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Spotlight: Mohammad Yousuf

A gem amongst jewels
Pakistan cricket has produced many great batsmen who have scored centuries when the chips were managed to see off lethal bowling spells in testing conditions and even managed to save matches for their country when it mattered the most.

‘Little Master’ Hanif Mohammad became the first true master batsman when he scored the first triple century in Test cricket for Pakistan against the West Indies in 1957-58. Zaheer Abbas, who scored runs at will, became the first Pakistani to score 100 first class centuries while Javed Miandad, who was the first Pakistani to score 20 or more centuries in Tests, remains the only player whose career batting average always remained above 50.

They all represented Pakistan with zeal and won many a match but even they couldn’t compare the talent of record-breaking sensation Mohammad Yousuf. Yousuf, who began his international career in 1998 as Yousuf Youhana, added one of the most prestigious record — most runs in a calendar year — to his cap when he scored 1,788 runs from January to December at an average of 99.33 and broke West Indian Sir Vivian Richards’s record of 1710 runs in a calendar year at 90, set 30 years ago in 1976. He also broke the world record of most centuries scored in a calendar year as he scored as many as nine in his 11 matches in 2006. Previously, Sri Lankan great Aravinda de Silva and West Indian legend Viv Richards jointly held the record of most centuries in a calendar year with seven centuries each.

Born on August 27, 1974 at Lahore to Christian parents as Yousuf Youhana, Yousuf was a stroke player from his early playing days and loved to collect runs more from running between the wickets than boundaries. His ability to remain calm and composed during crucial matches in Pakistan’s domestic cricket earned him his Test cap in 1998 when he was chosen to play against South Africa in Durban.

By donning the green Pakistani cap, he joined the elite list of non-Muslim cricketers Wallis Mathias, Duncan Sharpe, Antou D’ Souza and Anil Dalpat to play Test cricket for Pakistan but no one, not even Yousuf himself, would have thought what the future had in store for him. From 1998 to 2004, Yousuf continued to represent his country at the highest level piling up runs at will against all oppositions, be it the mighty Australians or minnows Bangladesh.

Since his debut, he has scored over 7,608 ODI runs in 228 matches at an average of 41.34 which is the third highest batting average among Pakistani batsmen after Zaheer Abbas (47.62) and Javed Miandad (41.70) and higher than the likes of Saeed Anwar (39.21) and Inzamam ul Haq (39.96). His 11 centuries in 228 matches are the second most by a Pakistani, after Saeed Anwar’s 20 in 247 matches. In Tests, his average is better than any other Pakistani, as his 6,402 Test runs came at an average of 56.65 whereas he shares the second place with Pakistan’s master batsman Javed Miandad. While Javed’s 23 centuries came in 123 matches, Yousuf managed his in just 73 matches, an amazing contrast!

He excels at both versions of the game and holds various record like the world record of scoring the most runs without being dismissed in ODIs as he scored 405 against Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe before the 2003 World Cup. His 27-ball fifty in Tests against South Africa during the same tour is the 3rd fastest by any player whereas he has also been an excellent fielder in both forms of cricket, taking 59 catches in 73 Test matches and 50 catches during his 228 ODIs.

At 32, Yousuf is the mainstay of Pakistan cricket, toppling the aging Inzamam ul Haq who has been the medulla spinalis for Pakistan in the last 10 years. Although his highest score in both forms of cricket — 141 not out in ODIs and 223 in Tests – may not seem outstanding, his 23 centuries and 26 half centuries in Tests and 11 centuries and 51 half centuries in ODIs is nothing short of remarkable.

On a personal front, Yousuf shocked the Christian community along with entire cricketing world when he converted to Islam in 2005. As part of his conversion, he officially changed his name from Yousuf Youhana to Mohammad Yousuf, something that was neither heard in cricket nor in any other sport.

As Mohammad Yousuf, he began from where Yousuf Youhana had left and ended the year 2006 on a high, setting the world record for the most Test runs by a batsman in a single calendar year. He also scored the most centuries in consecutive matches, bettering Sir Don Bradman’s record of six centuries in as many matches by scoring the same number of centuries in five matches — one less than the great ‘Don‘ of cricket!

The last two of his five consecutive centuries came in the Karachi Test played last month against the visiting West Indies where he became the fifth Pakistani after Hanif Mohammad, Javed Miandad, Wajahatullah Wasti, Yasir Hameed and Inzamam ul Haq to score 100 or more in both innings of the same match.

Yousuf has also shown signs of vulnerability but unlike others, he is suspect to bigger problems. While there are many players who get under pressure when in their 90s, Yousuf is the only one to be dismissed in the 190s, on as many as three occasions.

He missed double centuries on three occasions in the last two years, which proves his brilliance to score runs even after crossing the 100-mark. He has, so far, scored four double centuries in Tests, which is the second highest by any Pakistani, as Javed Miandad managed six!

If Yousuf continues to play the way he has managed to in the last 12 months, who knows Pakistan might even win the World Cup to be held in the Caribbean in April next year. It only takes ‘one man to make a difference’ and during the year 2006, Yousuf has clearly made that difference.

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