Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Story of Younis Khan (Part-10)

Younis Khan ODI Career

A superficial study will confirm that Younis stands among the best partnership-builders ever. He has been involved in 63 century stands, putting him joint-ninth on the all-time list. Since he became a permanent presence, he has been involved in 51 out of the 114 that have been made in Tests he has played; in that period, as a percentage, that is the highest. But the relevant detail lies in the identity of his most prolific partners beyond the top two (Misbah and Yousuf). Fourteen of the stands have been made with Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq, Ahmed Shehzad and Masood, a younger, inexperienced core, whose careers are still nascent.

Azhar and Shafiq, especially, feel like the Children of Younis. "Generally he keeps things very simple, he doesn't complicate when he comes in," Azhar, with whom Younis has seven hundred-plus stands, explained to me. "He doesn't mess with my game too much. Unless you do something really wrong, he doesn't say much. Whatever you do, do it with a clear mind. That is what he says."

In their 242-run stand in Pallekele, over more than 65 overs, Masood can't remember a conversation they might have had in the middle. And the pair knows each other well away from the field. When Masood reached his hundred, Younis joked about how bad his picture looked on the big screen but that was it. Masood did, however, recall that between 66 and 96 he didn't hit a single boundary and Younis hit only one (he hit two). Wordlessly they kept rotating strike so that, in that 18-over spell, the run rate was some way north of three. Later the coaching staff joked with Younis about his lack of communication with Masood. "When a guy is playing, why should I put pressure on him unnecessarily?" he responded.

Off the field, technical advice tends to be in its simplest formulation; it's not given unsolicited but meant to be extracted, upon request. Be a little more open-chested against this bowler, he told Azhar once, or loosen your shoulders against him. Stand a little more upright he told Masood, narrowing the base a little. In a domestic game in Faisalabad a few years ago, a team-mate, Ahmed Shehzad, was dismissed lbw. Shehzad came to the dressing room complaining that the pitch was unfit, the umpire incompetent. He continued moaning about the decision over the next day.

After a while Younis had had enough. He called Shehzad in, asking him to bring his laptop. Shehzad is not, as is becoming evident in a stagnating career, a keen learner. He is, furthermore, not an easy man to convince of anything. Younis told Shehzad to watch the video of his dismissal, and the lead-up to it. After a while Shehzad became frustrated, unable to see what was wrong. Younis told him to be quiet, to listen, and talked him through the video, explaining step by step where he - and not the pitch or the umpire or God - had gone wrong.

"They have to become what they are," Younis told me in Karachi. "Whatever they are, only they can know. They cannot become what they are not. They have to be strong, or make themselves stronger. Because even Allah says he will not help those who don't help themselves.

"At some point all these guys will have a day, one day, when one will stand up and say: enough. Bus, bahut hogaye [enough is enough]. I said that to myself in 2001 and I didn't listen to anyone after that. My cricket changed. I mean, I struggled, but that is life, it will happen. But I just went about becoming what I am."

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