Pakistan haven’t had a good run at the 2015 World Cup so far and, back home, the criticism of the team has been severe, with former cricketers like Shoaib Akhtar mincing no words. Mohammad Yousuf, holder of the record for most Test runs – 1788, in 2006 – in a calendar year, is also a TV pundit but not among the ones baying for blood after every poor outing. Speaking to Wisden India prior to the game against UAE on Wednesday, Yousuf said regional politics and systemic problems were to blame for the downturn in Pakistan’s fortunes, and also backed Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson to have glittering records by the time they are done.
Why do so many reports of infighting and disharmony crop up each time Pakistan play poorly?
There have been no fights as such within the team, everything is fine and these rumours are incorrect. Yes, there has been a problem with the batting technique of some of the players, and also within our system. If these things are looked after, then, by god’s grace, Pakistan will be a better team in the future.
What has gone wrong with the team at the World Cup?
Look, such things do happen in Asia, people get selected based on recommendation, there is politics – sometimes deserving players don’t get the right breaks. If you see, I faced issues, Saqlain Mushtaq faced issues in playing for our respective regions – we couldn’t play from our region so we decided to play for smaller centres. So, you see, these small things are still a part of the Pakistan system. If these things are looked after, it will take time but things will definitely change, and more talented players will come through. Pakistan also have a reputation of producing some very good cricketers in spite of being a small nation. I don’t think any of the Asian countries have produced as many great cricketers.
We have always associated Pakistan with fast bowlers. No Umar Gul or Junaid Khan, yes, but it seems the bench isn’t that strong any more.
Yes, you can say that. We are missing Junaid Khan a lot. Junaid’s bowling has always been important for Pakistan. He bowls well with the new ball and also bowls a tight line with the older ball. Also, Saeed Ajmal’s ban has affected the Pakistan team in a big way. Ajmal has been vital in Pakistan’s success. Even if he didn’t take wickets, he used to contain, which helped the bowler from the other end pick up some wickets. So yes, we definitely miss Saeed Ajmal a lot and it has affected the performance of the team.
Do you also think that Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq, though he has been among the runs, are unsuited to modern-day ODI cricket?
Younis Khan has always played slowly, his strike-rate has always been around the 70s-75s. He has always struggled in the ODI format. If you see his past record, his strike-rate, his average in one-dayers has never been very impressive. With him, the issue is not with form, but with the format. He recently scored some centuries against Australia in Tests, but as soon as ODI cricket comes into the picture, he faces difficulties.
Misbah, according to me, is not technically sound because of which he faces problems with finding gaps and rotating the strike. AB de Villiers or Virat Kohli or even Hashim Amla … these guys are fantastic players. But, according to me, the player that has looked very dangerous in all formats, in all conditions, has been Kane Williamson. Although he has had a short career, he has impressed me a lot. He reads the situation very well and is a compact player. For example, in the match against Australia, New Zealand were in a tough situation and the ease with which he got 45 with a strike rate of 107 was admirable. Such players cannot be ignored, though I agree that Kohli has a very good record, AB has a strong record, Hashim Amla also has a very impressive record…
Williamson, I think in this era, he is definitely among the top three batsmen. He is a very compact player, and gets his team out of tough situations. For example, against Australia, the situation was tough. We saw top bowling, top cricket… in such a situation, he played a very important innings, he played really well on the back foot, he also played the lofted shots very well. Against difficult bowling, in difficult situations, to score runs is a big deal.
You quit the game only in 2010, but batting has changed so much …
One of the reasons, according me, are the new field restrictions, with five fielders inside the circle at any given time, and new balls from both the ends. Also, by and large, the quality of bowling has gone down. Cricket is becoming easier and easier for batsmen. People compare Kohli with Sachin (Tendulkar), but, according to me, Sachin played better bowlers, which I think Kohli hasn’t yet. As you saw, Kohli faced a few problems facing the England bowlers recently. He looks a little weak in the channel outside off stump. But, overall, if you see the package, he is a very compact player, full of confidence, and the places he has scored his runs, his performances in Tests and one-dayers; without a doubt he is one of the best, but to match Sachin, it will still take a while longer.
In India, many of us believe Tendulkar is the greatest batsman of all time. Who would you pick?
You should think that there is no player like Sachin, that’s how Indians should feel. And when it comes to technique, there is no one better than Sachin. But, if you see, there are players who were classier – Viv Richards, Brian Lara … to match them is a little difficult. Breaking Sachin’s record of centuries and runs will be really tough. I don’t think they will be broken. The one-day record of 49 centuries can be broken by Kohli, but Tests will be a little tougher. But when you talk about class, Lara and Richards could get on top of any bowling attack in the world. Similarly, there are a lot of bowlers, many bowlers have many records, but Wasim Akram and Malcolm Marshall were of a different class altogether. These two were gifted; they could do anything at any given time.
Tell us about 2006 as well, when you scored nine centuries in 11 Tests – how did you reach such tremendous heights?
No player wants to do badly, but it’s god that makes these things happen. God gives the ability, but the player has to work hard and try his best. So I think the great year that I had was a gift from god. There were times I didn’t know what to do, and there were times when I used to score back-to-back centuries. Scoring nine centuries in 11 matches was not something I could have done on my own – god has been kind to me, he has blessed me with some records. I cannot say that I had anything to do.