Sri Lanka v Pakistan, 1st Test, Galle, 2nd day July 5, 2009

Just like old times

By his own admission, Mohammad Yousuf was not at his fittest best and had little batting practice before coming to Galle and scoring a serene century

It was as if nothing had changed. When the third wicket fell, the No. 5 didn't run out immediately in Twenty20 style. He took his time, stepped over the rope casually, past the sweaty track pants and shirts left to dry just outside the boundary, played a couple of air-drives, jogged for a few steps (feet going high behind him but never looking hurried), then walked up to the pitch. If he was anxious, which he was, he didn't show it.

The last time this entry was seen in Tests was in December 2007, against India. For the last year and a half, Mohammad Yousuf's name has resonated in media releases and legal notices from ICL and IPL, but not in official cricket. "Beech mein lagta tha ab main bas finish [It used to feel like my career was over]," Yousuf said.

He doesn't want to talk about that period now. He said he sees it as destiny, and has moved on. And when he moved on, back to a Test field, his side was at 55 for 3, in the danger of squandering a stupendous bowling effort on the first day. Soon it became 80 for 4, but with Yousuf comes serenity.

The first few overs were edgy. Thilan Thushara moved the ball in and registered strong appeals against him. Still somehow it didn't seem we were witnessing a batsman who used to think his career was over, and who was now looking to rescue his team, against a team he had never scored a century against. "I have come back after such a long time - a year and seven months. There was pressure, it was difficult, and the team needed a big innings too."

Nor had the wicket become very easy to bat on. Yousuf overcame that period, and went on to show why it is said it's best to get him out early.

Yousuf said he tried to read Ajantha Mendis from the hand. "He is the first bowler in history to bowl like he does. He has so many variations, but I always focus on his hand." That he was reading Mendis well showed in how he could play the cut and late-cut - two of the most dangerous shots to play against Mendis.

He didn't look under pressure through the innings. It was all normal Test cricket, no aerial shot or ill-advised sweep, or premeditated anything. Though, perhaps, this century was premeditated. At 57 he nicked one to his pad and through to Tillakaratne Dilshan, but the umpire didn't see it.

There is no apparent explanation for how he managed to find the touch of old immediately on a pitch where batsmen have generally struggled. During the lay-off he didn't do anything special. "I used to train a bit in the gym," he said. "A bit of running etc, but I didn't have access to the kind of international-level training that happens with the team trainer. So the fitness level was not where it should be."

Humid Galle is not a place to play Test cricket if you know you're not at your fittest. What about batting? "I had played a few matches for my club, that's it." Oh well.

But what about rejoining a team that he had left? How did they react when he came back? "It was not like I was ever out. All of them are my juniors, they respect me. Aisa koi masla nahi tha. [There were no such concerns.]"

Slowly but surely it all came back, as if nothing had changed. Another century, his 24th, his first in and against Sri Lanka, with the same ease. Even the end was not dissimilar: a run-out. The most overwhelming feeling for Yousuf is that of relief. "It's just because I am playing after so long, and the team needed it so bad. This was just the start I needed."

There were two beautiful moments in the day. One when Yousuf reached his century, threw the helmet away, and did his sajda on a hardly lush square. Shoaib Malik, a former captain, went up to him, picked up the helmet for him, and also wiped his forehead for him. And second, when Pakistan came back to bowl just one over to finish the day. Yousuf was stationed at third man, the farthest position from the pavilion. Younis Khan, the captain, waited at the boundary line for a tired Yousuf to amble along and lead the team off the field. It was clear they had accepted, nay, needed him.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andy on July 6, 2009, 14:15 GMT

    We are so lucky to have the great man back again - I feared that the ICL would kill the career of my absolute favourite cricketer on the planet. And how great that despite all the outrageous talent in Pakistan, Mohammad Yousuf comes straight back into the team at #4. Its almost typical of this man's talent that he is not very fit at the moment, lacks real match practise and yet still outscores everyone else in the match - including Kumar S & Mahela J!! I haven't seen a single stroke of his innings, and yet I can imagine its filled with beautiful clips of his pads and cover drives that would make even Kamran Akmal jealous!! Thank you, thank you, thank you for coming back Yousuf

  • Manjuka on July 6, 2009, 7:14 GMT

    Very happy to see him back. Growing up my favorite batsman to watch was Zaheer Abbas. Saeen Anwar and Mohamed Yousuf also rate in my favourites to watch. Hope he goes on to break the record for the number of centuries.

  • Zika on July 6, 2009, 6:18 GMT

    Muhammad Yousaf the classy batsman is clearly the best Pakistan have at the moment and one of the best in the history of Pakistan. Pakistan has produced panelty of great test batsmen like Hanif Muhammad, Majid Khan, Zaheer Abbas, Miandad, Inzamam and Muhammad Yousaf. I rate Yousaf on the top; one of the reason is that I didn't see Hanif, Abbas and Majid in the field but know them through the stats only. Strongly agree with HLANGL, Yousaf and Anwar are gifted talents but both of them added to their talent with a lot of hard work. Me too pray for Yousaf to keep his best performance for a few more years in the future.

  • Arosha on July 6, 2009, 5:28 GMT

    Mohhamad Yousuf (or Yousuf Youhana, doesn't matter which name you call) has been one of the 2 most gifted batsmen I have seen from Pakistan. The other one is Saeed Anwar who could spell bind spectators with his nonchalant yet magical timing. In both of them, you would find a batsmen with the elegance personified. Both had their stonger aspects, Anwar was more suited for classiest counter attacking stroke play, while Yousuf was far more conventional & more suited for the longer version of the game. With Anwar retired sometime back, I would hope Yousuf would keep on weilding his magical bat for at least a couple of years ...

  • Ayyaz on July 6, 2009, 5:12 GMT

    Mohammad Yousuf is a class act. no1 can doubt that. its great to see him back especially after such a long time. hope he performs well at all level...

  • Ismail on July 6, 2009, 4:10 GMT

    Ahad, I am not too sure that I can agree with you on this matter. Yousuf has been the main run getter for Pakistan (specially in tests) for the last two years and if he gets to score centuries well it is his talent. There have been players in the past who have kept personal records and performance above the team but I am not sure it is the case with MY. We hope and pray that he keeps his performance going for a long time because like all great batsmen he will hit a lean patch. Wonder what you will have to say then. Ismail Husayne. Canada

  • Ali on July 6, 2009, 3:07 GMT

    He's a class batsman. Pakistan can count on Yousuf, and most often than not, he'll not disappoint. Now if Younis and Misbah can take responsibility and help Yousuf. Hats off to Yousuf.

  • A on July 6, 2009, 3:05 GMT

    There never have been doubts about his ability and class, there have been doubts only about his will to play for Pakistan and to actually score for the team. There have been games Pakistan have lost, especially ODIs, where Yousuf played for his own score and ignored the team targets, leaving too much to do at the end for the rest of the guys in too little time. So if he is back and the commitment from his early days to help Pakistan win games as well as score runs is there then there can be no better middle order pillar for Pakistan but if that strain of selfishness isn't lost even as yet then God help Pakistan cricket because Yousuf is still back and Pakistan fans will have to sit and pray he gets out early before he can damage our cause...its not what we want but we've seen it before. Welcome back, Yousuf. We hope you're on our side entirely this time around.

  • kaiser on July 5, 2009, 20:11 GMT

    Welcome back Muhammad Yousuf big time. As ever he steadied the ship for Pakistan yet another time when they needed the most as usual. If he was not around the team would have folded much earlier as they did even in one dayers in Dubai against Australia. Had he been there it was sure victory for Pakistan. He is one 100 away from equaling national record of 25 by the giant Inzamamul-haq and hopefully many more to come in coming days and he surely is going to be record breaker soon and go on to topple long standing Great Javed Miandad's national record of being highest test runs scorer Inshallah. I love you Yousuf for your simplicity and greatness, you are my favourite amongst the present lot. Allah Bless You. Kaiser Mukhtar from Hong Kong.

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