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The rise and fall of Yusuf Pathan

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Yusuf_Pathan_India_IPL_Cricket"I was asked why I persist with Yusuf Pathan. I have always said that he is a magical player and that he will come good when it would matter the most.”

Kolkata Knight Riders captain Gautam Gambhir, who would often bear brickbats after fielding a below-par Yusuf Pathan game after game, never for once flinched when it came to trusting his lieutenant. It’s not often that a player reaches such a standing where he is backed with full consent by his leader even after a series of flops. Even after almost three IPL seasons without a fifty, Gambhir never lost faith in his big-hitter.

After a sensational stint with the Rajasthan Royals, Yusuf made his way to Kolkata, promising much. Back then, buying him for USD 2 million dollars was a steal for the Shah Rukh Khan-owned franchise and he was as a poster boy in the city that had not had much success in the first three seasons. In contrast, Yusuf had one of his best phases from 2008 to 2010 for the Rajasthan Royals. Under the tutelage of Shane Warne, he replaced his raw slogging with more convincing stroke-play that made him the darling of the nation.

The burly player, who made his international debut in the T20 World Cup final against Pakistan in 2007, showed glimpses of his potential as he raced away to 15 in no time. However, his moment in the sun only arrived a few months later while turning up for the Jaipur based franchise in the Indian Premier League. In 16 games, he literally smashed his way to 435 runs at an average of 31.07 and a strike-rate of 179, with 25 sixes. His heroics were a major reason the side was able to script a fairy-tale victory in the first edition of the league. His feats earned him an ODI cap and India found its own superstar down the order.

The next season was a somewhat bland outing - his average of 20.25 in 13 IPL games hardly lived up to the hopes that he had created a year earlier. He was well and truly back in 2010 with a 37-ball 100 in the first game that Royals played.

So mesmerized was Warne that he did not hesitate to draw comparisons with Andrew Symonds, asserting that when in form, both Yusuf and Symonds are the cleanest hitters of the ball. “I've played cricket for 21 years and I have seen Sachin Tendulkar as the best batsman against whom I have played as he has murdered attacks and hit them all over the park. But today was the best innings I have ever seen. From a situation of 37 for 3 in seven overs and chasing 213 and come so close thanks to a 37 ball-100. It's a special innings.”

Thus, when he arrived in Kolkata in 2011, many expected similar onslaughts consistently from the right-hander. The expectations turned into an agonising wait as the fireworks with the bat never really arrived. Yusuf was, however, a revelation with the ball. He picked up 13 wickets at an average of 18.30 and an economy rate of 6.10, more than making up for his failures with the willow. This was the season when KKR entered the top-four for the first time.

If 2011 was endless waiting, 2012 was not much better. His average fell from 28.30 in 2011 to 19.40 in 2012, his strike-rate from 140.79 to 114.79. No fifty this year. But, call it luck or destiny, Sunil Narine’s entry and an epic first title later, not many thought too much of Yusuf’s failing prowess. To them, he was still a force to be reckoned with. His time would surely arrive.

Such had been the love-affair with him that the spectators, though angry with every failure, cheered him on each time he walked out to the crease. More often than not, they were left disappointed and even embarrassed for getting behind a player who had displayed nothing but inconsistency, especially in big games. After his 21-ball 40 guided KKR to the finals in 2012, Gambhir had been enthused, believing in his prime player, and defended his choice to play Yusuf despite his poor run.

But what about the time when he failed to get going in a big-match in the 2011 Eliminator, when KKR had been reduced to 15 for 3? He walked in with enough time to bide and settle down, but his stay only lasted 24 balls.

What happened in the 2012 finals, when Yusuf walked out with the side needing 39 in 22? Jacques Kallis ensured the target came down to 27 off 18 after he struck a four and six in consecutive deliveries. The ideal situation for a big-match player to step up. Yusuf holed out to midwicket on the very next ball for just 1.

Who can forget the time he was out obstructing the field (becoming the first IPL batsman to have this dubious feat) when KKR needed 23 in 13 with no recognised batsman left in the lineup?

Even though he did erase the criticisms with his 22-ball 72 in the 2014 league game against Sunrisers Hyderabad, where KKR needed to chase 162 in 15.2 overs to finish in the top 2, the innings remained an exception. Soon the familiar sight of a tall frame walking in with high hopes but walking back to the dugout in the midst of increasing irritation became more and more common at Eden Gardens.

The last straw was when Yusuf’s trusted ally Gambhir too grew fed up of the Baroda all-rounder’s dwindling form and returns. He dropped Yusuf from the all-important, must-win clash against Mumbai Indians in the 2nd Qualifier last season. The maverick skipper had finally learnt that the 35-year old could no longer keep up with the changing dynamics in the shortest format of the game.

In an attempt to go for the big hits in each and every position, Yusuf lost the ability to check his aggression and play according to the situation. The finisher failed to make the most of his chances and his IPL failures coincided with a loss of a place in the national team as well.

Though he was unable to weave his magic in the Purple and Gold, Yusuf will be hoping to better things in his third IPL team, SRH, and perhaps bow out with a bang, not a whimper.

 

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