As the proverb goes, ‘’Calmness is the cradle of power’’. The two unlike words ‘calmness’ and ‘power’ is bound to transfix you in stupefaction for you won’t find too many instances symbolizing ‘reconciliation of opposites’ like the one mentioned above. Those who have observed Yusuf Pathan from close quarters would tell you that the 6 feet2 inches tall Baroda all-rounder amply typifies the said oxymoron. Benign at heart, it is as difficult to find an unpretentious person like him in the international circuit at the moment as it is to spot a dodo bird amidst myriads of shoppers at Crawford Market. The easy going character off the field undergoes a massive transformation when he steps on the field with the bat in hand; an absolute carnage for bowlers on his day that derives immense gratification in dispatching the loose balls into the stands and mauling the hapless bowlers who look upon him as a brawler. For a player of his stature, a few poor outings may appear as a famine for his fans who want him to succeedeach and every time he takes to the field. It wouldn’t be aberrant to infer that the 33 year-old ‘Knight’ has realized his true potential in King Gambhir’s kingdom and has emerged as one of the trustiest combatants for his skipper. In a bid to stage a comeback into the Indian team, Yusuf has amassed 165 runs in 9 matches this season at a startling average of 82.5 which is the second highest average among batsmen who have played a minimum of 7 innings in IPL 2016. His blitzkrieg (60* off 29 balls) against Royal Challengers Bangalore helped his team scrape to a 5-wicket windespite reeling at 69/4 at one stage while chasing anintimidating target of 186. CricFit correspondent Ritam Basu recently caught up with the two-time World Champion and thrice IPL winner at the ITC Sonar which is Team KKR’s basecamp in Kolkata. Fresh from a narrowly attained victory against Kings XI Punjab at the Eden Gardens the night before, the senior Pathan spoke to us on a wide variety of subjects that encompassed his team’s progress in the IPL, a few inside stories, the role of the support staff and his chances of earning a call-up into the Indian team. Dressed in casuals, the interviewee burst into laughter many a times while answering the rapid fire questions.
Q: After winning the crunch contest against Kings XI Punjab at the Eden Gardens on Wednesday (on 4thApril), how did the team celebrate in the dressing room/hotel? I am asking this because your owner Shah Rukh Khan was there for that game.
Yusuf: We partied hard. Those who can dance took to the dance floor and all of us enjoyed ourselves thoroughly after winning such a crucial match. Shah Rukhbhai was there as we all know. While leaving Eden, we could see heaps of fans gathered outside the venue to cheer us on. We got a rousing reception on the hotel premises and it was really heart-warming. And then in the hotel, Russell and Holder set the dance floor on fire. They are terrific dancers (Guffaws)!
Q: What did Shah Rukh Khan tell the team after the game? After all, it was the first time he watched your performance live this season.
Yusuf: Shah Rukhbhaihad tweeted about my performance after the end of the RCB game where he said, ‘’Duniyameinek hi bhai, Yusuf bhai’’. During the course of the KXIP game he looked a bit worried when (Glenn) Maxwell was hitting the balls to the fence but was elated after Russell had bowled that astounding final over. We relished his presence in the city.
Q: And did you interact with Sourav Ganguly?
Yusuf: No, I couldn’t meet Dada. He was busy looking after the arrangements at the stadium and was running around for a major part of the game. But he said he will see us in the practice sessions prior to the game against Gujarat Lions on Sunday. We are looking forward to it.
Q: When Axar Patel hit those 2 sixes off Andre Russell in the 18th over, did you people feel that the game could slip away from your hands?
Yusuf: To be honest, we succumbed to nerves in that particular over. Russell had bowled a good over until the fourth ball of that over. The two sixes off the last two deliveries of that over enabled Punjab to creep back into the game. Russell is an experienced campaigner and if your strike bowler goes awry at times, it gets difficult for the team to assert its dominance in the contest. Hence, the match went down to the wire. But Russell bowled a commendable final over to pull off the game for us. He is such a fit athlete and hard trier that you could count upon him nine times out of ten during such grim circumstances.
Q: Let’s talk about the RCB game at the Chinnaswamy. When you were set a challenging target of 186, you felt it was chaseable on a small ground like the Chinnaswamy? You had successfully chased down a target of 200 in the 2014 final at the same venue.
Yusuf: We felt we could chase it down. However, we didn’t get off to the best of starts. We lost Robbie (Robin Uthappa) in the first over with not too many runs on the board. While chasing such a huge total, the openers need to ensure that they build a solid foundation for the middle order to take off. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen on that day. But we had a meticulously chalked out plan at our disposal and we used it to good effect.
Q: What message did you get from the KKR think tank before going in to bat?
Yusuf: The primary aim was to score as many runs as possible within the first six overs of the Powerplay because that is how you approach a T20 innings. The team management wanted us to play normal cricket shots and not invite any undue pressure by going for expansive strokes. I was required to assess the situation, play my natural game and express myself on the field. The start wasn’t that impressive but I and Russell made up for it by hitting a few boundaries in the dying stages of the game. Despite the fact that Plan A didn’t turn out as well as we would have liked it to, Plan B augured well for us.
Q: You & Russell had a tough time facing Yuzvendra Chahal, who was spinning the ball well. Did you intend to attack any other bowler?
Yusuf: We were trying to smack boundaries off Chahal as well. But I reckon he bowled splendidly in that game. He didn’t give away too many loose deliveries. So, we were left with no other choice but to attack the other bowlers.
Q: You have played several whirlwind knocks in your 9-year long IPL career; among which three innings’ stand out- The 37-ball hundred against Mumbai Indians for your erstwhile franchise Rajasthan Royals in 2010; a 22-ball 72 against Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Eden Gardens in 2014 and your recent innings of 60* off 29 balls against RCB at the Chinnaswamy. Which of these aforesaid knocks has given Yusuf Pathan the maximum satisfaction?
Yusuf: Every innings has its own worth. Wherever I go, I hear people discussing these three knocks only. I have also played several other productive knocks in the past but people tend to forget those. I would not like to draw comparison between my knocks. Each innings is special in its own right.
Q: But the 22-ball 72 against SRH was crucial to KKR’s chances as far as finishing second in the points table was concerned.
Yusuf: In a way, yes. The situation demanded me to play that innings in that match. If we talk about the RCB game, we were confronted with a similar situation. We went to Bangalore having suffered two consecutive defeats. So, another loss at that stage would have hampered our position in the league big time. When I was with Rajasthan Royals, I scored the 37-ball century en route to chasing a target of 213. Yet, we fell short by 4 or 5 runs of the target. All these three innings have been satisfying.
Q: You have been playing a vital role with Andre Russell down the order for KKR over the past two seasons or so. What kind of a rapport do you share with him off the field?
Yusuf: We cherish each other’s presence at the crease. Both of us know that boundaries would not get difficult to come by if we stick around for 4 or 5 overs. It allows us to stay calm and play our natural games. He advises me on a wide variety of things; ranging from head position to bat swing. If you have a partner like Russell at the other end, you are bound to get insulated from all sorts of concerns enveloping the game. He has had a positive influence on my game. We spend a lot of time off the field as well. He is from West Indies and it is needless to say that he is a very jolly character; a great entertainer. I love spending time with him.
Q: You reckon Russell is the best seam-bowling all-rounder in the world at the moment, post Shane Watson’s international retirement?
Yusuf: You know where the problem lies? West Indies has a whole line-up of seam-bowling all-rounders. How do I choose among them? I am already confused (Giggles). The biggest surprise for me was to see Darren Sammy being left unsold at the auction. He is the Captain of the West Indies T20 side and winner of two World Championship titles in the format. What is important to remember here is the fact the Russell was granted an opportunity and he has embraced it with both hands.
Q: The Knights play their next four games at the Eden Gardens on the trot. How much of a psychological advantage is that going to be?
Yusuf: When a team which has been progressing reasonably well plays on its home ground, it gets stimulated to put up a better display in front of the home fans. Having represented the Knights for so many years, we know the Eden Gardens like the back of our hands. Be it the ground dimensions or the conditions prevailing here in Kolkata; we are familiar with almost everything. And here it becomes imperative for me to mention the contribution of the fans in making the team what it is today. The way spectators chant ‘KKR, KKR’ in every match and inspire us lifts up the team’s morale. So, it’s obviously an advantage and we ought to gather as many points as possible from our remaining home games.
Q: Tell us something about the role of the support staff in detail. We believe WasimAkram, Jacques Kallis and Simon Katich have been instrumental in bolstering your confidence of late.
Yusuf: Jacques Kallis played alongside us for five years and now he is our head coach, so he knows all my strengths and weaknesses. When a player of Kallis’ calibre becomes your coach, it comes as a huge incentive since he had observed me in the dressing room closely during his days as an active cricketer. When you get to face your strike bowlers in the net sessions rather than local bowlers, it entices you to perform better in real match situations.Kallis has inculcated that culture in the set-up since his appointment as the head coach. These things might seem petty but at times such small facets help a team realize its true capability and deliver consistent results on the field.
Simon Katich too has been working very hard with the boys. A specialist batting coach observing all the proceedings during training instils a certain sense of confidence among the batsmen. He points out each of our strong zones and weak zones and imparts recommendations on how we could work on those.
And what do I say about WasimAkram? We are in absolute awe of him. Imagine the kind of modesty the man possesses; comes up to me and says, ‘’You know what? Had I been a contemporary of yours, I would think ten times regarding where to pitch the ball against you’’. We are blessed to have a team like KKR. The sort of assistance and care one receives here is unparalleled. Without any tinge of doubt I can proclaim that the support staff of KKR is one of the best support staffs I have ever worked with. The likes of Jacques Kallis, Simon Katich and Wasimbhai are ever-ready to help us out. We also owe a lot to Trevor Bayliss.
Q: We have seen WasimAkram bowl in the nets.
Yusuf: (Chortles and continues) Jeehaan, wohkabhikabhinahi, kuchzyada hi bowl kartehai nets me. Tab woh net sessions bhi bade khatarnaak ban jaatehai (Yes, he bowls frequently in the nets. By doing so, he makes even the net sessions look hazardous for batsmen). Don’t underestimate his dexterity by judging him by his age. That sharp in-swinger still obeys his command. Didn’t you see how well he bowled in the All Stars League last year?
Q: What about Captain Gambhir? He wrote recently in his column that your game is no longer confined to only ‘bloom’ and ‘bang’. You have also learnt to ‘block’ the ball these days and it is working well for the team. How have you been emphasising on that?
Yusuf: This season I have a different mind-set than I previously had. I am trying to spend more time in the middle and it has benefitted both me and the team. Captain has always backed me; even during trying circumstances and I am happy to be able to repose his faith. I will look to follow the same approach for the remainder of the season.
Q: Yusuf sahb, you have been entrusted with the task of finishing the games for KKR over the past 2 or 3 seasons. You seem to have fitted into that role. In the meantime, you also got married and now you have a wonderful family with your wife and two children. Have these things taught you to become a more responsible person on the 22 yards?
Yusuf: I used to perform the same duty even when I was at Rajasthan Royals. It has fetched me success in the past and I have been trying to emulate the same role at KKR. But as you said, I have become more consistent in the last couple of years by Allah’s grace. Nowadays I can see a different Yusuf Pathan in the mirror. It has been only three years since I got married. My outlook on life is still the same barring the fact that I now have three additional people in my life. Somewhere down the line, it does make you happy when you recognize that your family is always there to root for you. I am yet to find out whether my family has enabled me to become more responsible as a cricketer. I am still in search for the answer. That said; they have certainly helped me evolve as a person.
Q: Your fielding has improved by leaps and bounds this season as was evident from the catch you nabbed to dismiss KL Rahul in the RCB game. Is there any distinct fitness regime that you are following? How have Andrew Leipus and Adrian LaRouxcontributed in enhancing your fitness level?
Yusuf: I have always been a fielder with safe hands. I agree that my fielding wasn’t quite up to the mark for a couple of seasons in the intervening time but as I told you I am trying my best to resurrect myself. Andrew and Adrian have indeed facilitated me to improve my fitness level. Then we also went to South Africa for a pre-season tour. All such things result in developing your fitness level and I am grateful to both Andrew and Adrian for that. Then, there is another physiotherapist in the team named Kamlesh (also works with Bengal’s domestic team) who has got along with everyone as well. So, these two or three people who don’t hog the limelight have put their effortsto raise the overall fitness level of the team.
Q: Since you referred to the conditioning camp in South Africa a while ago, let me ask you; how has the pre-season tour helped the players who went there?
Yusuf: It was a good learning experience for us. Only six of us went for the conditioning camp and I personally wanted to spend some more time over there but our schedule is so tight that there wasn’t any scope for a prolonged stay. We trained under the supervision of Andrew and Adrian in Bloemfontein. Endurance training and fitness enhancement had been our priorities. We played a practice game against a local team over there. Nicky Boje was the coach of that side. Facing them and spending time with them in the net sessions felt good. We participated in three different park runs where we ran for 5 km every week with the local inhabitants who were very courteous. What I enjoyed most over the course of the tour was water biking and cycling on the mountains. A bike ride against the backdrop of the mountains was such a picturesque setting. Overall, it was a fantastic trip.
Q: Why hasn’t Yusuf Pathan been bowling in recent times? You picked up 14 wickets in the Ranji Trophy last season. Can we expect to see you bowling on the sluggish surfaces at Eden?
Yusuf: I have bowled very less since joining KKR in 2011. It is not as if I have stopped bowling in the nets or I don’t concentrate on my bowling any longer. I bowl off-spin in the nets regularly and also deliver long spells in First Class matches. During my association with Rajasthan Royals, I was a regular bowler and had also taken wickets while opening the bowling in some games. I scalped around 35 wickets for the Royals. The crux of the matter is we have four frontline spinners in this team unlike Rajasthan Royals. Piyush (Chawla), Narine, Brad Hogg and Shakib have been bowling quite well, so I am not required to bowl that much. However I took a wicket off the very first ball that I bowled this season when I dismissed David Miller at Mohali. Whenever the team needs my assistance, I put my hand up and try to support the team in whatever capacity I can.
Q: You think Irfan should be given more games at Rising Pune Supergiants?
Yusuf: Look, I don’t know why people make a fuss about his injuries so much. Every cricketer suffers injuries and it is part and parcel of the game. See how well he performed in the Syed Mustaq Ali Trophy. He captained Baroda in the tournament and piloted the team to the final. He picked up 17 wickets and scored some 200 odd runs in the tournament. He also took a five wicket haul in the first match. Tell me, how often do we see 5-wicket hauls in T20s? I don’t know what combination is their team management or Captain is looking at.In spite of hisbright track record, if he still doesn’t get enough chances it hurts a bit. Inshallah, he is very confident about grabbing whatever little opportunity that comes his way. Don’t worry, he will perform well. He only needs to be given enough chances.
Q: How does it feel to play in front of a jam-packed Eden Crowd? How has your experience been in Kolkata since joining the team in 2011?
Yusuf: It feels amazing man. We are always filled with the warmth of love whenever we play at the Eden. The vivacity and enthusiasm of the spectators are incomparable. You must have seen the kind of greeting we got from people both young and old when we returned to Kolkata after emerging victorious in both 2012 and 2014. I am a bit surprised to see a lot of empty stands at Eden this time around. Generally, we play in front of full-houses. It is perhaps because the city is still suffering the World T20 hangover. I would request all the KKR supporters to visit the ground and watch us live in the last few games at home. We are missing the ‘Mexican waves’ and ‘KKR, KKR’ chants. Eden has become my second home over the course of these six years.
As far as Kolkata is concerned, I am a big fan of the city’s food. Mr.Anurag, chef of ITC Sonar has familiarised me with a lot of local dishes. I enjoyed having the ‘Hilsa fish’ on the Bengali New Year’s Day. What do you call it?
Yusuf: Haan, PoilaBoisakh. I even wished my followers on Twitter on the occasion. Mashallah, I am a big foodie so I was destined to fall in love with Kolkata. Mr.Anurag deserves all the credit for that.
Q: Every time Irfan comes up against you, your parents face a dilemma regarding whom to support? Whom will they be supporting in the KKR-RPS game on May 14? After all it will be your home game this time around.
Yusuf: Hahaha, my parents have become used to watching their two sons square off against each other. Whether we perform well or not, both of us receive their blessings. Thanks to our profession, our parents have also turned very sporting. Now who gets their support a touch more is a difficult question to answer (laughs) but they wish both of us good luck before we play against each other.
Q: Pathansahb, we have our famous rapid fire round lined up for you. Shall we start?
Yusuf: Haanji, shurukijiye (Yes, you may proceed).
Q: Your nickname.
Yusuf: Back home my family members call me ‘Lala’ but my teammates call me ‘Yusi’.
Q: Your favourite cuisine.
Yusuf: I won’t say I have a fondness for any particular dish as such. I would gleefully eat any food provided it is served on time.
Q: Your favourite holiday destination.
Yusuf: I am always on the lookout for Wildlife Sanctuaries and Safari Parks since I am a wildlife enthusiast.
Q: Your favourite cricket stadium.
Yusuf: I made my international debut at the Wanderers in Johannesburg, so it occupies a special place in my heart. In India, I love playing at the CCI Ground(Brabourne Stadium) and our home ground; the Eden Gardens.
Q: Who is the biggest prankster in the KKR dressing room?
Yusuf: Brad Hogg.
Q: Your favourite cricketer in your childhood.
Yusuf: We grew up watching Mohammed Azharuddin and Sachin Tendulkar. I am fortunate to have shared the dressing room with Sachin paaji in the past.
Q: Your favourite Shah Rukh Khan dialogue.
Yusuf: ‘’Hum sharifkya hue, puriduniya hi badmashhogayi’’ (Gave a hearty laugh after reciting the famous ‘Dilwale’ dialogue).
Q: Is there anything that you miss after becoming a celebrity?
Yusuf: Frankly speaking, I don’t miss anything as such. Allah has endowed me with a lot of good things in life and I am grateful to Him for that. We faced several impediments when I and Irfan were kids but Allah has helped us overcome those difficulties and now we are content. Above everything else, I have been blessed with a good family, a caring wife and two adorable children.
Q: Your buddies in the KKR dressing room.
Yusuf: I have been playing for KKR since 2011 and I have mingled with everyone in the course of these six years. We enjoy each other’s company and for the most part try to help one another. Piyush, Russell, Robbie and Gautibhai (GautamGambhir) are really close mates of mine. The franchise is like a family for us and we never feel as if we are staying away from home for these two months. The ambience at KKR is indeed very homely.
(In the meantime, Andre Russell bumped into our interviewee and their cheerful conversation exemplified Yusuf’s answer to the aforementioned question).
Q: Any superstition?
Yusuf: I am not sure whether to refer to it as a superstition or ritual, but I sit in the dug-out only after the conclusion of the first six overs. I don’t know whether I am doing it knowingly or unknowingly but it has been working well for me over the past 2 or 3 years (Grins).
Q: What are your hobbies?
Yusuf: I have a soft corner for birds and animals, so whenever I get time I try to rescue them on the streets. I have a deep passion for wildlife photography and enjoy my time amidst nature. Besides, I also have a certain fondness for gardening and driving.
Q: Your favourite cricketing moment as of yet.
Yusuf: It’s hard to choose any particular one. Winning the World T20 (in 2007) and the ICC Cricket World Cup (in 2011) will be right there. My international debut in the final of the 2007 World T20 also holds special significance for me. Playing under Shane Warne’s captaincy during my stint with Rajasthan Royals was very special too.
Q: Best compliment you have received in your cricketing career to date.
Yusuf: Allah has bestowed ample accolades upon me until now. That said; I fondly remember the commendation I received from Sachin paaji after I notched up a hundred off just 37 balls against Mumbai Indians at the Brabourne Stadium in 2010. Us innings kebaad who mujheboley, ‘’Woh boundary maar rahe the yaasirf 30-yard circle cross karrahe the’’? (After I went back to the pavilion havingbeen dismissed, Sachin paaji walked up to me and inquired whether I was hitting boundaries or merely crossing the 30-yard inner ring’’).
There’s another anecdote as well. After watching my 22-ball 72 against Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Eden Gardens in 2014, Wasimbhai lavished praise on me by tweeting that he had never witnessed an innings like that. It came from a man who has nearly 20 years of international experience plus 10 years of coaching experience to his name.
Then prior to our match against Delhi Daredevils at the Kotla this season, Wasimbhai told me that he I was there in his Fantasy League squad. On being asked about the reason by one of my friends, Wasimbhai said, ‘’Look, Yusi is my match winner. So, why wouldn’t I include him? He will bat at No. 5 ahead of Dhoni in my dream batting line-up’’. These things will remain embedded in my memory for a long time to come.
Q: Message to all your fans.
Yusuf:I would ask my fans to keep backing me. I have been watching Virat (Kohli) and Rohit’s (Sharma) upsurge in recent times and I am trying to learn whatever I can from their performances. Every person longs for glory and strives to perform well day in, day out. My fans need to be a little more patient. I have always credited all my achievements to my fans because many a times they have motivated me in times of crisis. In some matches I might do very well while in others I might not be able to score anything substantial. Having said that, I think I am undergoing a rectification process at the moment. I am taking my game more seriously than I ever had and it has already started yielding results on the pitch. Hopefully, I will be able to notch up several more consistent performances with the bat in the upcoming games. Keep praying for me. I am determined to make all my fans happy and entertain them.
Q: You are 33 now. India has a long cricketing season ahead including the all-important Champions Trophy next year. Since you have exhibited decent form of late, how far do you think you are away from making a comeback into the team?
Yusuf: I am resolute about my responsibilities at this juncture. I would like to continue this momentum and pile up ample runs throughout the season. If I put up valiant performances in the forthcoming games I am sure I won’t be deprived of a place in the national team. So it all depends on how I perform hereon.
Q: Our last question. The day you won against RCB you sang ‘Jo wadahkiyawoh’ in the dressing room. If you had to choose any one song to describe the road ahead for KKR, which song would it be?
Yusuf: Man, how did you know that? (Looks ecstatic and goes on to sing) ‘’WohMuqaddarkaSikandar, Champion kehlayega’’