New posts sign in menu 

Cricket News

Younis Khan is the disappointment you need

by   •  Last updated on 2020-04-13 16:52:32

It's funny how after 118 Tests, 10,099 runs and 34 hundreds, Younis Khan still finds a way to disappoint.

Try stepping into the shoes of a nineties kid. With bragging rights to pre-digital life in this era of gadget fetish, it must really hurt to miss out on Younis Khan -- arguably Pakistan's greatest batsman who makes for a desirable, modern-day throwback to the good ol' days.

It's only natural to feel nostalgic around Younis Khan's retirement, until it dawns upon you that he's someone who debuted as late as 2000, and is retiring after a fulfilling career spanning seventeen long years.

"When I came into the Pakistan team, I shared the dressing room with the likes of Rashid Latif, Moin Khan, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Wasim Akram and Saeed Anwar. I used to wonder about the time when they will not be around and the onus will be on us. But when they retired two to three years later, Pakistan still did wonders," Younis told the media after announcing his retirement in April this year.

And that is when reality hit the hardest, accidentally waking up many a nineties kid into adulthood, and rendering their fancied, even pompous, nineties-kid-nostalgia outdated in two shakes of a lamb's tail.

Brick in the wall

You can be forgiven for misconstruing Younis as a nineties player; he is as close as it gets. Armed with perhaps the greatest on-drive that sits at par with a Tendulkar punch or a Ponting pull, Younis bears a reassuring presence at the crease, which is an overbearing requisite for any No. 3 batsman around the world. And he partly credits his long-term success at the position to the most Younis of them all: Rahul Dravid.

"The tips and advice I got from Dravid at the early stages of my career helped me develop into a top batsman, who was comfortable at the No.3 position," Younis told the Press Trust of India in '15.

"Dravid was a top-class professional and one of the greats of the modern era, and I learnt from him."

No wonder Younis Khan finishes with a career average of 52.06, putting every ounce of that advice from Dravid to good use, year after year, to end as the highest run-getter for Pakistan by some distance. No wonder he averages an astonishing 50.51 in the fourth innings with five hundreds, the most any batsman has scored. He comfortably outdoes Dravid on that front, who averages a good 40.38 with one hundred in the last innings of a Test, contexting how good Younis has been over the years.

That 171 not out against Sri Lanka at Pallekele has the greatest claims to his magnum opus. Not only did Younis put on his side's highest fourth-innings partnership, 242, with a young Shan Masood, but also steered Pakistan to their highest run-chase, also the sixth-highest of all time in Test cricket. And nobody was surprised; for someone who has witnessed untimely deaths of his father, sister and two brothers, braving through a fifth-day sub-continent pitch, where even a wrong forward trigger can scald you for life, must not be a big deal.

"I was on tour when I received the news of death of my elder sister. And when my father died, I was again on tour," Younis told before his 100th Test in June 2015. "Even when my brothers died, I wasn't present at home and had to leave the tours."

"Being a Muslim I believe whatever you have today will not be yours someday. This belief has instilled lot of patience in me and made me strong."

As coy as his fans

It's the end of an era for Pakistan with the retirements of two stalwarts.
It's the end of an era for Pakistan with the retirements of two stalwarts. ©Getty

Regardless of his many achievements, a majority of which were considered far-fetched for a Mardan simpleton, most notably that of having at least one Test century in 11 different countries, Younis can still afford to leave you in utter disarray.

Interpreting sentiments is difficult in itself, more so for the emotionally unintelligent kind, like Younis himself. And it become doubly impossible, even devastating, questioning your prenatal abilities of expression, when your hero happens to be as introverted as you are.

Younis Khan bullies as a role model, but not how you want him to.

"When I am not in the dressing room, when I am no longer playing international cricket, the players, especially the youngsters, should look at me as a role model. They should think about what Younis would have done if he was around," Younis revealed to the Pakistan Cricket Board after going past 10,000 Test runs at Kingston recently.

Perhaps Shan Masood and Babar Azam will find idolizing him easier, but having Younis as a role model from outside the dressing room, through 256 shades projected on a 32" screen, is taxing. It comes with the caveat of not being able to know Younis at all. And even if you force your way through, you run the risk of finding Younis dangerously similar to yourself.

Younis doesn't have a signature swag that you can imitate as a kid and look in vogue. He offers you no life hacks as a teenager, for he is a recluse himself, just about paddling through life by masquerading as the nicest man to have played cricket. And when you are an adult, you see Younis get himself into an awkward tangle in his last ever Test, trying to thank every opposition player for the guard-of-honour, burying himself in gratitude, nervously waving to everything that breathes around him, when he could have just greeted Jason Holder and be done with it.

That, above, is being nice and is a tactic introverts employ: bullying people with niceness and then trespassing into their good books, thus making life easier in a brutally extroverted world.

Younis was quick to own up the facade, right after owning us with his epic 175* at SCG in January '17. A journalist brought up his much-talked civility that impresses his colleagues and fans alike: "People who have played cricket against you in Australia describe you as one of the nicest man, if not the nicest man..."

"I am not" is how Younis interrupts the reporter, laughing with her in sheer disbelief of having hoodwinked Australia, if not the world. "They think I am the nicest man but I am not."

That is how Younis Khan was supposed to be for the introverts, i.e. not nice but laughing without riders, bossing press conferences with wit a la Shahrukh Khan, and giving a cue or two about acing social survival. But an introvert's idea of Younis isn't who Younis is. You could see him turn awkward, almost immediately after confessing to not being "nice", most definitely in realization of having revealed too much, and to too many people.

Doesn't know how to celebrate

All Younis has is runs - here, there, everywhere, one after another, century by century, swallowing fans back into his fandom every time his mundanity threatens to drift them away.

"When I came to Karachi, (I lived) in the premises of the steel mill, (and) I still live there. I lived among my people and tried not to change myself."

Might it have helped to go for a different role model, who would have changed himself with time - we will never know. Like someone who, say, gets to a century and jumps for joy, as if it's his last. And mouths cuss words into the air with growls of delight, his nerves threatening to crack out of his cape and his tattooed biceps tiring from the many fist-pumps he's pulled off, much to the delight of the broadcaster.

Except that none of it is Younis when he makes a hundred. Or a double hundred, even if it's a famous 267 in the making against India at Bangalore, to pile up the highest score by a visiting batsman. Or a triple century, like his 313 against Sri Lanka in Karachi, that made him only the third Pakistani to reach the landmark.

Younis Khan does indulge in celebrations and he wants to do more - "Celebration toh bahut dil kerta hai kerne ko (I crave to celebrate more)," he wished before his 10K landmark - but his celebrations are their own kind of beautiful: indifferent, simple, even nondescript, embodying the content of a man who revels in being the locus of hopeful attention.

It makes his milestones glaringly unfit for camera work, but Younis goes about his way, putting the onus on the broadcasters to sensationalize it into something sellable, thus setting standards for how triumphantly introverted you can be.

Take the most recent Pakistan tour of England for example. Younis was amidst an array of scores that constituted his worst run of form, he had been eight innings without a fifty, and was averaging twenty odd in the series, quite criminally at a time when greatness is still an imposing function of how many you've scored in England.

Younis did score, though. He made a glorious 217 at the Oval, binning stacks of op-eds that called for his head.

"If somebody had used some harsh words, in newspapers or videos, I kept the clippings with me and motivated myself with them. I became more positive as a person and my performances shot up too," Younis declared before his farewell series against West Indies.

And believe you me, when Younis clouted Moeen Ali for a six over cow corner that day, becoming the oldest double centurion for Pakistan, all the theatrics of modern celebrations - all of them - stood eligible, and perhaps were even necessary for a milestone that ratified his greatness. But all Younis did was raise his bat and smile. And smile as if it were a defence mechanism against London's hot sun.

All social lines are busy

Younis Khan will be sorely missed by Pakistan.
Younis Khan will be sorely missed by Pakistan. ©Getty

The fact that Younis is unreachable off the field, too, doesn't help. He is missing from every social media platform there is, elevating the task of knowing him to something more arduous. And he does this savagely at a time when other potential role models splash their personal lives around, unwittingly making fans out of public apathy.

Kalim Khan, a London-based consultant who runs the most popular Younis Khan Facebook fanpage, recounts how he had to take down a picture that showed the cricketer praying. "I had posted that picture on the page. When Younis found out later, he called and asked for the picture to be removed. He said it was a personal thing and not meant to be a show-off. You shouldn't have taken it in the first place, Younis told politely, and even if you did, you shouldn't have put it up."

"Younis genuinely keeps it very private but he is a very religious man," Kalim adds.

That's where it gets impossible for fans who try to imitate Younis. You don't really know if Younis is religious, and if you should be, too.

A World Cup-winning outlier

It was this sense of privacy that conspired many turbulent stints for Younis Khan inside, and outside, the dressing room. He joined a team that was known as much for cricket as for its religious pageantry. Consequential or not, Pakistan were knocked out first-round in the '03 World Cup, and the manager on that tour, Shaharyar Khan, reveals a great deal about the religiofication of the Pakistan team in his book: The Cricket Cauldron. He recounts how the training sessions were planned around prayer timings, how adherence to faith evolved into a selection parameter, and how he felt guilty about allowing it to happen, mistaking overt displays of religion for something the teammates can bond over.

Younis Khan wasn't comfortable in the set-up. He was an outlier in Waqar's team, and then rallied on to be one in Inzamam-ul-Haq's team, raising more eyebrows than winning friends. And his rebellions, as uninterrupting as they were, came back to bite him later, for Younis could never be the captain he wanted to be.

He resigned from the captaincy twice: first before the Champions Trophy '06 in India, because he didn't want to be a "dummy captain" in absence of incumbent Inzamam-ul-Haq, and then after Champions Trophy '09, when Pakistan's semifinal loss to New Zealand sparked rumours about a possible match-fixing, after he felt that a clique of players, and not he, was in-charge of the team.

Younis' greatest moment as a captain comes in coloured clothing, though, when he won the World T20 at Lord's and became "the second Khan to win a World Cup for Pakistan." And how symbolic is for Younis to walk away hand-in hand with Misbah-ul-Haq, the kind of captain he would have hoped to be.

The best bargain there is

"When you have self-belief and faith, even a player like me with a limited skill set can deliver."

Younis did deliver. And that's what he does: provide a happy medium. Between the nineties and today. Between Steven Smith's exaggerated footwork and Virender Sehwag's total lack of it. Between Shahid Afridi's fame and Inzamam-ul-Haq's elegance. And between talking cricket and playing it, aptly coming from a man with press conferences straighter than his forward defence.