Yusuf Pathan can be a brutal hitter capable of changing matches in a matter of minutes, as he famously showed during his two ODI centuries and a 37-ball 100 for Rajasthan Royals in 2010. Memories of those innings were fading, though, after three lean seasons in the IPL, and an international career that stalled in 2012.
Those memories came flooding back when he ripped Sunrisers Hyderabad apart at Eden Gardens with the fastest half-century in the IPL. Shane Warne, Yusuf's captain in 2010, had famously and hyperbolically said that the 37-ball 100 was the "best innings I have ever seen". Yusuf's current captain, Gautam Gambhir, didn't go that far, but was awestruck by the 22-ball 72 that grabbed a top-two place for Kolkata Knight Riders.
"I have never seen this kind of innings in my career and I don't think I am going to see many like this in future as well," Gambhir said. "This is unbelievable hitting, I think I could have only dreamt of it, but actually I have seen this in reality, so it still hasn't sunk in."
When Yusuf was asked about the lack of runs this season, he joked, "No point hitting form early also." When he walked in, Knight Riders needed 106 off 47 to pip Chennai Super Kings to the second spot. Yusuf's lethal hitting meant they got there with six balls to spare.
Asked to compare this innings with that whirlwind century in 2010, he rated the 73 higher. "That was also a very good knock for me, but I couldn't win the match for the team, I got run-out. But here we won the match and especially the runs we needed to make to reach the top two, we had to score in 15 overs, I achieved that, I'm feeling good, and I think this is my best innings compared to that one."
Perhaps the highlight of the innings was the Dale Steyn over in which Yusuf clobbered 26 runs. When asked to explain his thinking when he was in the sort of form he was in today, he said: "I try hard to stay calm, but I also tell myself that if the ball is again in my area, then I will again hit it. I try not to let the bowler get on top of me, it's okay if I get out but what the team's requirement is, I play for that, whatever people say."
Both Yusuf and Robin Uthappa, Knight Riders' standout batsman this season, talked about the vociferous support they received from the Eden Gardens crowd. Yusuf's onslaught means they will have that vocal backing of their home crowd on Tuesday as well, when they take on Kings XI Punjab to fight for a place in the final.
Gambhir said the home game and the top-two spot was just reward for their performance in the league phase, which they finished with seven consecutive victories. "This was always the thought that we wanted to finish in first two, because the kind of cricket we have played in the last seven games, we deserve to be there in the top two," Gambhir said. "It would have been really unfair for us if we had gone to No. 3 or No. 4. We still get two cracks and hopefully we can get to the final."