On January 23, 2011, South Africa and India battled for the series at the SuperSport Park, Centurion with the scroreline tied on 2-2. Chasing 268 from 46 overs, India were all but out of the contest when they collapsed to 119 for eight. However, there was one man in the centre who was itching to make a mark in international cricket – with the ability to turn matches around from hopeless situations.
Aggressive in his intent and at times innovative with his strokeplay, he started mauling the strong Proteas attack, smashing them to all parts of the ground. The hosts felt the pressure even as India kindled hopes of a miracle. He raced to his hundred and put India within range of the total. However, his aggression got the better of him as he holed out with his team 49 runs shy. India eventually fell short, but Yusuf Pathan affirmed his reputation of being a batsman who had the potential to win a match single-handedly.
Yusuf Pathan was born on November 17, 1982 in Baroda with destiny marking him for bigger things. The emergence of Yusuf and his younger brother Irfan from humble origins in Baroda to the biggest cricketing stage is truly fairytale. The siblings battled the odds to rise from those humble beginnings and pursue their dreams of playing the game they loved. They may not be fixtures in the national team, but their journey to the top tugs the heart.
Yusuf was first selected for India for the ICC World T20 2007, alongside his brother Irfan. The selection had come at the back of some powerful performances during India’s first domestic T20 tournament. The writer was present at one of Baroda’s games in which Yusuf had scored a fifty against Saurashtra. Yusuf exhibited remarkable power while effortlessly plundering boundaries, with one shot crashing on the top tier of the Brabourne Stadium pavilion.
Yusuf made his national debut in South Africa, in the ICC World T20 final against Pakistan — an international debut in the final of a big tournament and that too against Pakistan. Talk of pressure! Yusuf smashed his second delivery for a six over long-on and instantly looked a part of the big league. He may have contributed only 15, but that six showed that he wasn’t going to be fazed by the big moments on the big stage.
The same fearlessness and the self-confidence has been his biggest asset as Yusuf shows the ability to perform in pressure situations with hopes fading. Time and again he has scripted knocks that have resurrected his team from a muddle and given them a chance of recording the right result. Some might say that he plays with fire, but it pays off at times. Logic would dictate a batsman to go into a shell and consolidate with wickets falling at the other end. However, Yusuf backs his counter-attacking strategy.
During the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2008, Yusuf was one of the stars in Rajasthan Royals’ inspired run to the title. Under Shane Warne’s captaincy, Yusuf expressed himself and flourished with his fearless brand of cricket. That performance facilitated his selection into the Indian One-Day International (ODI) side for the tri-series in Bangladesh and the Asia Cup. However, inconsistency has marred his career as he hasn’t been able to hold on to his spot in the long run. There have been occasions when he has shown promise in a few innings, only to wither away into rough patches.
The miracles kept coming though. In March 2010, he smashed a 37-ball century in an IPL encounter against Mumbai Indians. Chasing 213, Rajasthan slipped to 66 for four in the 10th over when Yusuf took matters into his own hands. Rajasthan fell agonisingly short, but that innings was hailed as one of the best in the IPL. A few weeks before that encounter, he scored an unbeaten 210 (10 sixes, 19 fours) in the Duleep Trophy final to help West Zone chase down a target of 536 in the fourth innings. It was the highest successful run-chase in First-Class cricket.
Prior to the brilliant knock at Centurion, Yusuf had worked his way into India’s 2011 World Cup squad with a match-winning display against New Zealand. Chasing 316, India were in trouble 108 for four in the 20th over when he walked in. As the game progressed, Yusuf opened up and gave the New Zealand bowlers no chance of coming back. He ended up with 123 off only 96 balls, a knock that contained seven fours and as many sixes.
That was the start of a purple patch for him which lasted till the hundred at Centurion. In the five innings during the said interval, he recorded two hundreds and a fifty. Once that ended, Yusuf failed to capitalise on his opportunities. Today, he doesn’t find a place in India’s ODI setup and it would take a good season in domestic cricket for him to get back into the reckoning. A poor IPL 2012 for the Kolkata Knight Riders also didn’t help his cause. If he can strike more consistency, India would find a genuine match-winner in limited-overs internationals.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)