England v Pakistan, 3rd npower Test, The Oval, 2nd day August 19, 2010

Yousuf rediscovers fluency with authoritative display

An artistic and stylish batsman, he also showed substance with a vital contribution on his Test return

"Contest!" cried the cricket fan to Pakistan all summer. Finally, Mohammad Yousuf answered the prayers. All those doubts about his match fitness, those suspicions about his mindset, those questions over whether it was right to recall him, slid away like the passing clouds above The Oval. What became clear by the end of the day was Pakistan need Yousuf. No jury could decree otherwise.

Thursday morning began for the tourists as so many others on this tour have - with early wickets. Yasir Hameed and Salman Butt were back in the dressing room less than ten overs into the morning. A four-day finish looked imminent. Though Pakistan still clung on to a sense of hope, it was Yousuf who transformed that into belief.

Coming into this innings it was almost like another debut for Pakistan's best batsman of the generation. Earlier in the year, in a rush of blood, he abruptly announced his retirement with scant explanation after the PCB inquiry committee held him as one of the players responsible for the disastrous tour of Australia, where Pakistan came second in every match, across every format. Yousuf was the captain then. But in July he volunteered to join the ranks once more and made himself available for an SOS.

Just as Pakistan are struggling to find donors after floods have submerged one-fifth of the landmass in the country, their cricket team was struggling to find a saviour in the batting line-up - somebody who could be the bulwark. There were some grins, and a few grimaces too, but Yousuf was quickly embraced back into the dressing room.

Bending, stretching and squatting, he loosened those stiff muscles as he prepared to face his first delivery. He defended stoutly against a loopy one from Swann first up and then slid one behind the keeper for a leg bye. A much sterner test was on its way.

Jimmy Anderson on an overcast morning, at home, with a fairly new ball, possesses a sting worse than the most dangerous snake on the planet. His first delivery was a perfectly shaped outswinger, which pitched fuller and moved late, prompting Yousuf to play and miss. The restless ritual of skipping and stretching followed.

It took 14 further deliveries before Yousuf opened his account with a tuck to the leg side for a single. But the examination was getting tougher as Stuart Broad took over form Anderson and kept Yousuf on the hook. Still he held himself together.

The first four came off the 34th delivery as he clipped a leg-side delivery from Steven Finn past square-leg. England were desperately trying to get rid of him before lunch but he applied himself and countered the mixture of short-pitch and slower deliveries from Broad in the final over of the first session.

There were few plays and misses - about eight in the hour into the second session - but as the minutes passed by, his heartbeat steadied and with that returned the old fluency. A few overs after lunch he read Anderson's late inswing cleverly, waiting until the last moment before playing the ball. After a few watchful dots, he steered Anderson past the empty third man pocket for his third boundary. With Yousuf's momentum building, Strauss was forced to abandon the attacking field - pushing second slip down to the boundary and reinforcing the cover ring with an extra fielder. England were suddenly flustered.

Yousuf is that rare breed of batsman who is artistic and stylish, and who uses the bat like a conductor uses his baton. VVS Laxman, Mahela Jayawardene and Michael Clarke are other players in this select bunch. As his captain Salman Butt said later, the beauty of Yousuf, when he is on song, is the amount of time he has to play his strokes. Yousuf can create this (false) sense of extra time because he's in the perfect position to decide which shot to play.

As Michael Holding smartly spotted on TV, never once did Yousuf play a shot out of his crease. He was bolted to his position, knew where he was standing, understood which deliveries were to be left alone, before unleashing those late and silky drives without notice. The bowlers were forced to change their lines and angles. Strauss retreated to his predecessor Kevin Pietersen at gully to discuss a different strategy. Graeme Swann, the best spinner in the game, tried to bowl from both sides of the wicket but could not tempt Yousuf into anything ill-judicious. For the first time in the series, an absorbing battle was taking place. The crowd enjoyed the contest and Swann did as well.

"I am delighted to get Yousuf," Swann said of his 100th Test victim. "He would probably be the name on their team sheet I'd have picked at the start of the game. He is a world-class player. Having not played any cricket for four to five months and to look as calm and authoritative as he did is all credit to him, and it helps guys around him."

Yousuf's sense of calm was indeed contagious as Azhar Ali started playing with gusto at the other end. Though he had a fifty under his belt in his five Tests, on this tour Azhar, like his Pakistani peers, has looked uncertain about which road to take whenever Pakistan found themselves at crossroads. Today he appeared more decisive and less fallible. Even when Yousuf departed, for the first time attempting an expansive stroke against Swann, Azhar guarded against any collapse with aplomb.

"Mohammad [Yousuf] was very helpful," Azhar said. "When I was in the middle he was guiding me, calming me down, saying 'just stay in and the runs will come'."

Yousuf held his head in embarrassment and disgust at the mode of his dismissal. It was not the first time he had got distracted after assuming control. In his last two series, in New Zealand and Australia, he had worked hard to get a foothold before relinquishing it with a rash decision. But he will have more chances to correct the wrongs. Pakistan's heads still need to remain calm. That will help the team move ahead in the right direction.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rohan1 on August 20, 2010, 16:11 GMT

    @pakspin. Amazing lack of cricketing knowledge on your part in even comparing a good batsman to an all time great like Tendulkar, although I accept that tendulkar is the benchmark that all modern day batsmen are compared to. Tendulakr has more than1300 runs in England at an avg of 62. Yousuf much less runs @64. Tendulkar has been playing in England since the age of 17 in 1990 and STILL over so many years and runs avg. 62. Check out Lara and Pontings avg in England by contrast. Yousuf is more a 2000s player. For eg both dravid and gangully avg 65 in Eng with almost the same amount of runs as Yousuf....like I said ,amazing lack of cricketing knowledge on your part.

  • Mriftkhar on August 20, 2010, 15:31 GMT

    I haven't watched that innings but I am waiting if some buddy uploads this video on net and also where I have to watch online live cricket streaming of this match. I have read all that in cricinfo ball by ball commentary but it is always a pleasure to watch him playing. He is a master batsman of all times.

  • dummy4fb on August 20, 2010, 14:15 GMT

    yusuf has such class & caliber to show but asking him to have come back is temporary solution to Pakistan cricket what about future?

  • thriphty on August 20, 2010, 13:49 GMT

    Nice article Nagraj on a man deservedly so who has been hunted and persecuted by the PCB thugs, what a collection of scum that is.....Anyways onto Yousuf, what a pleasure to see him back and perform and the affect he has had on the young ones. Now we need to bring Younis back as Captain and solidify the middle. Work on the openers, my vote goes to Yasir Hameed and Asad Shafiq. Both of these cricketers are really hungry and have worked really hard to earn their stripes, their domestic records are much better than their peers. Bowling dept is excellent and with Kamran knowing that their is enough talent nibbling at his heels, he will perform. AND Pakistan shall be comprehensive test unit.

  • Rswamy on August 20, 2010, 13:00 GMT

    Yousuf is a class act. He makes battting looks so easy in any conditions - a proof of his solid technique. Pakistan is formaing a good team with a combination of talented youngsters and seniors like Yousuf. Look at the pace bowling - great bench strength. India need to learn to nurture youngsters like what Pakistan is doing now. BCCI should seriously start training a bunch of younsters who can bowl fast. I hope to see these talended Pakistani players playing in IPL for this coming season.

  • pakspin on August 20, 2010, 10:40 GMT

    Just one objection of something in the article lad. You said swan is the spinner of the game..mind you Ajmal is also playing..have a look at his t20 and test performence in the series.

  • pakspin on August 20, 2010, 10:37 GMT

    Great article. Mohammed YOusuf the bradman of the era ...a 70 + average vs england more than tendulker in swinging conditions..when he gets out at 50 you feel like he failed..he's that good..

  • CricFan24 on August 20, 2010, 9:39 GMT

    A good example of what a proper batsman with a solid technique and temparament brings to a team. All those clowns who keep harping about the likes of Sehwag, etc should remembter that without the steel provided by a solid batsman in the middle order...batting collapses will be a regular feature of a team.

  • Hrazapak on August 20, 2010, 8:48 GMT

    I dont know what Pakistan are thinking at the moment,, becuase whenever there is a new batsman in a team he should be played lower down the order while facing the old ball which is not swinging so that he may gain some confidence before facing the swinging new ball.. Azhar Ali was sent on 1 down position which could rattle the best in the bussiness, especially in England. What Pakistan did good in this innings is that they sent him lower down the order and he prospered. He played with the xperienced M.Yousuf and this gave him more confidence. So well done Yousuf and Azhar Ali.. England were actually 6 or 7 for 1 I think at Stumps on day 2

  • AhmadSaleem on August 20, 2010, 7:30 GMT

    why do these umpires always give the 50-50 decision in favour of england. Yup agree with pakfan2010. Anyone who have watched the entire series would have also felt this.

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