everything hinging on Yusuf for as company he had the 20-year-old Saurabh Tiwary playing only his second ODI. Following this there were just the four bowlers.
What happened thereafter was something quite indescribable. We have seen Yusuf smash the bowling to smithereens before but in his approach there has always been the element of risk. The feeling was that he could probably get away with one big hit or two or three but ultimately it would prove to be his undoing.
Astonishingly no such thing happened. What followed was bludgeoning shots of the eye rubbing variety. Over and over again the ball disappeared into the skies. New Zealand were ahead on Duckworth/Lewis, the asking rate was nine an over. So what? Yusuf is not the kind to be bothered by such mundane statistical matters. Rising to the challenge gloriously he got India ahead on Duckworth/Lewis, got the run rate down to six an over and ere long the hunter had become the hunted.
At Centurion the script was very much the same even if the match was lost. At Cape Town however his blistering 59 paved the way for an Indian win when everything seemed lost. In the course of these three innings Yusuf faced 216 balls and hit 21 fours and 18 sixes and has got the runs at the strike rate of 132.8. Little wonder then that his career strike rate (115) is better than Afridi’s 112 while his strike rate in Twenty20 is an astonishing 147.5.
Yusuf is not the kind to get carried away by heroics. Despite his latest triumphs he does not see any change in his role as far as the team is concerned. He has been mentioned over and over again as a floater, as a batsman who can be pushed up the order depending on the situation. He has played this role at times but at the moment he is quite happy to be playing down the order. He reckons that his best role in the team and is confident of finishing off the games and helping India to win from tough situations. The team can certainly do with a great finisher and Yusuf is the best bet for donning this role.
Yusuf has always been considered a limited overs specialist. In the past he has been quite happy getting a hard hitting half century and chipping in with the odd wicket or two. Now however greater things are expected from him and somehow one can see Yusuf rising up to the challenge. His supreme confidence is borne out by his post match statement at Bangalore that ``at no stage did I feel we were going to lose the game.’’
This confidence allied to his natural flair for the big hits makes Yusuf a formidable opponent in the limited overs game. The statistics against his name are of the mind blowing and eye rubbing variety but then there are some cricketers who are not to be judged on figures. They are to be judged on their attitude and Yusuf Pathan wears that on his sleeve.