Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Story of Younis Khan (Part-12)

World T20 2009 Pakistan Trophy

Seventeen months later, Younis ended the fourth day of a Test against Sri Lanka unbeaten on 306. He became only the third Pakistani triple-centurion, a landmark that had eluded Miandad. Actually it was not elusiveness as much as denial; Imran Khan famously declared with Miandad on 280, and it still stings like it was yesterday. Shafqat is a professor of neurology and studies the complex functioning of the brain, so I guess calling Miandad again constituted research. On the flattest track Karachi had seen for years, a whole day to go and no point to the Test, all records were within sight. Miandad didn't say much. The next morning, when Younis was bowled for 313 and broke neither Hanif's Pakistan record nor Brian Lara's world record, it was Miandad who called Shafqat. "In Miandad's voice, however, there was a certain degree of levity," wrote Shafqat in Nightwatchman. "It seemed the voice of a man who has suddenly been relieved of an onerous burden."

In our interviews the complicated duality that defined Miandad was evident. Younis repeatedly referred to the respect and honour he has earned, yet still seemed in a continuing search for both; repeatedly he pointed to his selflessness and sacrifice as virtues that warranted recognition. They do, of course, only that if we have to be constantly reminded of them, then…

The final, unseemly end of his ODI career was a manifestation of this. He was selected in the ODI squad for the series against England last winter, after more public agitation (of which the Hussaini interview can now be seen as one vital component). Hours before the first game, in Abu Dhabi, he announced it would be his last. Just a few days before, he had told me: "If you look at my career, a player like myself, he should leave the game with honour." All that agitation, it now was clear, just for an on-field guard of honour and a neat little TV package.

Another way to square this is to see it as a truth about the greatest athletes, or a truth according to Kobe Bryant at least. Two years ago Bryant identified with an obnoxious, infamous post-game rant by Richard Sherman, an American football player, about an opponent he had just bested in an NFC title game ("When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you gonna get! Don't you ever talk about me"). With simple yet commanding eloquence, Bryant called it "the ugliness of greatness". Sherman was simply letting out what was inside him and what is inside him is what makes him the best in the first place.

This inner ugliness, the craving and restlessness, the fighting and insecurity, has driven Younis. Along the way, no question, there has been plenty of external fuel. His players conspired against him. He was treated like a suspect in the death of Woolmer. Protestors turned up with donkeys at his wedding. A politician accused him of match-fixing. He was demoted in a central-contracts system that somehow calculated him to be less valuable than Junaid Khan and Mohammad Hafeez. He was banned because as captain he had dropped players. Instead of investigating his accusation that players deliberately underperformed under him, the board punished him for relinquishing the captaincy. And these are just the ones we remember.

Being a great Pakistani batsman is, by and large, a lonely business. They don't come in pairs or threes or fab fives. In the most fortunate times there has only ever been one. It places extraordinary burdens in expectations of success and ramifications of defeat. Many curl inwards in age, to tend to those slights they were born with or accumulated and stored long ago and left festering. Hanif, Zaheer, Miandad, Yousuf - there's an identifiable pattern there, right?

As we ended our final interview in Abu Dhabi, Younis admitted Miandad's record had occupied him, which is a natural admission but also an unusual one in an age when athletes play down the pursuit of personal milestones. He said he had thought a lot about the shot that would take him past it, though did not say whether he visualised the shot he actually played - a six off Moeen Ali. It was placed, unusually, between long-on and deep midwicket, and though he skipped down the pitch, he still had to reach out to it.

Maybe now peace awaits. I tested those waters. He had understood what he had done, but had we? "I think people have not realised [the significance] yet because I am still around. I am still on screen. When I leave, then everyone will understand."

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