Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Story of Younis Khan (Part-5)

Younis Khan best inning

So this is what it was three weeks after the innings of Younis' career, one that put him on the verge of becoming, statistically, Pakistan's greatest batsman. The 171 not out was his 30th Test hundred, already five ahead of Inzamam-ul-Haq. His average at the end of the game was 54.07, one and a half runs better than Miandad. The only significant record that was not his was of most Test runs by a Pakistani, and he was only three sixes away from equalling that.

Pallekele was much more, though. Of Younis' many exceptional innings, it is difficult to pick one through which you could explain to someone with sufficient accuracy the meaning of Younis. Not the 313 in Karachi because on that pitch Coldplay's Chris Martin could have scored runs, let alone New Zealand's Chris Martin. The 267 in Bangalore maybe, but that was in the tone-setting first innings of a match. A pair of 190s against India - meh, dead tracks in dead Tests in Lahore and Faisalabad. The unbeaten, chase-completing 67 in Port Elizabeth is close but not quite it.

If the scorecard of the Pallekele Test was the only one you ever saw, you would not need to see any more to be able to understand Younis' worth. Did he usually arrive with his side tottering, like in this case, at 13 for 2? You bet. Was he expert at batting on the final days of Tests, as he did here, thriving in the last two sessions of the fourth and the first two of the fifth day? Yessir. Was he daunted by distant and difficult match objectives, like chasing 377 or batting out for a draw? Kidding, right? Was he good to bat with, because I see two pretty big stands with him in it? Hell yes. I see young Shan Masood got his maiden hundred - that happens often in the company of Younis? Damn straight. In short: Younis Khan? See Pallekele '15.

In long: see Slumdog Millionaire. Or that, at least, is how Younis - an avid movie-watcher, Bollywood and otherwise - understands his life: as a neat construction of episodes and experiences, each of which provides the answers that, collectively, reap the prize that is his career.

So the first answer is his brothers. In 1979, Yusuf Khan secured a managerial position at the state-owned Pakistan Steel Mills, moving from Mardan in the country's north-west to the eastern outskirts of Karachi, a migration of more than 1500 kilometres. Younis, the youngest of six brothers, and the rest of the family followed a year later, settling in Steel Town, a serene mini-city built for employees on the edges of this larger, less serene city. Younis and much of the family have lived there since, as citizens of Karachi but not its sons. When I asked him whether he thought himself to be a Karachiite, he didn't pause before saying no. "Inside, I still think of myself as a kid from Mardan. A Pathan." This despite having hardly lived in Mardan, though he did move back briefly in the mid-'90s, in part for cricket, in part to fulfil the obligations of a son: his retired father had returned and had only the women of the family around him. Younis' "no" was so unhesitating that the identity needed no further probing: a Pathan, goes the beloved stereotype, is a kaifiyat, a state of mind, impenetrable to piddling forces such as geography.

His brothers played cricket with unfettered spirit. "My eldest brother Ayub Khan, and after him Sharif Khan and Shamshad Khan, were real shaukeen [fanatics]. Sharif bhai was an allrounder. Ayub bhai was a wicketkeeper and a very dashing batsman. He used to sweep really well, even fast bowlers, and the faster the bowler, the more he would sweep. I used to watch him a lot. He had a formula. My father used to say, 'Watch out, you will get hit on the face.' Ayub bhai used to say, it has to bounce first to hit me in the face. He was so quick and fast - he used to play hockey as well - he used to sweep before it even pitched."

The brothers took him to their club games around Karachi. None of the grounds had dressing rooms, so young Younis was in charge of looking after team kits and other valuables. Young Younis also loved eating food that was not the food he ate at home. Lunch, even at this level, could get fancy: niharis and chicken kormas with hot naans. As he grew older, his duties expanded. He became responsible for knocking bats. Then, when he was 11, he started substituting as a fielder for those who didn't like fielding, of whom there were plenty. On dusty, uneven grounds he often fielded entire innings, developing such love for the duty that he resolved to always do it with so much commitment "even the ground enjoys it, that this guy was diving on me". See why he's the only Pakistani with over 100 Test catches?

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