With his scintillating 123 off just 96 balls in the fourth ODI against New Zealand at Bangalore, Yusuf Pathan has most definitely stamped his worth on the Indian team and booked a berth in the World Cup squad. In the match, Pathan came in when the score was at a precarious 108/4 with over 30 overs remaining. He sensed an opportunity to play the long innings and grabbed it with both hands.
Throughout the knock, he demonstrated much character, deftly combining aggression with caution. Going at around a-run-a-ball till he reached his 50, he then powered some thunderous shots to bring India within sight of victory. He was conscious of the ability of his partners as well, rotating the strike with them and even allowing Saurabh Tiwary to hit the winnings runs.
Earlier in the day, he had even done his job with the ball. He got the crucial wickets of Scott Styris, Daniel Vettori and Kyle Mills while putting the breaks on New Zealand's run-flow in the middle overs. It was truly Yusuf's day as he fulfilled his role thoroughly and gave a good account of himself, while also setting up a most-exciting game to watch.
New Zealand must have thought they were in with a chance to win the match, epecially after getting Gautam Gambhir and Kohli - their bugbears from the previous three encounters - out cheaply. But the grit, determination and power-hitting prowess of Yusuf gradually ruined the Kiwis plans, leaving the tourists scratcing their heads at the end of the high-scoring match.
Yusuf could very well be India's find of the decade. One thought his brother - Irfan -was the best allrounder India had gained since Kapil Dev. But the loss of Irfan's banana-swing bowling settled that question in the negative and India was still on the lookout for a player that embodied the same heroic characteristics as Kapil. It looks like the riddle has been answered as Yusuf comes to the fore just months before the big event.
Yusuf has single-handedly effected changes in the equation concerning other players who were being considered for the World Cup. While he has most certainly stamped Ravindra Jadeja out of the race for a spinner's slot in the squad, he might well be giving Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina a run for their money. Yuvraj has not been the fluent player he had earned a name as and Raina is on a poor run with the bat.
With one more game against the Kiwis to go, it will be interesting to see whether Pathan rises to the challenge of repeating his forceful performance and in effect, cementing his place in the side. A seat in the World Cup dugoput awaits. Will Yusuf be the one to fill it?