If it's in his area, Yusuf will hurt you
Sometimes when you have a weakness, you go out and maximise your strength, and hurt the opposition with it. Matthew Hayden did that. He wasn't a technically great batsman, but he charged at the opposition, intimidated them, making them fear he could hurt them in a short period of time. Yusuf Pathan is too gentle a person to have that sort of intimidating aura. He won't snarl and he won't sledge. He will struggle against the short ball, he will take blows on his body, but if you pitch it in his hitting area, he will make a clean connection and he will hurt you.
South Africa discovered that tonight. When Yusuf came in to bat, they had the game sorted at 93 for 5 on a pitch that was two paced and had variable bounce. They wasted no time in taking off the part-timer, who had taken the wicket, and brought back Dale Steyn to dish out some bouncers. Steyn didn't bowl a great over, and Yusuf pounced on a short and wide delivery, cutting it for four. A couple of mis-fields later, he was all over Johan Botha, hitting three sixes in the same direction, over long-on, each bigger than the previous one.
It is a fascinating contest. The bowling side is looking for weak moments from a technically limited, but dangerous, batsman, and the batsman is looking to create doubt in the bowling side's mind with big hits off everything pitched in his hitting area. When the target is not huge, three sixes tend to work.
"If you let the bowler know you can play the shots, and you will play the shots, he will stay under pressure," Yusuf said after his match-winning innings. "I went in thinking that I will play my shots, that I won't be in any hurry to play those shots, that I will wait for the balls in my area. That is my strong point, and I have been successful doing that."
This was not an easy pitch to do that on. Graeme Smith's assessment of the surface, and therein Yusuf's innings, said a lot about the effort. "Yusuf was probably the difference between the two teams tonight," he said. "Every batter struggled to score freely tonight, and he went better than a run a ball. He timed the ball sweetly, which every other batter struggled to do, so he was the real difference. When he came in they were under real pressure and he counterattacked really well. Having known Yusuf, he has that potential, so well done to him tonight."
It wasn't just those three sixes, though. For, there was backlash after that. Back came the fast bowlers, back came the bouncers, and the ball did get up at Newlands. Yusuf took two blows on the shoulder too. The moment they pitched up, though, he went big. Immediately after the three sixes, he went through a spell during which one run came off 11 balls, but a pitched-up delivery from Lonwabo Tsotsobe was enough to end it. Over mid-off. Four.
"There was bounce in the pitch," Yusuf said. "But I knew if I played a few shots, things would get easier. If you hit the bowlers, the opposition gets onto the back foot. A lot of things run through the captain's mind, and you benefit from that."
His best shot wasn't one of the three sixes. That was when he cut Wayne Parnell from in front of the stumps, creating room through an open face, almost chopping on the ball and finding the gap by performing the act slightly later than his usual cuts.
Yusuf's two most recent innings in international cricket have achieved similar results - improbable wins - but in completely different conditions against completely different attacks. Bangalore and Cape Town are worlds apart, so that should point to good form. A batsman like him, who is limited in terms of technique and runs mostly on confidence and intimidating the other side, will need that kind of form consistently to be successful at the international level.
However, these two innings have ensured Yusuf will have a presence in the World Cup, something many batsmen with better averages fail to attain. That presence can be an abstract concept, but it is felt easily when Yusuf is there. His words sum it up best: "A lot of things run through the captain's mind, and you benefit from that."
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo