Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fear is Pathan's primary weapon


Everyone has a favourite Yusuf Pathan story. A smattering of scribes and ex-players discovered theirs in Indore in January '08, during a Ranji Trophy game between Baroda and Delhi. It so happened that a few old-timers recalled how the swashbuckling southpaw Amay Khurasia, an ex-India international who was then commentating, once managed a six which thudded into a water tank yards outside the Maharani Usharaje stadium.
Pathan
Khurasia merely nodded, for tales of his big-hitting still abounded in nooks and crannies across the country. It seemed impossible that someone could actually attempt such a hit again, much less manage to clear the ground.

On the third day, with Baroda under a bit of pressure and Rakesh Solanki attempting to steady things, Yusuf Pathan walked in at No. 7 and immediately started smashing the ball around with disdain. It was a counterattacking innings of such savagery that even the slumbering groundsmen ran for cover. The conditions were clearly treacherous for bowlers, and talk again veered towards a possibility of Khurasia's 'mark' being bettered. The tank fell right within Pathan's on-side hitting arc, and soon enough, he planted the front foot down the ground and took a huge swish at immense bat speed. The ball disappeared over midwicket and out of the ground, missing the tank by a whisker! Later, on being told how close he had come, Pathan said in all seriousness: "You should have told me earlier."

It's to Pathan's credit that he has transplanted this rare ability to hit big - and keep hitting big - on to the international stage. There have been others before him, game-changers whose cameos lower down the order sent shivers down opposition spines. But none had this degree of scary primal aggression, this ferocious and sustained ability to pounce on anything within range until fear paralyses the bowler.

Fear is Pathan's primary weapon as a batsman, but for long the nature of fear he inspired was specific to conditions. In South Africa, he extended this hunting ground to unfamiliar territory by identifying and maximising the controllables. Now, he can wait till he launches. He has learnt to stalk his prey. Over the past 10-odd ODIs, this soul-searching has made him a dangerously consistent batsman, able to single-handedly invert the logical outcomes of games, though he is aware failure always lurks a hair's breadth away.

His biggest gain has been elbowing his way into being an automatic choice for the starting XI ahead of the World Cup. He'll be back on familiar ground. Add to that the ability to chip in with the ball and engineer crucial middle-over breakthroughs too. The team has backed him, like Shane Warne did in the IPL, by giving him a license to kill. Without this freedom, Pathan will be half the batsman he is. It's worth it, for when there is no hope, there is still Yusuf Pathan.

THE NUMBER THAT DEFINES PATHAN

115.09: Yusuf's ODI strike rate: The second highest of all-time in the 50-over format.

Matches: 45
Runs: 694
Tons: 2
6s: 36

It is to be seen how MS Dhoni utilizes Pathan in the batting order. If he's used well, then I think Pathan is one cricketer who can change the course of a match singlehandedly. I have been watching his batting recently and the way he can clear the field is fabulous: Former India captain Kapil Dev.

SMASH HITS

OVER THE TOP: At good length or full, but if the ball is pitched even slightly outside the offstump and Yusuf has his eyes set, chances are you'll find it flying over long-on — enough to clear any field.

BIG SLASH: If its bowled short and on the body, he might take a blow or two. But if given any kind of width, Yusuf enjoys slashing it mercilessly anywhere between gully and the covers area.

WAITING FOR THE KILL: The thing about Yusuf is he's ready to wait. You bowl short, into the block hole, bring it into the righthander—he'll resist, punch back, take a hit... anything. But bowl where he wants & he will punish really hard.

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