Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Story of Younis Khan (Part-9)

Younis Khan and Shan Masood

He learnt. He read. He took coaching courses. He started watching videos of his batting. He sought out other players, like Rahul Dravid, who urged him to expand his mind and keep the sport in one corner of it, quarantined from the rest. He sought opportunities to play domestic cricket in England and, most unusually for a Pakistan batsman, Australia. He threw himself into the life in South Australia in a two-month stay in 2008-09, cooking breakfast for team-mates. In the middle of the stint, he flew back to Pakistan to play a domestic game, then returned to finish his contract in South Australia and was then back again right into the Pakistan season. He lost 10kgs from the travel and play, and thought it was something he needed to do.

He created an ascetic lifestyle. He brought discipline into it. He began picking a corner in dressing rooms wherever he went, put his world into order around it, and didn't take kindly to others littering his space. If he wasn't training or playing, he wasn't seen. He cut out lunch. He started eating dinner by 6pm, which in many homes in Pakistan is when lunches are still finishing. He cut the Pakistani out of his diet, eating grilled and steamed food. He took up fishing, taking advantage of his proximity to Port Qasim with its great fishing spots. He developed unique netting routines and methods of practice so different that younger players, like Shan Masood, speak of them almost in awe.

"Some of his sessions are basic because he's done Level 1 and Level 2 coaching courses, but very technical, and a lot of people would struggle to do them," Masood, also a team-mate of Younis at United Bank, told me. "When you're playing professionally, you want to face bowlers who are bowling well in the nets. You want to face proper throwdowns.

"But with Younis it would be [exercises like] his backlift already up and somebody looping balls up to him. A lot of people think you don't get those kind of balls out in the field [but it comes] from his understanding of the game. Those are routines he is very particular about."

You might remember an extraordinary shot Younis played off Shaminda Eranga in a Test in Abu Dhabi two Januaries ago, so extraordinary it has its own thread on pakpassion.com. Eranga was bowling with the second new ball and Younis was already a hundred to the good. This delivery landed well short of a good length, a couple of stumps outside off, and got as high, maybe, as Younis' hips. Most batsmen would think it fodder for their cut. Younis, however, straightened from his crouch and punched the ball through covers, and if that wasn't a remarkable enough option to take, he actually jumped at the moment he connected. Jumped, not skipped on his toes, but jumped high, like he was clearing a hurdle with both legs, knee-first, back arching simultaneously. It was a shot, thought Masood, that defied the laws of physics.

That shot was the result of a variation of the marble-slab practice common among batsmen the world over to prepare for fast bowling. Coaches throw the ball hard at the slab, placed at a good length away from the batsman, to recreate zip and bounce. Younis doesn't use the slab in the same way. He puts stumps flat underneath it to create an angle so that the slab becomes a little ramp facing up to him. On this the balls come at an even steeper angle, at his chest and throat, allowing Younis to hone this levitation shot.

"He's not that much into [team] nets," said Masood. "He'll go face two rounds of the fast bowlers' nets, two rounds of the spinners' nets and that's it. The rest of it are his own personal drills and he does it every single day, whether he's batting or fielding."

Now he has reached the point where Waqar Younis, the coach, refers to him within the team as the "Institute": go there, learn. It is this status that elevates Younis - in some opinions - above other batsmen in Pakistan's history. Nobody has scored runs and at the same enabled others to bloom.

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