The Return of the Prodigal?


The return of the prodigal? Perhaps, yes. One had thought that Mohammad Yousuf, one of the very finest batsmen that Pakistan has produced, was dead and gone – albeit strictly in cricketing terms. But there once again, was Yousuf, having a fitness test conducted by new coach Dav Whatmore. One hopes that Whatmore can squeeze a couple of years more out of the man who had more time to play his shots than almost anybody else.
Yousuf’s career numbers are really impressive: 90 Tests (scoring 7530 runs at an average of 52.29) and 288 ODIs (scoring 9720 at 41.71). This compares favourably with Ricky Ponting and approaches Tendulkar. And, on paper, Yousuf is younger than either of the above. The question remains whether Yousuf’s hand-eye coordination has been eroded by time, not having played at the highest level for two years.
That is a long time to be away from the cutting edge of a sport. Whether Yousuf’s technique and temperament can hone itself back to that edge is a million dollar question. It would also be an early test of Whatmore’s motivational and coaching skills. Whether Whatmore’s fielding coach can wring some more athleticism out of him in the outfield, could be the coach’s ultimate challenge.
The other question that arises is as to why Yousuf, one of the world’s best, albeit one of the world’s worst fielders, was sidelined for two years following the disastrous Australian tour under his captaincy. Granted, his captaincy was an unmitigated disaster, but the punishment should have been given to Ijaz Butt, who made such an inadequate choice. Yousuf is no captain material, but no one will question that his batting is out of this world. So why, in spite of the captaincy issues, was one of the world’s great batsmen forced out of the game? The selectors have a lot to answer for.
Talking about coaches, this scribe tried on several occasions to contact Whatmore but all calls remained unanswered. It seems the coach of coaches may be in need for some coaching in public relations. This column tries its best to stay above these petty matters, but there are plenty of others who would not take this kindly at all.
domination over Djoker
The European clay court season has started with Rafael Nadal winning the Monte Carlo Open for the umpteenth time, beating a listless Novak Djokovic in the finals. Djokovic was certainly off colour, having suffered a family bereavement. He stated at the end of the match that he had no emotional energy left. It is doubtful however, whether he could have beaten Nadal on the Monte Carlo clay, so dominant has the Spaniard been at the event.
Roger Federer was conspicuous for his absence, preferring to save his strength for the French Open as well as to work on his game. Federer has long since given up the race for ATP points and is now focusing on winning major events. He would dearly like to win the French or Wimbledon as well as the Olympics. This amounts to a lot of tennis to be played this summer and at 30-plus, Federer is looking to preserve his energy.
Another significant player missing from the draw was the giant American John Isner. Already having defeated Federer, Djokovic and Nadal this year, the 6 ft 9 inches tall Isner is one of the most feared players in any draw. The angle and power he gets on his serve makes it almost unplayable when he is in the groove. He now has the ground stroke power and control that makes him a complete package. Isner is a threat on any surface.
Significantly, he beat Federer on clay over five sets in Davis Cup. The surface suits his game because his serve kicks high and wide and the opponents topspin balls are right in his strike zone. Isner has preferred to stay back in the USA and train for the French Open. He will play a couple of events prior to the French and will be there with a big chance to go deep into the draw, perhaps even win the whole thing. The same goes for Wimbledon and the Olympics. In Barcelona, the next stop on the clay circuit, Nadal and Murray are cruising through the draw and look to be meeting in the finals. Aisam Qureshi and partner Rojer have also won their initial match, 10-8 in the deciding tiebreak. They were subsequently edged out by the Polish team of Fyrstenberg, Matkowski for a place in the semifinals. This match, had Aisam gotten through it, could have been a huge momentum builder for a team that has been having a subpar season.
Pakistan tennis in a Black Hole
In local tennis, it was business as usual, with the evergreen Aqeel Khan cruising to yet another title in Lahore, defeating his usual opponent, younger brother Jaleel Khan in the finals. The brothers are both over thirty years old now and still there is no replacement in sight.
Many experienced onlookers cite the reason for this to be what they call, the “Black Hole” of the first decade of this century when tennis was riddled with incompetence, favouritism, and nepotism. It might take another decade to bring tennis back to what it was in the 1990s and before.
The new administration has good leadership at the top, but the PTF is still being run by the same people from the dark decade, the ones who value their badges and use the sport for income enhancement. The sooner this issue is addressed, the better off Pakistan tennis will be.