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Little to gain from Yousuf's return

April 26, 2012

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Having Yousuf in the ranks would mean that either Azhar Ali or Asad Shafiq would have to make way for the veteran. -File photo

The sudden emergence of 37-year-old Mohammad Yousuf on the Pakistan cricket scene may not come as a surprise to cricket fans in the country, they have seen quite a bit after all. The prolific batsman had announced his retirement from the game several times but there was nothing official about it.

But Yousuf ‘passing’ the fitness test at the National Cricket Academy in Lahore under the eagle eye of coach Dav Whatmore and actually being in the reckoning for a spot in the Sri Lanka bound squad (series starts in June), was least expected.

The development is puzzling not because of the fact that he last played international cricket in 2010 but more because Pakistan now seem to have a pretty stable lineup in tests, the only format Yousuf is likely to be considered for.

There is no need to dwell into stats to recognize his batting ability which made him one of the best produced from the country, but there is little doubt that he clearly is a ‘has been’.

Yousuf had been focusing on preaching and was hardly seen on a cricket ground in the last 10 months or so, he skipped the entire first class season and didn’t feature in either the national T20 or One Day tournaments.

His last appearance in a recognized match on the national circuit was in the inaugural edition of the super eight T20 in June.

Yousuf did impress those assessing his fitness in Lahore with his dribbles, sprints and his flexibility but the question remains, is he actually in shape to last the rigours of international cricket having last appeared in Pakistan colours some 17 months ago?

More importantly, one wonders where he would be slotted if he wins back his place? Test match format, ODIs or T20s?

Let us dwell on limited overs varieties first: If chosen for an ODI, Yousuf would probably bat at number four in the middle order sandwiched between Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq.

Pakistan has already been struggling to make a move with the bat in the 50- over format, and Yousuf’s inclusion would make Umar Akmal the only genuine stroke maker in the batting line-up, sit out if all-rounder Hammad Azam is given a chance. His lethargic fielding and diving was clearly a source of entertainment for English commentators during the ill-fated tour in 2010, some two years later Yousuf is set to be even more pedestrian on the field.

He is simply not cut for T20 format at this age, even at his prime he was left out of Pakistan’s team in the 2007 and 2009 T20 World Championships. The master batsman has featured in only two international matches in the shortest format.

The only format Yousuf could find a place in is the test match format. He is currently the third highest run-scorer for Pakistan in this format. However, in his absence young guns Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq have made a mark and very much cemented their places, at least for the Sri Lankan series.

With these young batsmen and Umar Akmal, Pakistan has won eight out of its last ten test matches, a staggering record to say the least.

Ali and Shafiq have emerged unscathed from a testing series against England and deserve some breathing space.

Having Yousuf in the ranks would mean that one of them would have to make way for the veteran.

Importantly though, the selection committee is not too keen on considering Yousuf. They see his emergence from the wilderness a unilateral decision by Whatmore, which needless to say has irked them greatly.

It remains to be seen whether Yousuf would make it to Sri Lanka, though there is clearly very little to gain from his return.

Let us hope that in the years to come we continue to celebrate the master batsman’s feats, rather than sulk on his uncalled for return.