Blessed with exceptional batting talent which was complemented by a silken touch, Mohammad Yousuf defied bowling attacks for over 12 years from around the world to score over seventeen thousand effortless runs in 381 appearances for Pakistan. His quest for perfection at the crease also brought him a world record 1788 runs in 11 Tests in 2006, thus confirming his status as one of the best batsmen Pakistan has ever produced.
In an interview, Mohammad Yousuf spoke about his views on what makes Virat Kohli the best modern-day batsmen, the imbalance caused by batsman-friendly match conditions in the shorter formats of the game, why he feels that the bowling attacks he faced were far superior compared to the current ones, Mickey Arthur's influence on Pakistan's recent successes and Pakistan's advantage in bowling that makes them firm favourites for lifting the 2019 World Cup.
By Saj Sadiq (7th August, 2018)
PakPassion.net: There is a consensus that modern-day batsmen have it easy compared to previous generations?
Mohammad Yousuf: I think it's unfair to compare different eras in cricket. I keep seeing people comparing batting in the 2000s with how it was in the 1990s or 1980s or even earlier and I just don't get how people can make those comparisons when so many things have changed in cricket across all of the formats.
PakPassion.net: Who do you rate as the best modern-day batsman?
Mohammad Yousuf: Virat Kohli is a batsman who I rate very highly. He's in a different class compared to other batsmen of the modern era. Rohit Sharma, Joe Root, Steve Smith and Kane Williamson are also very high-class batsmen. Whilst these four are a cut above the rest due to their performances and class, it is Virat Kohli who I believe the rest should aim to copy.
PakPassion.net: What do you feel makes Virat Kohli the great batsman that he is?
Mohammad Yousuf: He is the complete package when it comes to batting. His aggression is second to none, it's as though he has a fast-bowler's aggression and mentality even though he's a batsman. But what really makes him stand out from the rest is his fitness. I have never seen any Asian cricketer achieve the levels of fitness that Virat Kohli has. He's the world's top batsman, he has proven his ability, he has been consistent and he has scored all of those runs not through luck, but due to sheer hard work, determination and dedication. Look at his record and his statistics and those numbers don't lie, they confirm what a world-class performer he is. But he has also proved that he is mentally tough, he has confidence in his own ability and it's very rare that he is out for a low score and that is the mark of a great player.
PakPassion.net: Do you think there is a danger that twenty over cricket is damaging the technique of some batsmen?
Mohammad Yousuf: I'm a firm believer that if you are good enough then you should be able to play in any format. The best batsmen adjust their technique and mindset to the format that they are playing in. I give the example of Joe Root, Steve Smith and Virat Kohli who all have shown that they have the technique and the ability to succeed in any format and that is the mark of a great player. Then there are the likes of Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan who have also shown that they have the pedigree to succeed in all three formats. It all depends on whether a batsman can switch on, and then switch and adjust to the relevant format.PakPassion.net: Batting records seem to be broken at will these days in limited-overs formats. Do you think the modern-game is too batting-friendly?
Mohammad Yousuf: Yes, I wholeheartedly agree with this and it's something that is clearly evident when you watch a lot of cricket these days. Two balls being used in the 50-over format, a limit on the number of bouncers per over and also some ridiculously small boundaries make for very batting-friendly conditions. This is something that cricket administrators need to address as I feel that the game is just becoming one that is totally in favour of batsmen and there is nothing left in it for bowlers.PakPassion.net: You are a cricketer who faced some of the world's best bowlers during your playing days. But what do you make of the standard of modern-day bowlers?
Mohammad Yousuf: I believe that in the 1990s and up to the mid 2000s we saw some of the all-time great bowlers. It was an era that was blessed with great spinners and a fantastic array of quick bowlers and when I say quick bowlers, I mean genuinely fast-bowlers, not your medium-fast bowlers that many are nowadays trying to label as pace bowlers. In that era Australia had one of the best bowling attacks of all time, the West Indies were still a major force with some all-time legendary bowlers, Sri Lanka had Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas, Pakistan had Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar, Saqlain Mushtaq and plenty of other excellent bowlers. Likewise, South Africa had Shaun Pollock, Allan Donald, Lance Klusener and Jacques Kallis at their disposal. It was an era where no team had a weak bowling attack and in fact nearly all of the teams had high-quality spinners and world-class pace-bowlers and I simply do not see that in the current modern teams. Yes, you have some good bowlers, but there are no bowling attacks that are on a par with the bowling attacks I have mentioned. I only see Mitchell Starc as the best bowler at the moment, but James Anderson is not the bowler he once was and I think he has deteriorated as a bowler in the last two or three years and is past his best. You can currently count on one hand the names of genuine world-class bowlers and that is a concern. One or two good bowlers don't make a good bowling attack and that is why there can be no comparison between modern international bowling attacks and those from 1990s and up to the mid 2000s.PakPassion.net: Do you think bowling talent is suffering due to many bowlers prioritising twenty-over cricket over the longer formats?
Mohammad Yousuf: Cricket has become very commercial, hasn't it? We have over 400 runs in ODIs in an innings which is just ludicrous, with conditions and rules favouring batsmen; it's almost as if the people running cricket just want to see more and more runs. Perhaps it's the pressure from sponsors, or it's the companies buying the television rights who just want to see lots of fours and sixes and the ball disappearing into the crowd regularly. When you are seeing scores of 450 plus in a 50-over innings and a player scoring 172 in a T20I innings then there is definitely an imbalance and it needs addressing. With what's happening currently, I'm not surprised that more and more bowlers are concentrating on reducing their workload and many just focusing on the shorter formats and who can blame them.PakPassion.net: What can be done in your opinion to address the imbalance between bat and ball in modern-day cricket?
Mohammad Yousuf: Well the issue needs to be recognised first. The fans can see what is happening, the experts can see it, the media can see what's going on, but until the powers-that-be recognise the issue then nothing will happen. I look at the 1992 and 1999 World Cup tournaments as competitions where there was an even battle between bat and ball and I believe that the fans thoroughly enjoyed both tournaments. Skill-levels are reducing and the quality of players is diminishing due to flat tracks found in today's game and rule changes that are totally in favour of batsmen. The authorities need to address this issue before fans become bored of these seemingly endless one-sided cricket matches.PakPassion.net: Looking ahead to the 2019 World Cup, which teams do you feel are genuine contenders to lift the trophy?
Mohammad Yousuf: Three teams are genuine contenders in my opinion. The last two Champions Trophy tournaments have been won by India and Pakistan respectively and I believe that both of these teams have the ability to win the World Cup. I think spinners will play a key role and both India and Pakistan have fantastic spin options. India has a wonderful array of batting talent but I think there are some doubts over their bowlers particularly their pace bowlers as was evident in the recent One-Day series against England. Coming to the hosts, I feel that England will have home advantage and they are looking formidable at the moment in One-Day cricket and they will be a force at the World Cup. The only other team that may stand an outside chance is Australia but they really need to get all of their man players back from bans, from injuries and then firing on all cylinders. If you have players like David Warner, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood at your disposal then you may have a chance, but the fact is that Australia look a pale shadow of the team they once were. PakPassion.net: If you had to pick a favourite for the 2019 World Cup then which team would it be?
Mohammad Yousuf: I think Pakistan are the favourites and I say that because I feel they have the best bowling attack particularly on flat tracks. When I say best, I mean they have the best-balanced attack and an attack which has the ability to take wickets regularly and not let the opposition settle. Another key factor is that Pakistan will not be relying on part-time bowlers, they have 6 or 7 genuine bowlers in the team and that is something that not many of the teams participating at the World Cup will have at their disposal. Also, on the sort of flat tracks that will be available in England at that time, the team with the best bowling attack will succeed and I believe that bowling attack belongs to Pakistan. PakPassion.net: There were doubts over Mickey Arthur when he was chosen as Pakistan Head Coach, but he has proved the critics wrong, hasn't he?
Mohammad Yousuf: When a team is winning, then everything is rosy in the garden. At the end of the day any coach wants the team to succeed and he will only try to improve the players individually and the team as a group. The performance and results come from the players, not the coach. The Head Coach's role is just to fine-tune the players, to create a strategy, to improve the tactics and to knit the group together and unite the squad. I think the likes of Azhar Mahmood deserve a lot of credit for the upturn in form for Pakistan as he is a very positive individual and he has played a lot of cricket around the world, and he is passing on that experience to the players which can only be a good thing for Pakistan cricket.PakPassion.net: When are we going to get the best out of Umar Akmal and Ahmed Shehzad?
Mohammad Yousuf: The only people who can answer that question are Umar and Ahmed themselves. I don't think we should worry about these two at the moment especially with the team doing so well and I believe that is due to the edge in bowling we have over many teams.PakPassion.net: Pakistan cricket is on a high with many young cricketers settling nicely into international cricket. What do you feel has caused this positivity?
Mohammad Yousuf: The youngsters have to take credit for the feel-good factor in Pakistan cricket. From the Champions Trophy till now, there have been some fantastic performances from the younger members of the team. In addition, I think Mohammad Amir deserves a lot of praise for his efforts since his return to international cricket. He has had to face a lot of criticism but he's a big-match player and a bowler who can single-handedly win matches for his country. Cricketers such as Shadab Khan, Fakhar Zaman, Babar Azam, Hasan Ali and Faheem Ashraf have come through and this could potentially become a golden generation for Pakistan in terms of Limited-Overs cricket. However, I feel that these youngsters do need some senior players around to guide them and one of those senior players who I feel should still be around in the 50-over format is Azhar Ali especially in English conditions for the 2019 World Cup.