Hard work and a hunger for runs
When I started my stint with Pakistan Mohammad Yousuf was Yousuf Youhana, a very fine player whom I admired, who timed the ball well and was an obvious choice for the Pakistan team - though judging from the feedback on my website not everyone agreed. He was, in fact, the first player I bumped into as he religiously (excuse me) came to the gym at the academy where I was and still am billeted.
Yousuf is a quiet man, a dedicated professional when it comes to batting and training. I always begin discussions with batsmen by asking questions to find out their likes and dislikes, what they consider important. When I threw those questions at him he was immediately receptive and willing to discuss his technique.
He is having a dream year: eight centuries (and counting) and breaking Viv Richards's record of most Test runs. Absolutely amazing, which leads to the obvious question: Why?
There were two areas that Yousuf and I have worked on technically - his balance and the ability to play the left arm in-swing bowler - and in both cases I think we have been successful. I say 'we' because the coach and player create a partnership. Interestingly, he has the high bat-lift that Sehwag, Lara and Ponting use. It is a technique that Ted Dexter shared with me when he was advising me before a series against West Indies many moons ago.
I didn't last long enough to test it, unfortunately, but I now understand why it works. The key is not to hold the bat firmly with the bottom hand; by having it raised, the bat speed increases in the impact area, which gives the impression of superior timing. It is a wonderful gift.
Like all great players he plays under his eyes - also known as playing late - and, if it could be measured, it would be interesting to see how well he watches the ball.
He still has weaknesses, as do all batsmen, but his main one is when he takes his pads off. I compare it to him stepping out of a Ferrari and then, as he goes in to field, driving a farm truck and changing his pace alarmingly. When he is batting so well perhaps you can forgive him. Perhaps.
|There were two areas that Yousuf and I have worked on technically - his balance and the ability to play the left arm in-swing bowler - and in both cases I think we have been successful|
However his fielding is more a mental problem; Yousuf is very quick over 20 metres and has run out many a player from mid-on. Like most run-machines I have met, the smile on the face fades a touch when the fielding sessions start - I believe he could be brilliant in the field if he just put his mind to it.
Yousuf is on record as crediting his conversion to Islam for being a major factor in his recent successes. His conversion initially caused him problems and he stalled as a player, losing some form as he wrestled with the enormity of the change. There was a period when the new Yousuf was so distraught that that he even saw his batting shoes as a factor in his mini-slump.
Gradually, though, Islam has helped him focus on his skills and has shaped the way he practices and the way he trains. There is no doubt that his religion has encouraged a new serenity at the crease, where he is calculating in his shot selection, deadly in its execution and determined in its application.
His religion has also influenced the way that he handles his life generally, which proves that when you are at peace with the world you can focus on work, family and sport with time to spare. It is, in fact, an interesting study of the effect of religion on an individual.
Oh by the way and as a footnote I suspect the search for the perfect batting shoe has ended.
Yousuf now works with our trainer Murray Stevenson every day in the gym, partly to strengthen his right (throwing) shoulder. He also practices avariciously on a marble slab for 40 minutes working on the bouncing ball and, when it is angled, dealing with the ball that nips back and nips away. He bats sensibly in the nets, which has been the hallmark of most great batsmen. His hunger for runs and desire to score big are similar to all the great players of any era and certainly Yousuf now moves into the great player category.
I look forward to seeing him continue as there are few better sights in cricket when "Mo Yo" is in full flow.