Sunday, January 28, 2007

How Mohammad Yousuf found greater focus in knowing that "cricket isn't everything"

Mohammad's mountain of runs
January 26, 2007

By Alex Brown from The Age

After the most prolific year in Test cricket history, Mohammad Yousuf could be forgiven for indulging in a little religious and cricketing triumphalism. Instead, the brilliant Pakistani batsman is more eager to discuss why Ricky Ponting is the world's leading batsman, despite his own 1788-run year, and his regret over his mother's reluctance to accept his shift from Christianity to Islam.
Yousuf is an unusual interview subject on several counts. Unlike many international batsmen, his moods do not seem dictated by runs scored, nor is his mind cluttered with personal statistics and batting theories. In fact, he gives the distinct impression that he derives as much personal pleasure from discussing his own batting as he does from a Brett Lee bumper - even after a stunning sequence of five centuries and a half-century in his final six innings of 2006.
Then there's religion. Whereas many converts and "born-agains" feel compelled to stand in judgement of all those who don't share their beliefs, the 32-year-old - whose decision to change his religion and name in 2005 dominated headlines in Pakistan and led to a split within his family - prefers to focus on the clarity of mind and inner peace he now feels as Mohammad Yousuf, as opposed to rubbishing his former life as Yousuf Youhana.
"I used to have so many things on my mind before, and now my mind is clear and my heart is peaceful," he told the Herald from Port Elizabeth, after Pakistan's defeat of South Africa in the second Test this week. "There is greater focus, but also knowing that [cricket] is not everything."
The fact remains, however, that, regardless of his attempts to deflect attention from his own efforts, Yousuf has still completed one of the more remarkable 12 months witnessed in cricket. And there is no avoiding the parallels between his embracing of Islam and the spike in his batting form.
A solid international batsman before 2005, Yousuf posted his highest Test score (223 against England) in his first series as a Muslim, then blasted 1788-runs over his next 11 Tests in 2006 to eclipse Richards's record, a mark many thought would never be bettered. In doing so, Yousuf set another record by scoring nine centuries, against India, Sri Lanka, England and the West Indies (the first three teams all ranked inside Test cricket's top five). ..."I never make too much out of getting 100, and never get too sad when I get zero," he said, attempting to explain the events of the past 12 months. "I used to always go to bat with failure on my mind. Now I work hard and give myself to Allah and everything is OK."
Yousuf presumably needed that clarity to deal with the emotive, and occasionally furious, response from country, family and media to his decision to switch from Christianity to Islam in 2005.
Almost from the moment Yousuf Youhana was seen in a mosque praying alongside his captain, Inzamam-ul-Haq, the rumour and scuttlebutt began. Some suggested he had been pressured by his Muslim teammates. Others wondered whether his conversion was motivated, in part, by a desire to win favour with those in power and improve his captaincy chances. Others, still, criticised the influence Saeed Anwar, the former batsman turned preacher, was exerting on Yousuf and the remainder of the team.
But undoubtedly the most wounding comment of all came from within his own family, when Yousuf's Christian mother told the local Daily Times newspaper: "I don't want to give Yousuf my name after what he has done." Their relationship remains strained, he admits, with a tinge of regret in his voice that is unmistakable.
"My mother is still not happy with me," he said. "I can still talk to my mother and it is very nice. But it is with religion that she is not happy with me."
That aside, Yousuf seems very much a man content. Dismissing any suggestion that he was coerced into accepting Islam, he says that the discipline of his new life - he prays at 5am, lunch, stumps, 8pm and 9.45pm during each Test match - will keep him balanced as he embarks on a new season.
"I went to the mosque twice in Port Elizabeth during the Test," he said. "There is peace there."