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November 20, 2005
Somewhere between Multan and Faisalabad, a paisa seems to have dropped. Mohammad Yousuf's first 57 minutes at the crease today - from three minutes past eleven till lunch - fetched him less runs than his 19-minute stay in the second innings at Multan. Pressure here had two sources; not only were Pakistan teetering as they were in Multan, Yousuf's own performance was under enhanced scrutiny. Yet as a template to start an innings under such circumstances, it was as exemplary as it has been rare, and one that should be referred to through his career.
Yousuf was faced with two short cover fielders, a wide slip and a gully as Matthew Hoggard bowled the first ball of the 25th over, soon after he had walked in. On off-stump and of fullish length, Hoggard delivered temptation, one that Yousuf is no stranger to. With the context firmly realised, he defended it comfortably, dropping it in front of him and then holding the pose, turning round to make sure where his off-stump was, and relaxed.
Next over, Andrew Flintoff played Eve, daring Yousuf to cut or pull; he did neither, instead finishing a maiden by blocking out a yorker not dissimilar to the one that dismissed him in Multan's first innings. By lunch, he had made nine. Despite shimmying down to hit Ashley Giles over his head for six first over after lunch, he refused to be drawn out. Steve Harmison hurled one full, outside off, and still he defended; the cover drive that has brought him as much scorn as it has runs was delayed until over an hour after his arrival, in the 37th over of the day. Not only was it the first boundary off Harmison, it was Yousuf's first four. Thereafter, settled, he accumulated mostly without risk, occasionally opening up gracefully as when he approached fifty. Mostly, he was content to steer Pakistan, and himself, out of considerable strife.
In light of Multan, it was a special innings, commendable precisely for being so out of character and so attuned to a broader need. When finally out, he'd batted over three hours for his 78. His 128-run partnership with Inzamam may not have been unexpected - it was their ninth century partnership together - and neither was Inzamam's measured approach through much of the stand. What was surprising, and pleasantly so, was the nature of his role in it.
The uniform serenity of his innings contrasted with Pakistan's oscillating approach. For a period, mid-afternoon, as Pakistan rebuilt, their rate of scoring was an ode to the tense, slow scoring contests of earlier decades and particularly in the subcontinent. Yet they began and ended brightly, haring to 52-0 off only 13 overs, before three wickets bogged them down. When Inzamam and Yousuf were in tandem, Pakistan's rate barely encroached three an over; Inzamam switched his rhythm masterfully, as and when required, mirroring the dhols (drums) in the Shahid Nazir enclosure, as they etched out their own unsure beats.
These subtle shifts in rhythm, this random slowing down and quickening up of the game appears to have worked to Pakistan's advantage thus far, whether or not it is deliberate. On the first day at Multan, Pakistan patiently eked out 181 runs in 64 overs till tea and 244 runs for the day in nearly 90 overs. Literally, it has been a world away from the mid-summer madness of the Ashes and the high-octane approach which Australia and England in particular have adopted over the last few years.
In all probability, today should have been similar to Multan's first day, but with Shahid Afridi, probability is an ill-advised concept. His arrival, at 201 for 4 heralded a response so ballistic from the crowd that the precariousness of Pakistan's position then didn't register. Not to the crowd and definitely not to Afridi. Yet within 81 minutes, as he did at Bangalore, he changed not only the pace of the game, but the momentum for the day.
In these situations only can Afridi's proper madness and potential be fully appreciated; suddenly having not been sure of how they had paced their day, the last session saw Pakistan, propelled by Afridi's ballast, add 111 runs in 21 overs, lose a solitary wicket, attain a healthy score at the close and face an increasingly weary opponent. For all of Afridi's bludgeon and Inzamam's omnipresence, though, it was Yousuf's patience which will have resonated loudest.
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