Not many Pakistani batsmen have been as elegant as Mohammad Yousuf. In his heydays, the prolific batsman - who loved staying at the crease for long - would let his willow do the talking and ensure victories for his team.
And that’s evident from the fact that he amassed a total of 17,300 runs in international cricket - across formats - over a span of twelve years.
One of the legends of the game, Yousuf recently addressed the current cricketers in an online session - organised by the Pakistan Cricket Board - to motivate them in these trying times.
The 45-year-old advised the players to stay mentally strong and urged them to not lose hope.
“This is just like a cricket match, where you are batting on a tough wicket but you need to win the game for the team,” Yousuf told the players.
In a chat with Sportstar , Yousuf spoke about the challenging times, his thoughts on Pakistan cricket and also touched upon the comparisons between Virat Kohli and Babar Azam.
You recently conducted an online session with some of the senior players of Pakistan cricket team. In times like these, what was your advice to them?
It’s a new thing and it is certainly a challenging phase. There is no cricket - this is the first time I am seeing such a thing. It’s a difficult time for the world and hope things improve.
Such online sessions are good because you get to see each other via Zoom and can discuss cricket. It helps the players boost self-confidence. After all, players are professionals, so they need to ensure that they start from where things had stopped. That is the best way to go about it - it is about coming out of the tough situation.
What exactly did you tell them?
I told them that such phases would make them mentally strong. This is just like a cricket match, where you are batting on a tough wicket but you need to win the game for the team. It’s a similar situation now. That’s what I told the players as well.
Cricket is a real (action) game, and you need to show character in a bid to win in difficult situations. Once the situation improves and cricket resumes, you need to be ready for it - so all these factors are really important.
But post the pandemic, new rules and restrictions will be in place. How challenging will it be for the players to get used to the new ways?
We are hearing that matches could be played in front of empty stands. Look, we can always have a game without any spectators, but then it lacks that charm. Cricket is all about the fans and there is a special feeling when the stands are packed.
Whenever we travelled to India, all the matches were played in packed stadiums, with fans cheering out loud. That’s a different feeling. But keeping the health factors in mind, we will have to follow whatever the cricket boards and the ICC decide.
I am sure even if cricket resumes in front of empty stands, things will eventually change for good. Players will have to adjust to it and play accordingly. I am sure they will handle it well.
Recently, Pakistan’s batting sensation Babar Azam thanked you for helping him with useful tips. What is your assessment of him? The cricket world often compares him with Virat Kohli. Your thoughts?
Babar is young. Many people compare him with Virat Kohli. But I think it is not ideal because Kohli has played more number of matches and he is more experienced - since he has been playing international cricket since 2008-2009.
Babar still has a long way to go. Both are excellent players, there is no doubt. If you look at the early stages of their career, both follow a similar trend. But Babar will need some more time because Kohli has played about eight or nine years more than him.
There is no doubt that Babar is a solid batsman, but it’s not right to compare as both are zabardast players in their own domain. Kohli is the No.1 at the moment, he is a great player.
But what makes Kohli so special?
In today’s times, there are quite a few good players - Rohit Sharma, Joe Root, Steve Smith, Kane Williamson. But Kohli is the best across formats. The way he bats, the way he handles pressure in each innings and scores centuries or the way he plays - that’s unbelievable!
But Babar is also catching up and with the time, he will gain experience and deliver even better. But you can’t rush things. You must give him more time.
What’s your thought on the overall state of Pakistan cricket?
It takes time to regroup. A lot of senior players left together, creating a void. So, the team will take some time to bounce back and the players are taking all the efforts to get used to the system. New players are coming up, so the intent is there.
We won the Champions Trophy in 2017 with young players, so hopefully, things will get better soon.
Over the last couple of years, a lot of youngsters have come up. After a rather inconsistent phase, do you think the future of Pakistan cricket is bright again?
The youngsters like Shaheen Shah Afridi have improved a lot. Shaheen has emerged as one of the most talented bowlers and let’s hope, he raises the bar. Naseem Shah is just 16-17, he debuted against Australia, and there were initial struggles.
Whoever travels to Australia for the first time usually struggles because the conditions are different there. Now, it is more challenging to bowl there. But he showed his class later when he played at home. So, both Shaheen and Naseem are doing really well in the bowling department.
On the batting front, we have Babar, Haris Sohail, Azhar Ali - they are improving gradually. And if Sharjeel (Khan) returns - he has fitness issues - and gets back in shape, then he is a dangerous cricket. I think after Saeed Anwar, he is one of the best openers we have. He has got a great hand-eye coordination.
He fared well against Australia in the limited-overs series (in 2016). So, there are some good players. In the recent past too, these players have fared well against India as well and hopefully in the coming years, both the teams will give us more entertaining cricket.
There’s nothing bigger than an India-Pakistan match. People enjoy watching India-Pakistan games and they have a different charm altogether.
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