An impact player without the impact
It was a Champions League Twenty20 qualifier game in Hyderabad in 2011. Kolkata Knight Riders were batting. Yusuf Pathan was sitting in the team dugout. The crowd was going ballistic chanting his name and Brett Lee was egging them on. Ryan ten Doeschate, another team-mate, spoke later about the "superstardom" players such as Pathan enjoyed in India.
Yusuf Khan Pathan is supposed to be one of those "impact" players. People fill stadiums to watch his powerful hitting. Fans will remember his ODI hundred in South Africa and his century for Rajasthan Royals for a long time to come. Followers of the game know it takes a man of special talent to produce such innings. They know that even such men can produce those innings only once in a few games. Yet, there is something magnetic about raw, explosive hitters that draws people to watch them bat.
Unfortunately for his fans, and for his IPL franchise, Pathan has not even come close to repeating those aforementioned innings during three seasons that have cost Knight Riders two million dollars each. He's walked in with huge expectations, frame massive, gait awkward and bat dangling. Soon, he's walked back with dashed expectations, frame massive, gait awkward and bat dangling. There have been next to no explosions from his bat, there has not even been a whiff of an explosion.
Forget a century, in three seasons and 39 innings, he is yet to score a fifty. In those 39 innings, he has made three match-winning, unbeaten forties. Three. On all those three occasions, he has had a readymade base built by a top order led by his consistent captain Gautam Gambhir.
Yusuf has not changed the course of any game for Knight Riders with his bat. He has hardly surprised any attack with the frenetic hitting he is capable of, like David Miller surprised Royal Challengers Bangalore a night ago. He has hardly stunned any opposition side with a late assault, like AB de Villiers does so regularly.
He has been tried at every position from opener to No 7. He has failed when he has had time to get himself in, which has been often. He has failed when he has not had time to get himself in, which has not been often. Of 28 completed innings, he has come in to bat inside 15 overs on 22 occasions and inside 12 overs on 16 occasions. Only three of these times has he gone past 30. Most decent domestic batsmen could have managed better stats if they were also afforded a guaranteed run over three seasons.
Yusuf, or rather, Yusuf's reputation, remains a huge draw, though, and he continues to be stoutly defended by Gambhir. "T20 is such a format that no one is in form and no one is out of form as well," Gambhir said ahead of Knight Riders' game against Mumbai Indians. "I know in India it happens that someone who doesn't score runs in T20, they say he is out of form and someone who scores, they say he is in form. For me T20 is such a format where small contributions make a huge difference and small contributions will end up winning you games."
If that is what Gambhir and Knight Riders were looking for, they must be really valuing small over big for them to throw away two million dollars behind it. Anyway, put whatever spin you want on it, small or big, Yusuf has had little contribution to make.
After an utterly disappointing IPL season in 2012, he made a vital, unbeaten 40 off 21 in the first qualifier play-off against Delhi Daredevils to help Knight Riders make the final. And this is what Gambhir had to say after the game. "I was asked why I persist with Yusuf Pathan. I have always said that he is a magical player and that he will come good when it would matter the most. I was proved right today."
This is another excuse thrown around to cover Yusuf's failures - he is a "big-game" player. Tonight was a big game , considering the position Knight Riders are in on the points table. He made 13 off 8 and fell attempting a slog at Pragyan Ojha. What about the really big games, the knockouts? That one innings in the 2012 qualifier is often given as evidence of Yusuf's big-game ability.
He managed 26 off 24 in the 2011 eliminator that Knight Riders lost to Mumbai Indians. Possible mitigating factor: Knight Riders were 15 for 3 when Yusuf walked in. Shouldn't have mattered to a big-game player. In the 2012 IPL final, the biggest game so far for Knight Riders, they needed 39 off 22 when Yusuf came in. Jacques Kallis hit a four and a six off consecutive deliveries to bring it down to 27 off 18. Yusuf slogged at the next ball and holed out to midwicket for 1.
Big game, indeed, but without the hyphen. Whichever way you look at it, no excuse can account for this showing from someone who is expected to be a match-changer. This has been nothing but monumental, consistent failure from Yusuf Pathan, something that Knight Riders and Gambhir have consistently refused to admit. Three seasons and six million dollars worth of mediocrity.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo