Convert takes path to further glory
Saturday 19 August 2006
These days the finest sight England players can behold must be the back of Mohammad Yousuf. Not that they get to see it early on in his innings.
Even before he turned to Islam last year Yousuf Youhana, as he was then known, tormented English bowlers. But since his conversion something special has happened as Yousuf has ratcheted up his scoring.
As the England bowler Matthew Hoggard said after yesterday's play: "When [Mohammad] Yousuf [115 not out] gets in, he gets runs. He's one of the best players in the world. Unfortunately we dropped him twice and he made us pay. Obviously we're disappointed. I'm sure a couple of individuals are angry. We've got three days to put that right.
"It was as bad as it looked," Hoggard added. "We were below par bowling and fielding and we were below par batting. We didn't go in with any form of complacency. At this level you can't afford to be five per cent under your marker or you will be found out."
Yousuf had been the only Christian in the Pakistan team at the time of his conversion in August and afterwards he said: "Embracing Islam has changed my life." It has changed his cricket. As a Christian his average was impressive, 47.46 with 13 Test tons, but that has since been eclipsed.
Excluding the present match, in his Tests as a follower of Islam he has averaged a stunning 78.64, which has dragged his overall average up to 52.42, placing him in the top tier of Test batsmen since records began.
And it just happened to be England who felt the first wave of that rush of runs when they arrived in Pakistan last autumn. They were well aware of what Yousuf Youhana had done to them, averaging more than 53 in his five Tests against them since 2000. But they were unprepared for what lay in store over the next two series.
He began modestly with 21 in two innings of the opening Test, but a half-century followed in the next match. Then came a career-best 223 in the final Test and a total of 342 runs. And when this series began last month he quickly picked up where he had left off, scoring a double ton at Lord's. He amassed 250 runs in that match.
There was a relative failure at Old Trafford but he still managed to scrape together more than 50 runs in his two innings up there.
At Headingley he was once more in touch. Although he fell eight runs short of yet another double century (he scored those eight in the second innings), he had reminded England that the bat rules when it is wielded by him. Yesterday he further underlined his prowess by becoming the second player after India's Rahul Dravid to pass 1,000 Test runs in 2006. In that period he has played only seven Tests, batting in a mere 13 innings.
He also became the first touring batsman since Dravid, to score three hundreds in a series. It was the 19th of his Test career and fourth in five matches against England - a wonderful feat.
Touchingly, the Oval crowd, England as well as Pakistan fans, greeted his hundred with a prolonged ovation. They knew they were watching someone touched not merely with genius, but with something indefinable, more spiritual. And it was uplifting for Muslim and Christian alike.
Moment of the day
* SHOAIB AKHTAR Crowds have been deprived of one of the great sights in cricket this summer - Shoaib Akhtar sending down 95mph thunderbolts. Those who arrived early at The Oval yesterday would have caught a glimpse of him bowling before the start of play, and hopefully he will entertain us all during the one-dayers.
Shot of the day
* IMRAN FARHAT
Batsmen are supposed to watch and wait when a new bowler enters the attack but Farhat took a different approach when Monty Panesar came on to bowl yesterday morning. The left-hander danced down the pitch and hoicked him over long-on for six. The shot took him to 86.
Ball of the day
* SAJID MAHMOOD
The fast bowler sent down a couple of good ones that could have dismissed Mohammad Yousuf before lunch but there was little else to choose from. The best delivery has to be the one that claimed England's only wicket. Matthew Hoggard angled it across Imran Farhat and he edged a low catch to Marcus Trescothick at slip.
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