Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Younis Khan: A Journey with a Smile.

Younis Khan

Written for Express Tribune, link of the article is here.

In the most modest words, Younis Khan is a modern great. He now holds the record of most runs by a Pakistani Test batsman, he has the most number of centuries, he has held the most catches by a Pakistani fielder and has the best average among Pakistani batsman in Test cricket.

Looking back, the type of batsmen that have played for Pakistan over the past 60 years, a list that includes greats like Hanif Muhammad, Majid Khan, Zaheer Abbas, Javed Minandad, Saleem Malik, Inzamam ul Haq, Saeed Anwar and Muhammad Yousuf, these records become that much more exclusive.

He does not have the elegance of Inzamam ul Haq, he does not get under the skin of the opponent like Javed Miandad, He does not play those silky smooth cover drives of Muhammad Yousuf.

But he never needed any of these. He had his own style. Initially hopping and jumping at the crease, then settling down and playing those back foot cover drives, later, taking charge to the spinners with those sixes over deep mid wicket and then the occasional reverse sweeps. He is a pleasure to watch in his own right.

He plays cricket just like cricket should be played. Proud to wear Pakistan’s shirt. With that slight arrogance about him but always a smile on his face. Taking fight to the opposition and never getting bogged down, fielding anywhere and everywhere he is asked to and happy with other’s success. He is a team man. He always has been a team man.

It was not easy for him in the beginning. Making his debut as a 22 year old in place of injured Ijaz Ahmad he had big shoes to fill and he was able to do so. A century on debut against Sri Lanka showed that he has the potential to succeed at the international level but in presence of senior players and a relatively young Muhammad Yousuf around, made sure he has to wait for his chances.

The passion and hunger for learning was there though, carrying kit bags of senior players on tour just to be around them and learn from them was something he recalls with a huge smile on his face.

Next big breakthrough for him came in the 1st Test on the tour of New Zealand in 2000-01 where he made match winning 91 and 149 not out, an inning he rates as one of his best. It made him believe that he belongs.

The chances kept on coming and he kept on taking full advantage of them by scoring consistently.

Under Waqar Younis's captaincy he became an important part of Pakistani team but lost his place in the team after Inzamam ul Haq took over the captaincy after the world cup in mid 2003, and barely played Test cricket in the next year or so.

Pakistan's tour of India in 2005 was when Younis Khan really made his mark on the international scene. Being seriously under pressure after the first test match where he scored 9 and 1. Younis Khan scored 147 in the next test match. The final test match was his bigger breakthrough though. With the series leveled 1-1 he scored a brilliant 267, an inning that lasted for 11 hours 30 minutes and then topped it up with a quick fired 84 not out in the second innings to help Pakistan win a memorable series in India.

A century against West Indies in West Indies followed in 2005 a place where he always seemed to struggle. In 2006 when India toured Pakistan he made the series memorable for him by scoring 199 and 194 in the first two test matches and then captaining Pakistan in the final Test match at Karachi and leading them to a series victory. Another inning of 173 vs England at Leeds the same year, cemented his credentials as one of the most important batsmen of Pakistan.

Younis Khan kept his form going after a disastrous world cup for Pakistan when he scored 2 centuries vs South Africa in 2007 in consecutive matches and also was able to score another century vs India at Kolkatta.

He was named the captain of Pakistani team in 2009 and in his first match as a full time captain he played his most memorable inning of 313, which still is the third highest score by a Pakistani batsman in Test cricket. Although he fared well as captain especially in the shorter format where he won the T20 World Cup for Pakistan, he could not stay at the post for long and after having several disagreements with the players and management left the captaincy and did not play for Pakistan for close to one and a half year.

In October 2010, when Misbah ul Haq was named the captain of Pakistan, Younis Khan was recalled and he made his presence felt by scoring a match saving 131 not out after batting whole day at the Dubai Cricket Stadium against a challenging South African attack.

Now free from the captaincy worries Younis Khan really started leading the team from the front as a senior batsman. Helping Pakistan save the Sharjah Test match vs Sri Lanka with his 122. Gritting a match winning century vs England in Dubai to help Pakistan complete the famous white wash. Match winning double centuries vs Bangladesh in December 2011 and Zimbabwe in 2013 and scoring 111 vs South Africa at Cape Town where Pakistan nearly won the match, Younis Khan always made his importance felt.

Perhaps the world started noticing the greatness of Younis Khan in 2014 when he, while trying to prove that he can still be part of Pakistan's limited over squad for the World Cup, scored quick fired centuries in both innings vs Australia in the first match. His first made him the top century scorer for Pakistan while his second century of 103 not out scored at a strike rate of 67.76 showed that he can prove a point or two with his batting.

In the next test he went even better, a double century (213 runs of 349 balls) vs Australia at a quick pace not only helped Pakistan clean sweep the Aussies but also helped him reach the milestone of 8000 test runs for Pakistan, only the third Pakistani to achieve the feat.

'I am just an ordinary player.' He said in the interview during he match. 'Records aside, I want to bat for my country and records are not my best identity. I want to be recognized as a batsman that always played for his country.'

That's when he publicly stated his desire to become the leading run scorer for Pakistan.

Younis Khan made sure that he reached closer to the Pakistani record of 8832 runs by Javed Miandad. A century vs New Zealand in the very next match, another one vs Bangladesh in the next series closed the gap.

His performance in the recent series in Sri Lanka was not up to the scratch until the very last inning and some voices were being raised on his place in the team, some were of the view that maybe end is near for him but Younis Khan, like he has always done, answered his critics with the bat. A match winning 171 not out from just 271 balls, it was a classical inning played with such ease, he helped Pakistan chase down a record target of 382 runs.

First test match vs England was much hyped for different reasons, one of them being Younis Khan requiring 19 runs to take over Javed Miandad, it came late, in the last session, when Younis Khan, perhaps fittingly, came down the track to whack Moeen Ali over mid wicket for his trademark six to become Pakistan's leading run scorer.

A 22 year record broken in 22 seconds.

He did not show much emotions, just a raising of bat and a slight smile on his face, maybe signaling his critics that he is here to stay for a while longer. Within seconds ready to face the next ball. Fittingly again, because he is a team player. His inning lasted for just 38 runs, but it had everything. A six and mid-wicket, a four through the covers, one from the reverse sweeps and also quick singles. It was a Younis-esqe inning yet again.

People may argue about who is the greatest Pakistani batsman of all time, everyone can come up with a different name because honestly Pakistan has produced some world class players, but for sure, statistically, he is the greatest Pakistani batsman ever and no one can take that away from him.

He is not satisfied yet! His next aim is to score 10,000 Test runs for Pakistan.

“In the list of top test batsmen, I see the names of Indians and Sri Lankans. I want to put my name in the list of cricketers who have scored 10,000 Test runs just like the way I completed 30 Test tons.”

"Someday I might be satisfied with my goals and achievements but I am pushing myself for more. I believe in next the two years if I remain in the same mode I see myself bigger than this and would like to score 10,000 runs."

If things go according to the plan, he will not only score 10,000 runs but he will also become the most capped Pakistani test player.

Currently the 15th highest run scorer in the world. He not only deserves it but might as well achieve it.

Because for all the troubles he has been through, be it losing his family members over the years while being away representing Pakistan or proving himself as a quality batsman, he has come out of tough situations stronger than ever to achieve his aims, that too, always with a smile on his face.

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