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November 15, 2005
Having ended the over with the stroke that epitomises his style - the elegant walking waft outside off - he clipped two more fours through midwicket in the over that followed. He edged one to where third man generally resides for the last of his four boundaries but, soon after, he cut a short and wide delivery from Flintoff straight to gully - so straight, in fact, that he didn't have to twitch to catch it. So good was the delivery, in fact, it prompted Flintoff to say later: "That was a really lucky one. When I let go of that one I can't tell you what I said. We'll take wickets out here any which way they come."
Breezy, languid, elegant; you've heard it all before, but ultimately, it was a worthless innings. At no point in the 19 minutes of his innings did the gravity of what had unfolded over the last 18 hours of this Test occur to him. Not that Pakistan were grimly fighting back from a position of utter despair to one of considerable strength; not that his captain had just been freshly extracted from a potentially matchwinning tandem; not that Salman Butt's defiance might have benefited from an old hand at the other hand; not that, as a senior batsmen (which apparently he is), it was to him to shield an inexperienced lower-middle order and haplessly long tail. Nothing clicked and precisely nothing has been his contribution to this game.
Quantifying how many matches he has won, or even just played a role in, when it has been needed, is loaded with risk but consider some facts. Like his game, his career figures make for stylish reading. An average of nearly 48, over 4000 runs, thirteen centuries (including eight outside Pakistan). But, also like his game, scratch a little deeper and there remains little substance.
Only one century out of 13 has been made in the second innings (the same number that has now been made by Butt in seven Tests), and that too, a nonsensical, inconsequential one against India at Multan, which `helped' Pakistan to reduce a degree of humiliation in their defeat. Four of his hundreds have helped Pakistan win a Test, a statistic that shouldn't readily lead to judgement until you remember that all of them were against the mightiest of mighty attacks in world cricket - namely those belonging to Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and West Indies. Against the traditionally stronger attacks of India, Australia, South Africa, England and Sri Lanka, he averages 32.61 in 37 Tests.
Forget figures, just rely on memory. When was the last time Yousuf made a decisive contribution to any Pakistan match? Even lower the bar: when was the last time he made even a significant contribution to a Pakistan match? His century at Melbourne last year or his 80-odd against India in the Champions Trophy; and then? You may have to go back to 2000 - against a still strong West Indies attack and England to find anything vaguely worth a mention. Five years of gorging on poor attacks is an awfully long time in international cricket and give that this was his 60th Test, it is logical to ask now how he has managed it.
What made his cameo - and that is an insult to cameos the world over - even more shameless was the determination with which Shoaib Akhtar batted a little later in the afternoon. Coolly, without real bother, he prodded, defended, once hoicked for just under an hour, not gathering many runs himself but allowing Kamran Akmal to pick up runs - vital runs - around him. Was it too much to expect, on a pitch still playing well, for Yousuf to play a similar role with Butt?
At least, his knock today might prove decisive to the result of a match, if England - renowned chasers that they now are - manage to hunt down the 174 further runs needed. His wicket was one of a heap of seven for just 75 runs after lunch and where England could have been chasing over 250, or possibly 300, they were left with under 200. Given the verve with which Pakistan applied themselves in the field for the last nine overs, the brief jitters they induced in England and a fifth-day pitch, the extra runs would likely have made a difference.
The dilemma of Pakistan's openers has attracted much scrutiny over the last year, most of it justified. One slot at least is seemingly secure for the midterm. Now maybe its time to cast a critical glance at one particular place in Pakistan's long-established middle three and, that too, with some justification.
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