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November 23, 2006
It is difficult, if not entirely impossible, to locate precisely the moment when a baton or torch is passed on, when the charge changes. In sport, particularly in a game as drawn out as cricket, it creeps up over a period of time. It is never signposted; it can only be sensed. Through this last year, the feeling has grown that between Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mohammad Yousuf, something has passed.
It is a tentative thesis, as only last year Inzamam produced the best, most influential of his fourteen international seasons. But at 36, a year is a longer time than usual and, as he nears his dusk, so Yousuf, at 32, finds himself in his high noon. Inzamam has now gone eight innings without a fifty but numbers don't have anything to do with it really; he's too good to not have some more left in him. And still when Pakistan have floundered this year, eyes and hopes have rested on Inzamam. But each time - and herein lies the rub - Yousuf has responded.
Today made for a fitting case in point and the venue was apt. It was here last year that an irresponsible 16 against England sparked a magnificent year. Possibly there was some introspection just before; Yousuf admits readily that his conversion to Islam helped bring focus and discipline to the art and it rings true. There isn't a change in his basic play; the strokes are still delicious, his footwork the same, even the early wafts outside off are there. Only coaches will confirm whether he is setting himself earlier, or playing the ball later - both useful batting traits. But most striking is the greater calm that surrounds him.
What has become his strength, and he speaks of it, is his refusal to let circumstances overwhelm him, a characteristic much admired in Inzamam. He is unflustered regardless of the situation. The last day wasn't meant to be easy, yet he made it look so. Examinations were provided through most of the day, especially by Corey Collymore in the morning. Daren Powell interrupted some vicious glares and stares with bouncers in the afternoon, yet Yousuf answered, first with a smile and then with a pull. And never far from hand, at any stage, was the chocolate-smooth cover-drive or fine cut.
The one count he's definitely ahead of Inzamam is the appetite for big runs. Not only is his conversion rate impressive (26 fifties to 21 centuries), his centuries are big. Of his seven hundreds this year (equalling Viv Richards's record of most in a calendar year, and he has a shot at the man's record for runs scored) five have been over 150 and three in the 190s. Nothing is so definite in life, particularly in sport. He may struggle in South Africa - he won't be alone - but that is a different story. If and when the struggle comes, eyes and hopes will fall to him first.
Through the series, he has shared a stage with Brian Lara and if the latter's 216 is yet another lasting memory he leaves us without the required result, then it isn't at least for want of effort, as Lara later admitted. Had Tests been decided on desire alone, victory was for the West Indians. Fortune plays a part, sadly for them, and if luck is said to rub off on people, then so too does misfortune.
If there is yin to every yang, then Collymore will come across a series where every delivery he bowls is a long hop and every other is a wicket-taking one, such has been his luck in Pakistan. If there is justice, it will happen in Karachi. But for an extended spell with the new ball, Collymore and Jerome Taylor were magnificent especially given the surface. Pace, swing and seam meshed to find edges, hit pads and draw uncertain strokes as Pakistan tottered. Two wickets could, should have been more but, crucially, weren't. Powell strode in manfully thereafter and if the West Indians will rue anything, it will be the catches they dropped, in particular the chance to Yousuf. Those were the dying embers of their fire and only when Chris Gayle came on exactly an hour before tea, did the desire fritter away.
But the series, to the benefit of all, is still alive, the West Indies buoyant, Lara magnificent. If the desire survives the road south to Karachi, a twist may yet be remain to be written.
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