Saad Shafqat November 5, 2009

Why Mohammad Yousuf never learns

Mohammad Yousuf has had ample experience in making mistakes while running between the wickets, but the only mastery he has shown is in refusing to learn from them

Getting run out is a habit Mohammad Yousuf cannot seem to shake © Getty Images

If you watched the first ODI between New Zealand and Pakistan sitting somewhere in Pakistan, you would have heard a collective national groan when Pakistan’s total was 57 for 2. At that point, Mohammad Yousuf tapped a ball straight into the hands of short cover and took off for a single. That’s “short” cover, mind you – meaning that the fielder was well within the circle and ideally positioned to block the single. Nor was the fielder some uncoordinated slack. Yousuf has picked out the spry Martin Guptill, who nailed the stumps at the bowling end with a direct smash.

The groan preceded the run-out, because we all understood in a flash what was about to happen. The one person who appeared not to have grasped the moment, from the looks of it, was Yousuf himself.

The theory of running between the wickets is straightforward, and it has not changed in a hundred years. “One point in which many otherwise excellent cricketers fail is in the matter of judging runs,” wrote Ranjitsinjhi in The Jubilee Book of Cricket, published in 1897, anticipating the likes of Yousuf by over a century. The general idea is to play the ball into a gap and call your partner. If you play the ball towards a fielder, then the fielder should be some distance away for you to risk a run. Your vocabulary should be limited to “yes”, “no”, and “wait”.

Yousuf’s interpretation of running between the wickets represents a variation on this theme. His baffling strategy is to play the ball straight to a close-in fielder and take off. His vocabulary appears to consist of “yes”, “no”, and “wait” and “let us discuss when we meet in the middle of the pitch”. The result has been enough heart-wrenching run-outs to leave permanent psychological scars on an already jolted fan base.

A run-out is such a needless death. Why a highly accomplished batsman would keep throwing away his wicket like this beggars belief. It is clear, though, that it is a habit he cannot seem to shake. With Yousuf, this suicidal act has happened so often that you keep dreading the imminent whenever he is at the crease.

The typical scenario is a full-length delivery pitching just outside off. Yousuf bends forward and taps the ball towards cover or cover point. His action ends up almost being a lunge, in which Yousuf’s weight shifts so far forward that the process of standing up forces him to take a stride. The act of playing the stroke and setting off for a run merge into a seamless continuum.

Normally, a complex mix of variables goes into the decision of whether or not to run. Shot trajectory, field placement, fielder quality, consent of the non-striker, and indeed even the match situation enter into the calculation. In Yousuf’s case, it seems, the only real consideration is how far forward his centre of gravity has shifted. Now that I’m already afoot and out of the crease - he seems to be thinking - I might as well go for a run.

Out of 222 completed ODI innings, Yousuf has been run out 38 times, which amounts to 17% of all his dismissals. Put another way, every 6th dismissal for Yousuf is a run-out. If you want a comparison, this figure is more than twice the rate for Sachin Tendulkar, for whom only every 12th ODI dismissal is a run-out. The best way to master any endeavour is to learn from the experience each time something goes wrong. Yousuf has had ample experience in making mistakes while running between the wickets, but the only mastery he has shown is in refusing to learn from them.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi