Friday, December 02, 2005

Who's helping Yousuf win?

Yousuf keeps the Faith
By Paresh Soni
Just over two months ago, Mohammad Yousuf was publicly disowned by his mother and was forced to fend off questions about his decision to convert from Christianity to Islam. A poor performance in the first Test against England betrayed the pressure he was under but returning home to Lahore this week for the series finale and a batsman-friendly pitch worked wonders.

Such was the surge in his confidence that he marked his century by performing a Sajda - kneeling down and touching the ground with his forehead - which, as Yousuf Youhana, he used to watch his Muslim team-mates do when celebrating. Asked about his unbeaten 183 when day three ended, the 31-year-old's first words were an expression of gratitude to higher powers. "I just try hard but everything is down to God - Allah gives us help."

A quiet man, Yousuf appeared to have rediscovered the stability he has often provided to Pakistan's middle order. The son of a railway worker brought up in modest surroundings, he once pondered a career as a tailor before battling to make the grade in domestic cricket.

Unusually for a player on the subcontinent, he was made to wait until the age of 23 before breaking into the national team. But the right-hander's patience and solid technique eventually paid off and led to a call-up for the tour of South Africa in 1998. The second Test in Durban, with Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock as opponents, was never going to be the easiest of starts and his two debut innings lasted a mere 40 balls. But while plenty of his contemporaries fell victim to the revolving door selection policy in Pakistan, Yousuf survived to become one of the most successful batsmen in the country's history. His innings on Thursday took his total of Test runs to 4,574 at an average - 48.65 - which has only been bettered by two other Pakistanis, former captain Javed Miandad and current skipper Inzamam-ul-Haq. Between 2000 and 2002 he accumulated almost half of those runs, with nine of his 14 hundreds coming in the process.

But life since then has not been as straightforward, with his average in the last two years around 38. He was again overlooked for the captaincy last year, leaving his supporters to claim that religion was the deciding factor. The man who got the job, Inzamam, puts the team's success in the past year down to religious bonding but says none of his players are compelled to take part. And before his conversion, Yousuf and the team's English coach Bob Woolmer claimed they had been treated well by the rest of the squad, who marked Christmas on last winter's tour of Australia with a special dinner. Nonetheless, the suspicion persists among sections of the Pakistani media and the country's minority Christian community that the number four batsman was pressured into changing faith. Others have accused the team of overtly demonstrating their commitment to Islam as a means of avoiding heavy criticism when results go against them.
Yousuf says he embraced Muslim principles three years ago but only went public in September. "I had money and fame but I was restless," he explained. "At the end of the day I would wonder what kind of a life this was. It was too superficial." Whatever his motivations, with his series-deciding knock in Lahore, Mohammad Yousuf has shown his countrymen and England he is a player of substance.

(Story from BBC SPORT )