Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Story of Younis Khan (Part-1)

Younis Khan Pallekele

Last year in mid-July, as Ramzan was coming to an end, felicitations were in order for Younis Khan. A few weeks previously, in Colombo, he had played his 100th Test. In the next Test, in Pallekele, he had led a record-breaking chase to win the series. An unbeaten 171 had left him 19 short of becoming Pakistan's leading Test run scorer. Karachi is not unusual as a subcontinent city that still believes in the idea of a felicitation ceremony, and this one stormed ahead as if unaware that the 1980s, when such events were in vogue, had long gone. Younis was given a gold medal, a small shield and Rs 500,000 (approximately US$5000) by Nadeem Omar, conceiver of this felicitation and a prominent local businessman and sports organiser (and now owner of the Quetta Gladiators in the Pakistan Super League). We were in the ballroom of a once grand hotel and the stage looked as if a school play might look down its nose at it. The tawdry suits and slightly contrived celebration gave the evening the unmistakable air of a wedding, except, of course, it was Ramzan, so there was no food.

Yahya Hussaini, a well-known sports broadcaster was MC. He called upon a young man to start with a recitation from the Quran. Omar made a short speech (subject: no heroes in Pakistan, except Younis). No Karachi cricket story is complete without a Rashid Latif cameo. Duly, the guru of Younis and spiritual don of the city's cricket appeared. "He learnt from us when he was young, but within five years we were all learning from him," he mumbled, because even with his deep voice, Latif only ever mumbles.

Salahuddin "Sallu" Ahmed followed. Sallu bhai is a former Test player but has achieved greater renown for multiple stints as a regional and national selector; a conservative estimate has him on nearly 20 national selection committees over the years. Otherwise, he is loved for his impromptu shairi, or poetry, skills. He has one such bomb ready for any situation he finds himself in, including, I suspect, a phonejacking. Usually they veer towards surface-level wit rather than deep philosophy. This evening he recited a couple, one specifically for Younis (and while the lyricism gets lost in translation, the message was that life is better with Younis in it).

Most of the city's prominent cricketing sons were in attendance: Basit Ali, Hanif, Sadiq and Shoaib Mohammad, Moin Khan, Abdur Raqib, Jalaluddin, and the long-time Karachi administrator Siraj-ul-Islam Bukhari. Each came with an entourage, guys who have made careers hanging around the guys who have actually made careers.

Before Younis came on stage, a large screen played highlights of his Pallekele hundred. For aural pleasure: Junoon's "Jazba-e-Junoon", the modern anthem of Pakistan cricket. Someone must have thought this perfect for the occasion: passion, spirit, Younis has both and what can go wrong when you have both? Younis came on and thanked a long list of people, most of them with genuine affection and gratitude, and foremost Latif.

"Rashid bhai is here. Whatever I am, the way I act, I copy him in many places, the way he is humble, how he was captain, how to deal with youngsters, with needy people."

Some of those he thanked, well, it was worth wondering at the degree of his obeisance. He thanked former Pakistan left-arm spinner Iqbal Qasim, for instance, who could not give him a job with National Bank of Pakistan when a young Younis was looking for a team; who, as chief selector, dropped him from the ODI team once. Both were slights a man like Younis does not forget.

He thanked [Abdur] Raqib, who once gave him a secure job with Habib Bank but was also manager during that toxic period in late 2009 when Younis gave up the Pakistan captaincy, and whose report led the PCB to ban Younis. Still, Younis thanked him. He was grateful, he said, to Bukhari saab, even though under Bukhari saab he never got selected for Karachi, a snub that prompted a move back to Mardan.

If you live long enough in Pakistan cricket, those who helped you and those who burnt you each become as important as the other, maybe even the same thing.

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