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Farewell, Yusuf Pathan: A thoroughbred match-winner who was never afraid to live and die by the sword

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Reliving Yusuf Pathan's best moments with the bat

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Farewell, Yusuf Pathan: A thoroughbred match-winner who was never afraid to live and die by the sword

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Anirudh Suresh

02/27/2021

In the wake of Yusuf Pathan announcing his retirement from all forms of cricket, we, here at SportsCafe, reminisce some of the Baroda giant’s finest moments in professional cricket, which ensured that he is leaving a fine, niche legacy of his own behind.

It spoke volumes of Yusuf Pathan’s talent that, when he announced his retirement sometime around 4:30 PM IST on Friday, February 26, a vast majority of the fans remembered him as a prodigiously talented batsman who waned away from the sport without doing justice to the immense potential he possessed. That the elder Pathan will go down as an under-achiever is indisputable, but take nothing away from what he did, ultimately, end up achieving. For few in the history of Indian cricket - and in the game - have provided avid followers of the sport so many moments to cherish and look back on. 

A lanky force of destruction who was once the prototype of a dream T20 cricketer, Yusuf, during his peak, was not only one of the most feared batsmen in the world but also one of the greatest match-winners the sport had seen. For his club, country, and state, the destructive right-hander worked miracles at will on many a night and provided thrills like no other, sometimes even making the fans believe that impossible was never out of reach. With two World Cups and three IPL titles to his name, Yusuf also has a trophy cabinet that would make any elite athlete envy him, and it is fair to say that he has every reason to look back on his career and think, “Well. It was definitely good while it lasted.”

We look back on the 38-year-old’s best moments in professional cricket, which have now helped him immortalize his name in the annals of Indian cricket history.

September 24, 2007 - The Introduction: The day Yusuf stepped out of his brother’s shadow

During a largely pre-internet time when people were unaware of team and squad news, and only glanced the morning newspapers to memorize the score of their favorite batsman, few knew that Irfan Pathan had an elder brother who was also a professional cricketer, let alone that he was in line to replace Virender Sehwag in the final of the inaugural World T20, against Pakistan. So when he strode out to the middle partnering Gambhir, there was curiosity. “How would he fare?” people thought. For a good minute, though, it looked like the public might end up not getting an answer to that question, as Yusuf almost perished for a diamond duck on the very first ball of the final after a mix-up. 

In just the second ball Yusuf faced, though, fans knew exactly what kind of a batsman he was. Tall and fearless, Yusuf smacked Pakistan’s best bowler, Mohammad Asif, back over his head for a humongous six, sending the Johannesburg crowd into an uncontrollable frenzy.

Yusuf perished six balls later, but, by then, he’d successfully emerged out of his brother’s shadow.

June 01, 2008 - Royals’ favorite son: An otherworldly cameo; an unlikely champion

By the time the IPL 2008 final beckoned, Yusuf Pathan was already one of the most-feared batsmen in the competition. He’d already notched up five 45+ scores at a strike rate 165, the most recent of which had come in the semi-final against Delhi, where he pummeled 45 off just 21 balls. Yet when he walked in at 45/3 in the final against a fired-up Chennai Super Kings side, with the Royals still needing 122 off just 13.2 overs, the chase, even by his high standards, was seen as a stretch. “He cannot pull yet another rabbit out of the hat, can he?.” People were starting to lose hope, the law of averages was bound to catch up with him, they thought.

But Yusuf played by his own laws. After a slow start, scoring just 21 off his first 24 balls - in which he steadied the ship alongside Watson - he exploded. Back to back sixes off Muralitharan kick-started his innings and, from there, he did not look back. Yusuf took down L Balaji first, and then Murali again, and brought an equation that once threatened to go out of reach - 77 off 8 overs - to just 8 an over. A brilliant piece of fielding from Suresh Raina marked the end of Yusuf, but, by then, the Baroda man had laid the carpet for Rajasthan Royals to become the inaugural champions of the Indian Premier League

Feb 10, 2009 - The Brothers’ Day Out

There is one fantasy common to all Indian kids with a sibling and that is to pull off a miracle win for their country with their brother (or sister) with the whole world watching. Yusuf Pathan’s steady rise in world cricket intersecting with his brother Irfan’s steep decline meant that the duo, for an extended period of time, feared that moment might never arrive. But on February 10, 2009, in a T20 international against Sri Lanka, the stage was set. Chasing a mammoth 172, India were reeling at 115/7 and out in the middle were the two Pathans - Irfan and Yusuf - who were tasked with the responsibility of doing the impossible: helping the team notch up 57 runs in just 4.5 overs with 3 wickets in hand. 

Yes, the task was near impossible, but having waited two-and-a-half decades for this very moment, neither of the Pathans was going to let the opportunity slip. Through a 59-run partnership that oversaw three fours and four humongous sixes, Yusuf and Irfan astonishingly saw India home with almost an entire over to spare. Yusuf, not for the first time in his life or career, was overshadowed here by his brother, who played the bigger hand, but that, really, mattered for little. This was their moment and they seized it. The Pathans had established their legacy and given themselves - and the fans - a moment to remember till the end of time. 

February 2, 2010 - The greatest day of his life; the greatest chase in first class history

Three years into his international career, Yusuf Pathan was a white-ball behemoth but the cloud of being an under-achiever always loomed over his head. In February 2010, in the Duleep Trophy final against South Zone, this narrative turned on its head.

After South Zone posted 400 batting first, Yusuf struck a valiant ton in the first innings but his side, West Zone, were still 149 runs behind. South dominated West’s bowling the second time they batted too and so with a day and a half left to play, they set their opponents a near-impossible 536 to chase down. 

Near impossible. When Yusuf walked in at 239/3 with his side still nearly 300 adrift of the target, the South bowlers thought that, like he usually does, he would perish after connecting a few blows. What they didn’t know was that Yusuf, that day, was a man possessed who was not going to settle for anything but an outright win. 

190 balls, 331 minutes, 19 fours and 10 sixes later, the Baroda man ended up achieving the impossible. 210 runs of the highest order from Yusuf enabled West Zone to script the highest chase in first-class history. Yusuf would later describe the knock as the finest effort of his career. 

March 13, 2010: The most explosive knock of his career; a knock for the ages that immortalized his legacy

After essentially propelling the Royals to the IPL title in 2008, Yusuf Pathan endured a poor 2009. In the season, he amassed just 243 runs at an average of just over 20, and uncharacteristically, they came at a strike rate of just 132.78. By the end of the season, his technique and his credentials had come under the scanner. So to keep his reputation intact, the lanky right-hander needed to start the 2010 season off strong. 

To say that he started the season off strong would be a grave understatement.

On the second day of the season, a revamped, ambitious, strong Mumbai Indians side posted a mammoth 212 and looked in line to race to a 100-run win after reducing Rajasthan to 66/4 in the 10th over. At that time, though, they simply had no idea what was about to hit them.

In what, to date, remains the second-fastest hundred in IPL history, Yusuf went on a rampage at the Brabourne Stadium. In a knock that featured 9 fours and 8 astronomical sixes, the Royals man brought up his hundred in 37 balls. In an outrageous 8-ball period which saw him amass 42 runs, Yusuf tilted the game in Rajasthan’s favour, before, unfortunately, getting dismissed the only way he seemed he could - through a run-out at the non-striker’s end.

Eventually, the Royals fell short, but 20,000 people at the venue ensured that they rose up and applauded the efforts of a man who proved that day that he was no ordinary cricketer.

December 07, 2010: A maiden international ton; a heist that brought the country to a stand-still 

By late 2010 Yusuf was an IPL giant who was also India’s designated finisher in limited-overs cricket, yet that one signature knock had, till that time, evaded him at the highest level. Yes, he had played many a valuable cameo, but no one could quite pick one Yusuf Pathan knock as a career-defining innings. It all changed on December 7, 2010, at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru.

Needing to chase 317 in the fourth ODI - of a series that was already won - versus the Kiwis, India looked down and out of the game when they lost their first four wickets for just 108. Rohit Sharma soon perished and, by this time, with the required run rate also climbing, fans accepted defeat and viewed the game as batting practice for the lower-order. Except Yusuf Pathan had other ideas; he refused to give in.

Yusuf was 38 off 41 when Rohit perished, but the Mumbaikar’s dismissal flicked a switch inside the Baroda batsman who then attained invincibility. Remarkably, his next 85 runs came off just 55 balls, and he displayed hitting that fans had been accustomed to only in the IPL. In what was an exhibition of brutalizing the cricket ball, Yusuf struck 7 fours and 7 sixes, including taking 21 runs off one Kyle Mills over, and, against all odds, took India over the line. The wait was over. The signature knock had been recorded. 

January 23, 2011: The Centurion that won hearts in Centurion

Having drawn the Test series and won the T20Is, India entered the fifth and final ODI against South Africa in Centurion with the chance to walk away as the victors of the tour. And after restricting the Proteas to just 250, a victory seemed very much on the cards. However, some horror batting saw the team be reduced to 98/7 and soon two months of hard work was undone in a couple of hours. From here, India needed a genuine miracle to get anywhere close to the South African total. Luckily for them, though, their miracle man was still out in the middle. And so, once again, having registered two Man of the Match performances in his last three knocks, Yusuf Pathan was back to doing Yusuf Pathan things. 

If there ever was a knock that could be described ‘out of the ordinary’, this was it. Not only were the odds heavily stacked against Yusuf, he was up against Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, Johan Botha, and Robin Peterson all at the very peak of their powers. Yet, he couldn’t care less. He batted the only way he knew. 

With Harbhajan Singh, Piyush Chawla, and Zaheer Khan being his partners, Yusuf decided to take matters into his own hands. Knowing he had to do the job on his own, the Baroda man launched anything and everything that was in the arc out of the stadium and rattled the Proteas bowlers. 119/8 soon became 150/8, 175/8, and then 200/8 and in the blink of an eye, India were just 32 adrift of the target with 90 balls left to spare. Yusuf brutalized the Proteas bowling and brought up his second ODI ton - this time off just 68 balls - and remarkably turned the visitors into favorites.

Agonizingly he perished with victory in sight, but though India eventually lost the game, Yusuf Pathan ended up winning hearts. Bengaluru was his signature no more; Centurion had usurped it. 

May 24, 2014: The 72 that laid the foundation for KKR’s double 

KKR had a good - but not great - season in 2014 and were assured of a Top 4 finish, but needed a bit of a miracle to be assured of a Top 2 finish - they needed to chase whatever target SRH set in 15.2 overs. By restricting the Sunrisers to just 160, they gave themselves the best chance of a Top 2 finish but an extremely average showing with the bat in the first half - they were 78/4 in the 10th over - meant that all of a sudden, the dream seemed distant. 83 were now needed off 34 balls and with every passing minute, it looked like they would have to settle for the third position. Not for a moment, though, did the words “third” flash in the mind of their trump card, Yusuf Pathan. Having endured an uncharacteristically quiet season up until then, Yusuf cut loose. 

A six from the bowling of Parvez Rasool kick-started the carnage and, after being handed a reprieve on the boundary line, Yusuf started batting like a man possessed. After taking Karn Sharma for 15 runs in the 12th over, the Baroda man bulldozed SRH without mercy. With 45 needed off 20 balls to qualify, Yusuf mauled Steyn - he took the South African for a ludicrous 26 in a single over and also, in the process, brought up his fifty off just 15 balls, the-then second fastest in the tournament’s history. He then took six more runs off Karn in the next over before heading to the pavilion, but, by then, had already sealed his side a place in the Top 2. 

As it turned out, this superhuman 22-ball 72 from Yusuf ended up defining KKR’s season as after winning Qualifier 1 versus Kings XI Punjab, they beat the George Bailey-led side once again in the final to lift their second IPL title in three years. Yusuf was no longer just a cult hero; he became a club legend. 

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