Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Story of Younis Khan (Part-7)

Younis Khan and Bob Woolmer

Back at Malir, Mirza also believed that a batsman is only a batsman if he can bat in any position, in any situation, against any bowler. He pushed Younis around the order; if he made a hundred at No. 3, he would move him to No. 6 in the next game. In one game Mirza stopped Younis from going higher in a chase they were destined to lose. Younis went in at No. 7, hit 69 and won the game.

"There are many such situations a player faces and if he is to become a successful player, he will overcome these and win it," reasoned Mirza. "If you keep coming at the same number, what will you ever do? If you are very good against fast bowling, if someone puts on a spinner, what will you do? You have to be a master of everything, that is the player. That is a batsman."

Years later, as captain on the 2009 tour to Sri Lanka, Younis told Fawad Alam he would be opening in the second Test, in Colombo. Debutant Alam, whose father Tariq was another Malir mentor, was by trade a middle-order batsman. He had never opened in first-class cricket. He made 168 in the second innings. Younis prophesied that he would make a century, scribbled it on a taped tennis ball, which he later gifted to Alam.

Though he has predominantly batted in Tests at one or two down, Younis himself has never seemed too wedded to one position. There was no fuss about moving up permanently to No. 3 at Bob Woolmer's prompting in late 2004, and certainly no complaint that he had spent nearly half his career until then as a middle-order plug, thrust into whatever hole needed plugging. And when, during his year-long absence from the Test side across 2009-10, Azhar Ali established himself as Pakistan's one down, Younis moved down to No. 4 without protestation.

One other answer, a crucial one actually, the one that really makes Younis Younis. Those five hundreds in the fourth innings - the most by any batsman ever - the highest average of all time in the fourth innings (over a minimum of 25 Tests), an average of 65.85 on the fifth day (since 2006), second only to Misbah. In Steel Town, Younis would often make himself the last man to bat in the nets, just before maghrib. Mainly he wanted to make sure that the others would remain till the end of the session, by letting them all have a go first. But he became perversely attracted to batting in fading light, creating in his mind scenarios of extreme pressure.

"I told myself I was batting to save the game. I got it so dark for myself, and there's a fast bowler bowling on cement pitches. This is before I even really understood cricket. But I'm thinking to myself, I could get hit anywhere. There are 24 fielders surrounding me."

Later, when he failed to break through into first-class cricket in Karachi and went back to Mardan, he practised on potholed tennis courts with a hard ball. It was lottery batting: if the ball found a crack, it could break your face or your toe. He wasn't deterred. He just put those hours into the bank.

"This was a process I started 20 years ago. And now when I see a match is stuck, the pitch is breaking, up-and-down bounce, fielders surrounding me and bugging me, and janaab-e-wala bouncers are flying around, these are things I recreated 20 years ago. And actually now that [challenge] is more enjoyable for me."

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