Author : Sougat Chakravartty
Yusuf Pathan – All or nothing, and mostly the latter
He used to be the cause of frowning faces and creased foreheads whenever he was in his elements at the batting crease.
He would give opposition bowlers nightmares, and rival captains would suffer from pounding migraines when he was in full flow; the brow-beaten former NZ skipper Daniel Vettori will vouch for that fact.
Today, the only ones who get hurt by his lacklustre performances are his own captain and teammates.
Today, he toils away in domestic cricket, turns out for the ‘A’ teams in ever-fainter hopes of returning to the national side, and is a gun-for-hire (misfiring at the wrong time) in the marquee Indian Premier League.
Yusuf Khan Pathan – nicknamed the Baroda Bomber – is, in the bigger scheme of things, a maverick who is slowly becoming an enigma, a puzzle that proves to be unsolvable by many. From the highs of being a member of two World Cup winning sides to the dismal lows of being dropped from the senior team, the tall, bearded power hitter has seen it all.
He came into his own during the 2006-07 Deodhar Trophy, where he hit his maiden first class century against South Zone in the ODI format; though he had already shown glimpses of his enormous potential in Baroda’s U-17 side in the Vijay Merchant Trophy during the 1999-2000 season as a hard-hitting batsman and handy off-break bowler.
Nearly four years later, his younger half-brother, Irfan donned the national colours, while he kept plying his trade on the domestic circuit with varying degrees of success.
His exploits with the bat did not go unnoticed for long; the selectors included him in the squad for the 2007 World T20 championships in South Africa. Here, he opened the innings in the final, with Irfan by his side as India won the trophy in an exciting finish.
For the family, the image of Yusuf giving a smiling Irfan a piggy-back ride was worth more than the triumph itself; the man himself must have felt the same.
Then came the IPL in 2008, and Yusuf made merry with his explosive performances. It translated into a spot on the national squad for the ODI format, but though he played in all the games of the Kitply Cup and the Asia Cup, he was – to put it simply – a disappointment. The bat remained silent while the off-breaks were ineffective. He was dumped.
Once again, he returned to domestic cricket and continued to excel. The five wise men gave him another shot at ODIs – he responded with his maiden half-century against England. But following a poor showing in both the 2009 IPL (barring the occasional moments of brilliance) and the subsequent World T20 in England, he was once again sent back to the hinterlands.
A century and double century in the Duleep Trophy final in 2010 saw him back in national colours. He celebrated his recall with a magnificent triple-figure knock against New Zealand, clubbing the bowlers with absolute ferocity and helping his side chase down a mammoth target.
What these performances show is that Yusuf is a man of immense talent; in fact, the keenest follower of the game would tell you that whoever plays such knocks, is truly special.
It also happens that players of such calibre are able to produce these scintillating displays only once in a few games. And it is also true that spectators are drawn to the magnetism and charisma that raw, explosive hitters like Yusuf exude in abundance.
Three seasons with the Kolkata Knight Riders have seen the Baroda player far below his best though. His recent innings against West Indies ‘A’ in the first unofficial ODI was followed by yet another flop in the second.
Like teammate Robin Uthappa, consistency has been Yusuf’s bane ever since his entry into, and relegation from international cricket. He tends to play too many shots early on without moving his feet and has noticeably struggled against spin in recent times.
KKR skipper Gautam Gambhir has publicly stated that the elder Pathan is a ‘big-game, big-impact’ player with the ability to change the course of any match single-handedly.
It is a true statement, considering the fact that it is his side that bears the brunt of the ‘impact’ generated by the 31-year-old’s quick exit at crucial junctures, resulting in an eventual collapse.
Had this been a one-off occurrence, most would have forgotten it quickly. But Yusuf continues to flatter to deceive, and his inconsistency simply does not merit the hefty price tag accorded to him; this is certainly not the kind of ‘impact’ Gambhir was talking about, surely?
Is Yusuf Pathan truly a ‘big match player’?
Yusuf is the kind of batsman who rarely changes his approach. Bowlers know of his penchant for plonking his front foot forward and sending the ball into orbit either straight down the ground or over the leg side.
They thus bowl fast, short-pitched stuff at him, forcing him on to the back-foot. In the case of spinners, they bowl wicket-to-wicket, thus cutting off his bread-and-butter strokes and making him rely on ones and twos.
This puts him in a tight spot, from which he tries to muscle his way out, and that leads to his downfall. Now what kind of big-game player would do this? Even Dhoni plays himself in before bringing out the heavy artillery, and he has thrown out the book on technique.
Pathan’s recent travails have left fans, teammates and officials exasperated; he now thrives on reputation alone. He is no Salim Durani, who would hit a six into the stands on crowd’s demand, yet he tries to play to the gallery a lot.
The tendency to send the ball zooming into the skies often clouds his judgment, and it is his stubborn refusal to adjust his game depending on the situation that is hampering his chances of a national comeback.
The future looks bleak for the Baroda Bomber; only consistent performances can give him a lifeline.
The ongoing series against West Indies and the Challenger Trophy might just be his last hope. For his own sake, it is imperative that he regains his form of old, and lights up the stands with his fireworks again for a long time to come. Redemption beckons.