Thursday, February 10, 2011

The rise of the Maverick

There is a distinct buzz doing the rounds in the streets and corners of Vadodra these days. A buzz of excitement, that something big is about to happen, something which will propel this tiny city right into the limelight of the globe. And the sole credit for that goes to a local man who seems to be quite unabashed with this entire aura surrounding him. Yusuf Pathan has arrived. It took him some time to get there, but now that he has officially announced his advent in the international circles, the world is sitting up and noticing, and perhaps fearing, this lanky maverick from a remote corner of India. His ferocious century in the last match of the recently concluded ODI series against South Africa is the primary reason for this sudden elevation in Yusuf’s popularity. With India reeling at a dismal 119/8, Yusuf decided to shift gears and the attack that ensued left huge scars on the formidable South African attack, despite India losing the match. Like a famous line from a Shahrukh Khan Film says, that sometimes despite losing you end up as a winner; it couldn’t hold any truer in the case of Pathan; as now despite India’s loss in that game, Pathan has become a force to reckon with, and with the World Cup looming large it’s no wonder that you can sense the fear in the rival camps.

It has not been smooth sailing for Yusuf over the years; who had to cope with living under the shadow of his blue-eyed sibling Irfan for a long time. While the younger Pathan kept grabbing the eyeballs with his boyish charm and skillful bowling, Yusuf would grind it out at the Baroda Sports Club under the watchful eyes of Bashir Sheikh. To his credit Irfan (who ironically isn’t in contention anymore) always maintained that once his elder brother would get his chance, he would steal the thunder from everyone, and that is what precisely has happened. But it took more than sheer luck to attain this level. After continual noteworthy performances at the U-19 and the Ranji sides of Baroda, Yusuf made a mark for himself. His belligerent hitting power made him an instant hit in the shorter stint of the game and thus after a prolonged wait he finally got the chance to don the India colours on the morning of the 24th of September, the finals of the T20 World Cup 2007 against Pakistan. Though he didn’t make a huge score (15), his one straight six off Mohammad Asif in the very first over was etched in the memories of all Indians. But more than that if ever there would be a ‘turning point’ in Yusuf’s career, the standout one has to be the IPL 2008, where under the realms of the pragmatic Shane Warne, he turned out be a game-changer .He went on to form the crux of the Rajasthan Royal’s team, winning matches with his stupendous hitting ability lower down the order, eventually ending up with an impressive tally of 435 runs with four fifties at an astounding strike-rate of 179 .Thereafter it was an uneven ride for him, as even after getting in the ODI squad he couldn’t cement his place with any substantial scores and was subsequently dropped. Critics had already written him off as being just a ‘slogger’ on low-bouncy pitches. Yusuf answered them in the best way possible, letting his bat do the talking.

Last year’s double century in the Duleep Trophy final against South Zone was a stepping-stone in his popularity charts. Set an improbable target of 536 runs on the final innings, Yusuf blasted 210 runs, his maiden double class hundred, which enabled his side an unthinkable victory and thus propelled him into the big league. But this was just a sign of things to come.
Back in the ODI squad, he was desperate to prove his mettle. And he got this chance akin perhaps to the dramatic way a film script unfolds. His match-winning whirlwind innings of 123(not out) off 96 balls in the last ODI against New Zealand stamped his authority as a proven match-winner, a game changer who can turn a match on its head with his remarkable hitting abilities. India were in dire straits at a moment chasing a huge target of 315, but Yusuf soon unleashed himself on the bowlers, who at the end of it were stunned and left scratching their heads on what had hit them. The South African series was perhaps the last hurdle for him to cross to prove his worth to one and all. His match-winning 59 (including three sixes in one over off Johan Botha) in the third ODI there on a difficult pitch proved yet again that this Pathan is not someone to be dealt lightly with. And in the last ODI as mentioned earlier here, Yusuf had clearly announced his arrival. From a situation of no hope to bringing his team close to victory, by smashing the sixth fastest hundred by an Indian, against bowlers who had tormented every Indian batsman on the tour, he has made everyone sit up and take notice. That this was not just a ‘slogger’ at play here; this was someone whom you can call the modern day James Bond, maybe not with the looks, but certainly with the “license to kill”.

For Pathan, this has been a long journey, growing up with a poor family in a mosque where his father used to work as the muezzin and where neighbours would often chide him for breaking their glass panes courtesy his thunderous hits. It won’t be a wonder now if those very neigbhbors keep the shattered pieces of their glass as memorabilia. His father, far away from his days as a sweeper, now lives comfortably in a plush bungalow, his chest puffing up every time with his son’s exploits. Truly, Pathan has come a long way. That the Kolkata Knight Riders bought him up for the IPL season four for a whopping 2.1 billion dollars only adds to this budding cricketer's rising charts. Younger brother Irfan too, with whom he shares a great camaraderie, can’t stop gushing in his brother's praise, saying this was along time coming.

And now the World Cup is round the corner. The hope of every Indian is reaching a crescendo with this team. And Yusuf Pathan's pyrotechnics would surely have to play a major part if India harbours any hope of lifting the trophy. It is to be seen how captain Dhoni uses him. As many believe that he can be equally effective a little higher in the order, and what with his more than capable off-spin abilities he can be the perfect all-rounder India has been looking for ages. If he manages to live up to the hype surrounding him currently, it can be a defining moment in this maverick’s career.

But Yusuf it seems is oblivious to all this as he calmly goes about his work without bothering too much on what others say. One thing that can’t be denied though is that he now brings with himself a hope for the Indian fan that it isn’t over till this man is at the crease. It makes them feel good that now they too have someone who can instill fear in the opposition ranks, something which we have known to been on the receiving end for quite some time now.
Whether this hype transgresses into something substantial, only time will tell, but for now, if you are not an Indian fan, one thing is quite clear, you have simply got to fear Yusuf Pathan.

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