Butt's duty to bond with Yousuf
Salman Butt has shown an impressive maturity right from the moment that Shahid Afridi's abdication thrust the captaincy upon him. When Pakistan defeated Australia in his first match in charge, to bring to an end a run of 15 winless years, Butt was quick to recognise that England, in their home conditions, would be tougher opponents.
Sure enough, after consecutive defeats, he stoically admitted that Pakistan had been terrible with their catching and that they had no place to hide. He also conceded that he and his batsmen were not showing enough patience to survive at the crease, and that as a consequence they were heaping too much pressure on the Mohammads - Asif and Amir - who are arguably the best fast-bowling pair in Test cricket.
But perhaps most importantly, Butt recognised - albeit grudgingly - that he had to accept the arrival of his former captain, Mohammad Yousuf, a man who earlier in the year had openly ridiculed him during the Australian tour for his slackness in the field. Yousuf going public then did not sit well with Butt. When one of the lurking local media recited Yousuf's lines to Butt, he shot back: "did I ask you [to read them out]?" There was no further reaction. He kept his thoughts to himself. It was a wise move.
It is once again time for Butt to be wise. As a leader he believes Pakistan need to be brave and have belief in the young, which is not entirely a bad idea in itself but even a kid doesn't start walking on its own - without a helping hand it would never stop falling down. At the age of 35, Yousuf is clearly well suited to carry out the fatherly duties.
But Pakistan not only need an anchor who can withstand the current pressure but somebody who can simultaneously drive them forward. As a mentor. Yousuf's flowing beard has many grey hairs, some as a result of his hard contemplation of the right move. He has hardly faltered in England: in terms of pure numbers, he is virtually on Salim Malik's back and crucially has played seven fewer Tests compared to Malik's 13; both men have three centuries but Yousuf has a double to his credit. Butt, who has played the same number of Tests in England as Yousuf, has amassed just 275 runs. Imran Farhat has 377 in seven Tests at 29. Yes, numbers can't tell the whole story. Yet, they cannot be ignored.
And in terms of the immediate challenge, Yousuf knows not only how but when to leave the ball in swinging conditions. There was evidence of that during his 40 against Worcestershire at New Road last weekend where he ignored 16 successive deliveries before steadily dominating the bowlers. Even if he could spend just 53 minutes at the crease as rains disrupted the two-day warm-up fixture, Yousuf was busy having lengthy chats with youngsters such as Umar Amin in the middle first, and then the dressing room balcony.
Even at The Oval, on Monday, Yousuf was animated in pointing out the ways and means of prospering in overcast conditions to the team-mates. He did not waste words. "He simply said one has to be calm and the formula is as simple as leaving the ball alone most of the times," Imran Farhat told Cricinfo.
Personally for Yousuf it is a bigger challenge. After his bitter separation from his team-mates in the aftermath of the winless Australian tour, which later led him to announce his retirement following a PCB-imposed ban, Yousuf has once again decided to come back. If he is to be believed he has no agenda. His only aim is to help his country.
Butt will have to take that statement at face value. He cannot afford to waste time brooding over Yousuf's motive. He also cannot afford to be insecure. So far he has shown the attributes that make a good leader: clarity of speech, original opinions, modesty, fearlessness, an ability and willingness to back his teammates regardless of form, and an openness to suggestions. Yousuf lacked many of those qualities, even if he remains of the best batsmen of his generation.
After his initial hard stance Butt has probably now accepted the fact that Yousuf can be useful. "With his runs he can walk in to any team," he told Cricinfo as soon as he was appointed captain. Now he says the team's youngsters should seek out Yousuf to learn. It is not a bad start, but the next challenge is for the two men to walk hand in hand.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo