Oldtimer Yousuf plays ideal supporting act
Oftentimes, there is nothing like an old head. The call for youth is always insistent in sport and it is in the end their gig. But sometimes situations are such that you need someone who has been there, done that and got the beard to show for it.
Shoaib Malik was the man who thrust Pakistan to their win tonight and a deserved the Man of the Match. But ushering him along for much of it, in fact, the man who dragged him out of the timidity that held him for so long and made his innings possible was Mohammad Yousuf; the man, so to speak, behind the successful man.
The last few years have not been for Yousuf what they should've been after the miracle year of 2006. The rise of Twenty20 has shaken his core. The ICL dalliance was ill-advised and though he returned to the Test side this year, his place in the ODI side was slipping. He was dropped from the ODIs in Sri Lanka and many were those who thought he shouldn't be coming to South Africa.
Even after he got here, he scratched around against West Indies and calls for his head began in Pakistan. And you could see why, for he has been out of it in pyjamas. His fielding is poor and all types of pumped, young power hitters have taken over cricket. But who in Pakistan could've played the innings that Yousuf played tonight, the very innings that Pakistan needed?
Trouble was coming at him from everywhere. Wickets had gone down, the run-rate was plummeting and his partner was comatose; incidentally his partner was also the man he blamed for his ouster from the side and move to the ICL. This was against India, in a Champions Trophy. And all he did was keep his head, his old head, and play as he does and as he always has.
The singles came first because just before his arrival, Pakistan had made only five runs in five overs and all but squandered an unusually hectic start. They were never to stop; 51 in all, many to his favourite areas in third man, square leg and deep point. He is one of the few batsmen in the side adept at doing so and as soon as he got in, he got a groove going, giving the innings some rhythm.
He was barely noticeable mostly, occasionally reminding everyone of his presence with a boundary such as a lift over midwicket off Virat Kohli before going diligently back to the singles. The next came much later, a dink just past the wicketkeeper and it was only after the 30th over that he decided the pace could be upped.
Malik by then was also opening up. At one stage he was 36 off 72 balls, not finding gaps or the middle of his bat or runs, and had he gotten out then, it would've been a monumental waste. But as Yousuf pushed on, he took Malik along and they went side-by-side, matching each other run for run through their 20s, 30s, 40s right till their 50s, achieved within an over of each other. Having taken him along this far, having wound him up, Yousuf simply let Malik go, to bludgeon and scythe India.
Yousuf ensured his pace never relented, ticking along, occasionally remembering to check in with a boundary. Seven came in all, beautiful ones each: he lofted RP Singh over extra cover, then square drove him, before lifting Harbhajan Singh over cover. But his real currency was strike-rotation and he ran singles quicker than he has done for some time.
Andrew Strauss, who has had to deal with poor running in his side in recent weeks, says batsmen run better and with more confidence once they are set, even those who are poor runners. Yousuf will agree, whose high number of run-outs hide the fact that he is an astute judge of a run once he has settled at the crease.
Ninety-one runs came between overs 31 and 41 in this manner, a Twenty20 rate an in old-fashioned way, and it was the winning of the game. When he finally went, slogging, he left behind a retro one-day classic, with no power mis-hits, no cheeky scoops or switch hits or convoluted paddles. There were no sixes, yet he went at a run-a-ball.
Youth will have its day, it always does. But the day once belonged to those now old and sometimes, often when it is most needed, they will own it, just to show us that they still can.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo