Mohammad Yousuf has never had it quite so good. In the first Test of the series against West Indies, he stroked a glorious 192, his sixth century in nine matches in 2006. That innings catapulted him to No.2 in the ICC ratings, next only to Ricky Ponting, while his points tally of 901 is the highest ever achieved by any Pakistan batsman.
For much of his career, Yousuf has been seen as the second-best batsman in Pakistan, but this year he has made a strong claim to move up one notch. Inzamam-ul-Haq has only averaged 37.16 in the nine Tests he has played in this year, making Yousuf (average 93.92 in 2006) and Younis Khan (72.07) easily the two leading batsmen for their team.
Thanks to the deluge of runs he has scored recently, Yousuf has now moved up - at least average-wise - as not only Pakistan's most successful batsman, but also among the top 12 all-time batsmen (among those who have played at least 50 Tests). As the table below shows, the list he is a part of is a very illustrious one. It's also interesting to note the number of current batsmen who make it to the table - five of those 12 names belong to players who are currently active. Is that because the bowlers aren't as good, the conditions are easier for batting, or are the batsmen actually so accomplished?
In his first three years in international cricket, Yousuf averaged just 40.37 in 27 Tests, but since in the six years starting from 2001, his average has topped 50 in every year except in 2004, when he average 41.46. (Click here for Yousuf's career summary.) Since 2001, only Jacques Kallis and Ricky Ponting have a higher average than Yousuf's 63.53.
With 1315 runs in Tests this year, Yousuf needs 395 more to equal Viv Richards's record of 1710 in 1976, which still remains the most runs scored in a calendar year. Yousuf has two more Tests to get those runs, and the form he is in, you wouldn't want to bet against it.
When winning the toss is a curse
Conventional wisdom suggests that the sensible choice after winning the toss, especially in the subcontinent, is to bat first - the pitches are usually flat, run-scoring is easiest on the first couple of days, while the spinners come into their own later on. Well, here're some stats which turn that wisdom on its head: Pakistan's win in the first Test at Lahore was the 15th time in 38 matches that the team batting second won; in contrast, the team batting first has only won three times. The table below lists out venues where fielding first has traditionally been a more profitable choice - the huge surprise is three of the first four venues in the list are in the subcontinent, with the Gaddafi Stadium taking the honours by a long way.
Lahore is also one of those venues where losing the toss is often a blessing in disguise. Of the 18 games which have produced a decisive result here, 11 have gone in favour of the team which lost the toss. Again in the table below the subcontinent venues dominate, which intuitively makes sense, since most captains would generally believe that batting first is the way to go on these pitches.
Lara's runs in defeats
West Indies play an overseas Test, Brian Lara scores a hundred, West Indies lose. Some scripts are very predictable, and the Lahore Test further underlined how much ground West Indies need to cover to rank among the top Test teams, especially when playing overseas. In 49 overseas Tests in the last nine years, West Indies have a shocking record of 38 defeats and only five wins, of which four were against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.
Through most of these defeats - and some home setbacks too - Lara has continued to score quite prolifically. His 122 at Lahore was his 14th hundred in a West Indian defeat, easily the highest. (Sachin Tendulkar is in second place with eight.) Lara's runs in defeats is much higher than the rest of the competition too. West Indies' continued struggle in Test cricket suggests Lara will add more runs to that tally of 5267 before he is done.