Did you know that Yusuf Pathan has played exactly 100 First-Class games? If you didn’t and this comes as a shock to you, don’t be discouraged. For an all-rounder who is largely known for his white-ball prowess, Yusuf had an unreal red-ball record.
4825 runs for the right-hander, averaging nearly 35 with a strike-rate of 85.99, you would wonder why he didn’t get a Test cap. But that’s for a completely different conversation. What is relevant today (February 6) is what Yusuf did in the famous clash between West Zone and South Zone.
It wasn’t just another day, it was a day like none other. It was the final at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad, it was really at South Zone’s own den.
Dinesh Karthik won the toss, and immediately opted to win (aka bat). In sub-continental conditions, it is a no-brainer that a captain wins the toss and bats first. But at 76/3, Karthik would have second-guessed his own decision, only for him to thwart all those bad memories instantly.
The right-handed wicket-keeper stitched an unbelievable partnership with CM Gautam, and others to help South Zone post 400 on the board. Karthik was a one-man army, with 183, taking the attack to the West Zone bowlers. In reply, the Wasim Jaffer-led side were in deep trouble, at 70/4, and later, 113/5.
But in between all this chaos, there was Yusuf, who decided to emulate Karthik with the bat. In the most Yusuf of batting styles, the right-hander smashed a 76-ball 108, and showed a glimpse of the things to come in the clash, with 12 boundaries and five sixes, all at a strike-rate of 142.10. Surely, we are not reading that wrong, are we?
South Zone had the edge
If South Zone had put on a show in the first innings, the second innings was equally stunning. In Hyderabad, it was almost evident that West Zone were perennially chasing the game, and were running behind something that was always going to be a tough task. All their hopes - one by one - had reduced even further when Karthik put on a show yet again.
It was that familiar sight, that partnership that stung Jaffer and Co. time and again. By this point, it was almost certain that the West Zone bowlers, Irfan Pathan, Aavishkar Salvi, Dhawan Kulkarni, Ravindra Jadeja and Ramesh Powar were tired of watching Karthik and Gautam yet again with the bat.
The two wicket-keepers really took the sting away from the game. If Gautam scored a well-crafted 88, Karthik did one better with a 150, following his knock of 183 in the first-innings. Unreal partnership from the two batters from either side of the border - Karnataka and Tamil Nadu - who shared a rivalry but now combined to take West Zone by their throat.
Then came the declaration, the monumental number - 536 - stood there as West Zone would have wondered, how on earth are they going to get this score? The highest total till the fourth innings of this match was 400. This is already 136 more than that. With conditions deteriorating, South Zone knew that the rest of it was a formality. But they had zero idea that the formality was called Yusuf.
When Yusuf took matters into his own hands
At 224/1, on the back of a century from Chirag Pathak and a well-crafted half-century from Wasim Jaffer, West Zone had some hope. But in the span of just a few overs, the game had completely tilted. 224/2 became 239/3, and then 263/4 and later, 294/5. It was almost like the game was breathing its final breath.
But at the other end was a constant presence, it was almost like Yusuf had batted with a heroic weapon that day. The one all your typical page of mythology would say, ones that may or may not have existed. But Yusuf’s bat and his power - both existed in tandem - on that day. It was destruction of the highest order.
Batting alongside his brother, Irfan, Yusuf put on a show. When usually someone bats for 331 minutes, it is more down to them soaking in all the pressure but with Yusuf, the more time he batted, the more South Zone felt like the game was slowly slipping away from them.
The more South Zone went into contemplation, on whether their declaration was right, and more they went into a submission that Yusuf could do no wrong. He took it one step at a time or rather one spinner at one time and attacked them into submission. Slowly and steadily, West Zone were the far more confident side.
It was almost like the South Zone were mentally zoned out. And when Yusuf felt that, he took the game by the scruff of its neck, with a counter-attacking knock of the highest order. First, it was the 100, later the 150 and then when he reached 200, West Zone were almost the winners.
210 in a run-chase of 536, in a final where the West Zone had no business winning the clash. It was all down to one man, Yusuf, who has this knack of turning the impossible into merely simplicity. All of this while still battling an issue or two with his hamstring.
There’s this iconic image of Yusuf with the scoreboard, which in all fairness, will stand the test of time. With luck or no luck, Yusuf floated like a butterfly, stung like a bee.