The career of Younis Khan is really the story of how to survive as a batsman in Pakistan. The rate of non-survival has little to do with batsmen. If we can equate a rare batting talent with an exceptional piece of music, then think of Pakistan cricket as a tone-deaf listener. They will move him around the order. They will drop him after his first failure. They will call him back only to drop him after his first failure again. They will make him play under threat of axing. They will play him on an away tour, against quality bowling attacks, and drop him when a home series beckons. They will force him to retire. They will prolong the career of a has-been who is keeping out a will-surely-be. They will take him as standby on tours, and then, when the opportunity arises, fly someone else in to take his place. They will play him in the wrong format. They will turn him into a wicketkeeper. They will ignore his best seasons.
It took over four years, and the arrival of Bob Woolmer, for Younis to really cement a place and position (he missed 14 of the 42 Tests Pakistan played from his debut to the end of October 2004, in Woolmer's first Test). Even then, when he made 147 in Kolkata the following March, a duck in the following innings prompted the team manager to warn him he was finished. To which Younis' response was 267 and 84 not out in the very next Test. And if true, then the claim that he thought he might be dropped had he not scored the Pallekele hundred tops them all - in the 11 Tests leading up to it, Younis had made six hundreds.
It is a fraught existence to which Younis has responded in the brooding, ominous pose of Johnny Cash's "Ain't No Grave (Can Hold My Body Down)": defiance, defiance until I die, defiance especially when I'm dead. When he made his international debut, in an ODI, his first act was to protest being pushed down to No. 7 as Pakistan searched for quick runs in a chase of 275 against Sri Lanka. He couldn't believe they were discussing the possibility of a youngster spoiling the chase in front of him. Twice when a wicket fell he was determined to just stand up and go, in defiance of the plans, only for the captain, Saeed Anwar, to tell him each time to relax. When he did go, he made a 41-ball 46, though Pakistan lost by 29 runs.
"When I first played, I really struggled. For the first one or two years, I tried really hard, tried to stay in the team, because I wanted to do something for my family, for my country. I stood like this, I stood like that, I stood like Javed bhai.
"But I figured it out after 2001. When I performed a little bit and got sidelined and then came back, in that one year that I played domestic cricket, I came back and thought, I don't want to be Inzamam, I don't want to be Miandad, I don't want to be Imran. I want to be Younis Khan. Whatever my style is, however I am, I want to stick to it. What I am, I am."
Specifically it was after a Test in Auckland, when he made 91 and an unbeaten 149, that Younis says he found himself, or at least began that process of discovery. He determined not to listen to anyone about how he should bat. Woolmer was an exception but only because he was an enabler, an encouragement for Younis to explore his own game.