Yusuf makes a statement
Soon after moving to Jaipur, Shane Warne wrote a paper which would serve as the vision for the Rajasthan Royals over the next 44 days. Warne's plan culminated in success as the Indian Premier League's least expensive franchise edged the Chennai Super Kings in the final.
In the paper titled 'What's My Role', Yusuf Pathan's task was: "1. Be aggressive, dominate the start of the innings. Play with freedom, take 'em [bowlers] on. 2. [Bowl] Stump-to-stump off-spin. 3. Field in the ring early on and in the deep later."
Yusuf played his part to perfection in the finale, flattening Chennai with a match-winning all-round show. First, his accurate line cramped the batsmen, and he dismissed the openers in his first two overs. His tight bowling frustrated the dangerous Albie Morkel, who became his third victim - mistiming a pull. Yusuf's strikes dried up the runs and ensured Chennai could manage only a modest total.
With low-scoring encounters the trend at the DY Patil Stadium, Chennai were still hopeful and their confidence soared as Rajasthan stumbled to 42 for 3 in the seventh over. In walked Yusuf at a stage when his team desperately needed someone to deliver.
One of Yusuf's strong points is his willingness to attack in any situation. In the World Twenty20 final, his first game with the national team, he hit Mohammad Asif out of the ground. He was sent up the order and he understood his brief clearly. Today was the same.
Rajasthan appeared edgy as the asking-rate climbed above ten, but Yusuf was unperturbed. After pulling L Balaji for two boundaries, he survived a close call when Suresh Raina failed to latch on to a skier off Muttiah Muralitharan. That was the turning point and in Murali's next over, Yusuf twice sent the ball into the crowd over long-on. By the time he was done, he had scored 56 off just 39 and taken Rajasthan within touching distance of a memorable win.
Yusuf's power-hitting had been influential in several earlier matches as well: 61 off 28 balls in the third game against Deccan Chargers, 55 off 33 against Kolkata Knight Riders and 68 in 37 in the return match against Deccan. Despite these scores, he admitted he was nervous before he went in. "I spoke to [Jeremy] Snape, the team's mental conditioning coach, and after that I felt good," he said. He was scratchy to begin with, but Shane Watson took the pressure off at the other end as Yusuf found his groove.
Yusuf has pummelled attacks with his clean hitting in domestic games, and his three first-class hundreds in the season gone by have come at a strike-rate well over 100. Irfan Pathan had also acknowledged his elder brother's prodigious talent. "I always thought he was the more talented. It's just that I got lucky and got a break [ for India] sooner." Yusuf's hurricane knocks in the IPL finally convinced the national selectors to pick him for India's ODI squad for Bangladesh tri-series and the Asia Cup.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India's limited-overs captain, was well aware of the threat Yusuf posed. "He is one of those players you have to get out," Dhoni said. "You can't let him stay for long because he will score runs and that, too, at a fast rate."
Warne called Yusuf's performance "fantastic". When Warne had presented his vision paper to every individual he had given a tag of responsibility to each player. Yusuf's read "The Statement Maker". The laconic man from Baroda lived up to his billing and made the most telling statement when it mattered.