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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 November 2006, 15:20 GMT
Gift from God
By Sarah Holt

Mohammed Yousuf gives thanks after his record-breaking century
Yousuf credits his record-breaking form to his conversion to Islam
Before Mohammad Yousuf's conversion to Islam from Christianity, rumour has it he was told by those close to the Pakistan squad that he was the only thing standing between God and his team.

Not so now. Since he became a Muslim in 2005, Yousuf's star has been on this rise and in the last year his batting average has risen to a staggering average of 99.33.

He has certainly cemented his status as the lynchpin of Pakistan's Test side and established himself as an all-time batting great in the process.

He now has a new world record mark for runs scored in a calendar year - 1,788 to be precise - eclipsing Sir Viv Richards' previous record by 68 runs.

And in doing so he notched up his ninth Test century of the year.

There is no doubt that his religion has encouraged a new serenity at the crease

Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer

In the aftermath of his record-breaking innings in Karachi, the softly-spoken 32-year-old was clear about the catalyst to his success.

"It was only with God's help that I achieved this," said Yousuf, who converted from Christianity nearly two years ago.

The statistics appear to support his belief. The player, formerly known as Yousuf Youhana, averaged around 48 in his first 59 Tests before converting.

Since adopting the Islamic faith of his team-mates, Yousuf scored a double hundred in Lahore to seal the winter Test series against England for Pakistan and, although Pakistan lost the return series to England last summer, Yousuf shone, hitting scores of 202, 192 and 128.

The right-handed batsman also made two centuries against India and four in five innings against the West Indies to take his Test century count for 2006 to nine - which also happens to be a world record.

FACTFILE
Born: 27/08/74, Lahore
Right hand batsman
Test debut: 26/02/98 v South Africa, Durban
ODI debut: 28/03/98 v Zimbabwe, Harare
Historic moment 30/11/06: Sets record for the most Test runs in a year (1,788)
Sets record for most Test centuries in a year (9)
Sets new Pakistan record for most runs in three-match Test series (665)

Yousuf, now sporting a bushy beard, says his change of faith has given him a new-found focus on the field.

"I had money and fame but I was restless," he explained.

"Offering prayers five times a day makes you disciplined and I take this discipline onto the field as well."

Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer agrees that religion has helped Yousuf hone his batting technique and develop his mental strength.

"Islam has helped him focus his skills and shaped the way he trains," said Woolmer.

"There is no doubt that his religion has encouraged a new serenity at the crease, where he is calculating in his shot selection, deadly in its execution and determined in its application."

The focus on Yousuf's religion, however, should not be allowed to undermine the fact that the 32-year-old has always been a naturally gifted player.

The son of a railway worker brought up in modest surroundings, he once pondered a career as a tailor before battling to make the grade in domestic cricket.

Unusually for a player on the subcontinent, he was made to wait until the age of 23 before breaking into the national team.

Mohammed Yousuf on his way to scoring 202 against England at Lord's
Yousuf on his way to scoring 202 against England at Lord's

The right-hander's patience and masterful stroke play eventually paid off and led to a call-up for the tour of South Africa in 1998, where his debut innings in Durban lasted a mere 40 balls.

While his natural flair was never in question, Yousuf's temperament at the crease and his ability to switch on for big matches drew criticism.

But while plenty of his contemporaries fell victim to the revolving door selection policy in Pakistan, Yousuf survived and has been allowed to grow into his role at number four.

"Yousuf has come of age," said former Pakistan captain Rameez Raja. "He can be depended upon to score for Pakistan in high-pressure situations."

While his place in Pakistan lore in assured, Yousuf's record-breaking day against the West Indies could finally see him mentioned in the same breath as contemporary batting greats, like Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting and Brian Lara - an honour which has eluded him.

"He is one of the best batsman produced by Pakistan and the way he is batting I see him going on to break many new records," said another former Pakistan captain Hanif Mohammad.

"I have a feeling this is just the beginning."



SEE ALSO
Record-breaker Yousuf leads push
30 Nov 06 |  Cricket
Yousuf sets new Test run record
30 Nov 06 |  Cricket
Yousuf 'proud' after record year
30 Nov 06 |  Pakistan
Pakistan take control in Karachi
29 Nov 06 |  Cricket
Yousuf revels in century record
27 Nov 06 |  Cricket
Pakistan's Youhana embraces Islam
19 Sep 05 |  South Asia
West Indies in Pakistan 2006
25 Aug 06 |  Future tour dates


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