Mohammad Yousuf shines on rainy day
Pakistanis 112 for 2 (Yousuf 40*) v Worcestershire
Mohammad Yousuf walked in at New Road 57 minutes into the Pakistanis' innings after the openers, having started on a pretty note, had departed in quick succession. As bad light and spells of rain curtailed the most of the day's play, the severity of the situation probably wasn't lost on Pakistan's most senior batsman.
All summer the Pakistani batsmen have failed to stay long periods at the crease. After the 150-run defeat against England at Trent Bridge, the PCB, without any hint or suggestion, rushed in Yousuf. His experience was crucial for the young middle order, it was felt. Yousuf had led Pakistan as recently as January but retired abruptly and unceremoniously after a PCB inquest nailed him as one of the culprits for the abysmal Australian tour. Fortunately, he arrived in England with a fresh mindset.
He had opted to sit out of the Edgbaston Test, having landed on the eve of the match. On Friday he did not have to wait for long. Yasir Hameed, having been dropped once by Moeen Ali at second slip off Chris Russell, went for a rash stroke the very next delivery, pitched in the channel, and was picked neatly by first slip by Vikram Solanki, who had stepped down as Worcester captain late last evening.
Azhar Ali, the other opener, was run out having found himself at the same end as Hameed less than three overs earlier. Suddenly, Kamran Akmal's decision to bat on an overcast day, with a batting order short of runs, seemed dicey.
But Yousuf calmed the nerves. He slid in like a wrestler into the ring. Then, with a hunched stance, he judiciously picked the right balls to play. The first delivery was left alone. Ditto the next one. Two runs were stolen after a misfield at short over. The next 16 deliveries, spread around an hour-long rain break, did not fetch any runs.
As the others rushed back to the dressing room, Yousuf altered his path to sign some autographs. He wanted to be there in the middle. He remained padded all through the extended interval as tea was taken, and when play resumed an hour before the regulated stoppage time, he had gathered his wits.
The 21-year-old Russell, who is on the Worcester staff and playing his maiden game for the first eleven, was spanked disdainfully as he kept pitching short. Yousuf played a classic square cut past the point boundary. A ball later he steered it past the slips and the vacant third man for another four. The shot of the day arrived a few overs later when Yousuf, in his 30s, charged Russell, and hit a straight drive past the bowler. The local lad was seething with anger mid-pitch.
As he was trying to find his own feet, Yousuf helped Umar Amin settle down quickly, too. At the change of overs he was intensely speaking to the left-hander, animatedly directing the dos and don'ts. Amin was guarded to begin with, yet grew confident with time.
On a day when rain had robbed about 68 overs, Yousuf maintained his calm and stood out like the rainbow that appeared late in the afternoon and brightened the Pakistanis' spirits.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo