Cricket has transformed Yusuf Pathan into a celebrity. But, listen to him talk about his game, family and other interests, and one will realise he hasn't lost sight of his roots
Yusuf Pathan comes across as a refreshing throwback to a different vintage; a time when players would synthesise heady cricketing exploits with impeccable behaviour. We meet Yusuf for the interview a short while before his departure to Delhi. One would then be forgiven if one were to expect off-the-peg answers and hurried responses. The man from Vadodara, however, fields queries with grace and composure.
His gentle demeanour is quite a departure from his marauding ways at the crease. “I am very calm by nature. It's only while batting that I adopt a different approach,” explains Yusuf, who was in Chennai to take part in the Buchi Babu Memorial all-India tournament.
The 28-year-old is quite unaffected by his rise at the international level and the celebrity status that follows such an ascent. “People in India give you so much love and respect. It's important not to lose sight of one's roots,” says Yusuf who has played 56 One Day Internationals and 20 T-20s thus far.
The conversation naturally drifts towards his brother Irfan and the equation they share. “Irfan's selection (to the Indian team) was a motivation. We started playing together and would always discuss quite a lot about cricket. I was very happy for him.”
What memories does he have of his own international debut? “I would struggle to put that in words,” he smiles. “I made my ODI debut in Dhaka (against Pakistan). Irfan handed me my India cap and I was absolutely thrilled. The senior players were very supportive.”
The muscular all-rounder also remembers his childhood and the pranks he played along with Irfan. “We used to break quite a few window panes in the neighbourhood playing cricket. One of the neighbours said in jest that if we ever became international cricketers, it was up to us to mend the broken panes. And, we have done exactly that,” chuckles Yusuf.
He acknowledges the contribution of Mehendi Sheikh and the late Bashir Sheikh in his development as a cricketer. “They were pillars of strength. Balwinder Singh Sandhu was also a great source of support.”
Shane Warne is an obvious favourite of Yusuf. “Warne is such an inspiration. It was from him I learnt that leadership is about backing your players and making them feel positive. He was the first one to spot that I could be effective with the new ball.”
“It was then a regret that I couldn't play alongside him at the time of his retirement during the IPL this year.”
Yusuf has a realistic approach towards handling criticism without getting too philosophical. “Criticism is necessary and everyone faces that. Ups and downs are common. I am happy about the fact that my family and friends back me all the time.”
Speaking of family, is it true that Yusuf is more a homebody than a party animal? “Yes, I do like to spend quality time with my family. That's when I am totally relaxed.” His love for animals and birds is also well-documented. “I don't watch too many movies. Spending time with pets relieves stress. I have quite a few birds at home,” he says.
On the cricketing front, Yusuf's immediate challenge is the Champions League. “I want to be known as a proper all-rounder. It is important to not look too far ahead and not compromise on hard work. Hopefully, I can make it back into the Indian team. Of course, in the long term I would like to play Test cricket as well.”
Ask him if he is treated like a superstar in his hometown and Yusuf gives us a puzzled glance. “Why, I am still the same Yusuf Pathan,” he bursts out laughing.