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February 6, 2010
Yusuf Pathan has made his name as a limited-overs cricketer, but he saved the most astonishing knock of his career for the Duleep Trophy final. On Saturday, he smashed an unbeaten 190-ball 210 to power West Zone's chase of 536 to beat South Zone - the biggest chase in first-class cricket.
"It was without a doubt the best innings of my career, and hopefully a major turning point for me," he told Cricinfo. "It was a very big match, a domestic final, and there was immense pressure not just on me but on the whole West Zone team. It has given me immense pleasure, and I hope this will be a turning point for me."
West, having conceded a 149-run first-innings lead, ended up winning the match with three wickets in hand, and about one and a half sessions to go. It could not have been possible without Yusuf's knock, which came on the back of a century in the first dig. Yet Yusuf was eager to first point out the hard work done by the openers, Chirag Pathak and Harshad Khadiwale, who put on 117, and then the 107-run partnership between Pathak and Wasim Jaffer.
"We were banking on a good start, and that is just what our openers gave us. A century opening stand was a very good chance for the other batsmen to build on, and importantly we were able to put together partnerships," he said. "Then Wasim bhai came out and played very well to get us past 200 without further loss. That was very important in the end result."
But the good work could easily have been undone. When Yusuf walked in at 239 for 3, West still needed 297 runs for victory, and he appeared intent on chasing down a mammoth total. To the eighth ball bowled to him, from the left-arm spinner Aushik Srinivas, Yusuf danced out and dumped it over long-on for maximum. Then he was given the first of five reprieves by South's butter-fingered fielders, off Srinivas, and replied by clouting three fours and a six in relative succession. Yusuf saw two wickets go down before West's total hit 300, but that had absolutely no bearing on the manner in which he played.
"That is just my natural game, to play aggressively, and I felt that was the only way to go about things," he said. "We were chasing a big score and we knew that if we wanted to win, we would have to bat positively and not look to shut shop. Like I said, the platform set by the top order helped me a lot."
Yusuf's alliance with his brother on day four, worth 84, had steadied West after a brief wobble and Yusuf reflected at that period as pleasing. "I have always enjoyed batting with Irfan, and we fed off each other. We just talked about stuff in general, this and that, mostly all stuff to help us relax. I enjoyed that time and it helped me carry on."
Yusuf's half-century came up off 45 balls courtesy his third six, and Srinivas was taken for Nos four and five in successive deliveries thereafter. Srinivas and Rohan Prem were the two bowlers to feel the brunt of Yusuf's power: Srivinas conceded 58 runs from 43 balls bowled at him and Prem 49 from 22. Was it a deliberate ploy to attack the slow bowlers?
"Nothing like that," said Yusuf. "This was a big game and all the bowlers were good, so I did not plan to attack anyone in specific. I enjoy facing spin, as I think I can dominate, but in this case it was never an attempt to go after the slow bowlers. I just played my shots and it worked."
West finished day four on 379 for 6, still 157 runs away from victory. "We were very confident because of the way we had ended the day," said Yusuf. "We needed about 150-odd and the mood was confident in the squad. In the evening, after stumps, I tried not to think much about what was ahead. I spoke to my family at home and with my team-mates while having dinner. Basically just took my mind off the game and I think that helped."
It sure did. Yusuf, from an overnight 84, raced to three figures and didn't look back. "We knew the morning, especially the first 30 minutes or so, was going to be crucial. Once we [Pinal Shah and Yusuf] got past that, it was pretty smooth sailing, despite the dropped chances."
Yusuf's wasn't a pure innings, as three drops on the final day - to make it five in all - will attest to, but he chose not to dwell on that at all, content that he was able to do so well despite cramping up. "I was never going to change the way I played," he said. "I did give chances and they didn't take them. It happens, and it was just my day."
A string of failures at No. 7 in India's one-day side, and his captain's reluctance to use him excessively as a bowler has phased Yusuf out of the national team. He has always been a batsman capable of creating a sudden impact and make the selectors notice, and that is precisely what Yusuf has done. "Some people have the perception that I am suited to limited-overs cricket, but I think this will change that," he said. "I obviously want to get back into the one-day and Twenty20 sides, and this is a massive confidence booster. The rest is not in my hands."
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