Saad Shafqat June 17, 2009

Younis Khan's masterstroke

Back at the pre-tournament meeting, Younis would have contemplated this campaign knowing he was up against much more than just cricketing opposition

At some point in the build up to this World Twenty20, Younis Khan would have assembled the rest of the Pakistan team think-tank to pore over the tournament's list of fixtures. Shoaib Malik would have been there along with Misbah-ul-Haq, Shahid Afridi and Kamran Akmal.The coach would probably have not been around, this being the kind of meeting where you only invite those you can call upon when it hits the fan out in the middle.

There would have been an intense seriousness to this meeting, a sober atmosphere that Pakistan's cricketers, with their trademark devil-may-care attitude, are loath to display in public. There would have been an implicit recognition of what was at stake. After the visiting Sri Lankans were attacked by terrorists in Lahore in March, John Stern, Editor of the Wisden Cricketer, questioned in an interview on CNN whether Pakistan would even be able to play in the World Twenty20. Stern's was only one prominent voice among many fussing about Pakistan's threat of cricketing isolation. The nucleus of Pakistan's team saw clearly, as indeed did the rest of the country, that the World Twenty20 would be their last chance to push back.

After digesting the schedule of fixtures for a few minutes, one of them would have pointed out, as is obvious to everyone now, that five victories could get you the title. A mere five victories, of which four need to be against authentic Test nations. In the event, Pakistan have had the easiest ride of the tournament so far, with wins against two associate nations, plus New Zealand, which has traditionally been the weakest of the authentic Test sides. By the looks of it the cricket gods are finally smiling, perhaps offering a long overdue break to the country that has seen more turbulence in the last two years than in the rest of its six-decade history.

Back at the pre-tournament meeting, Younis would have contemplated this campaign knowing he was up against much more than just cricketing opposition. He had to lift spirits, sharpen everyone's focus, and blot out the hype that inevitably accompanies the likes of India and Australia and was bound to undercut his own team's morale. He knew he had to prepare everyone by modulating expectations, which he delicately calibrated by announcing that reaching the semi-finals would be good enough. He would also have been mindful of the potential for the Daniel Vettoris of the cricketing world to behave as sore losers, and he would have been conscious of the deafening criticism that would erupt from Pakistan's unforgiving press and public at the first defeat. Younis knew he would need a terrific Plan B, something as powerful and galvanising as Imran Khan's 'cornered tigers' appeal from 1992.

After the Group B defeat to England, he unveiled it, telling a bemused media contingent that Twenty20 is 'fun cricket'. Younis was addressing his own team of course. Take it easy, close your eyes, relax. You can easily picture him sticking to the same theme as the toughest test yet awaits. Sure, its the semi-final and South Africa is some seriously tenacious opposition, but don’t let that get to you. Imagine you're just playing a league match in Lahore. Enjoy yourself.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi