The extraordinary Mr Khan
Younis Khan is an extraordinary man. That’s not an opinion, that’s just a fact. From Shoaib Malik to Ijaz Butt, many have tried to take him on; none have succeeded. And Younis has always come out with his dignity and integrity intact. Yet the praise of the man sometimes seems to overshadow his qualities as a batsman – particularly by Pakistani standards. They were on display once again as he guided Pakistan, and Asad Shafiq, from the hole they were in at 33 for 4 at Newlands, Cape Town on the first day of the 2nd Test.
Just the bare stats show how undervalued he is amongst vast swathes of the Pakistani cricket fan base. Since 2004, only Jacques Kallis averages more than him amongst players who have played more than 20 Tests. An average of 59 over a period of more than eight years is astonishing for a man once deemed not good enough for international cricket. Yet his greatness lies not in the number of runs he has scored, but under what circumstances he has scored them under. No one in modern cricket has a higher average than him in the 4th innings of a Test match. And his record against India speaks of someone who is at ease on the biggest occasion.
His greatest attributes are somewhat incalculable. It is what American sportswriters refer to as ‘the intangibles’. He’s perhaps the greatest partner Pakistani cricket has had since Javed Miandad. He has been involved in more 100-run partnerships, forty five, than Mohammad Yousuf or Inzamam-ul-Haq despite playing far fewer Tests than either of them – 39 fewer than Inzamam to be exact. The reasons for that are obvious. He rotates the strike when need be, has all the gears required for Test cricket, and is equally comfortable being the aggressor or the passenger in a duo. The fact that he is still one of the fittest men in the side, even in his mid-30s, also adds to his repertoire. Unlike Inzamam and Yousuf, he is a good judge of a run and is able to continuously keep the scoreboard ticking over. To top it all off, he never seems to panic if he’s repeatedly beaten by world-class bowling.
All of those attributes were in play on the first day as was his role as the calming influence standing on the non-striker’s end. Shafiq played and missed repeatedly as the South African fast-bowling trio looked to slice through the Pakistani resistance. But after every over Younis was there, in his ear, to calm the youngster down and take him along, as he dragged Pakistan clear. Pakistan scored only 13 runs in the 10 overs after lunch, but there was serenity from Younis, which calmed Shafiq’s nerves after his initial troubles. The duo then went from strength-to-strength. The targeting of Robin Peterson was as safe as it was logical; toying with Graeme Smith’s field placements – the South African captain never sure of whether to put his fielders close or on the boundary. By the end of the day, Pakistan had gone from being in the hole – afraid of a repeat of the first Test – to being, unbelievably, the side that ended the day happiest. And one man, above all others, made that happen.
This is exactly why every time there are the ridiculous calls for the team to be filled solely with young blood they are ignored by the men in charge of Pakistani cricket – at least the few of them who have brains. Younis has batted only four times in Test cricket with Shafiq, three of those have been century stands. He was there for Azhar Ali’s highest score, as he was when he made Fawad Alam open and notch up a debut hundred. He was there when Umar Akmal scored his only ODI hundred (although Akmal only ever batted once with him in Test cricket, thanks to Ijaz Butt). He believes that his job is to clear the mind of the youngsters; when I asked him about it he said, “my theory is pretty simple, if there’s a ball you go for that, and make a partnership, and especially take singles…I always encourage the youngster that if there’s a ball play your shot, man.”
He has succeeded Inzamam in the role of bringing the best out of a fledgling. It almost seems, as Osman Samiuddin said, as if he’s auditioning for a successor of Yousuf. And it was with Yousuf that he shined the brightest. Together they added more than 3000 runs at an average above 78, contributing to Pakistan’s greatest middle order ever. Even with the others gone, Younis is there, plugging away, as a reminder of a better time, while turning the careers of the newcomers, so that they may reproduce what he, Yousuf and Inzi achieved in the middle years of the last decade.
Many a time we make the mistake of only appreciating our heroes once they’re gone. A man of Younis’ worth deserves far better.