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I met Younis Khan for the first time earlier this month. I had always wanted to meet him and, when I saw the Pakistan team at the ICC awards at the Sandton Sun in Johannesburg, I asked Osman Samiuddin, our Pakistan editor, to introduce us.
We shook hands, and then Younis gave me a hug. It was a natural, spontaneous and very subcontinental gesture. There was warmth in it and, if you wanted look for it, perhaps a message. In his simple and honest way, Younis has been trying to spread this message: make use of cricket as a positive force, for lifting spirits and for spreading goodwill; but treat it as a sport where, inevitably, there will be good days and bad.
We chatted briefly. Pakistan had beaten India a couple of days prior to that and Younis felt for MS Dhoni. The previous day, he said, he had been chased by a few members of the Indian television media seeking a quote or two damning the Indian captain. "Why are you after Dhoni," he asked them, "winning and losing, it keeps on happening. Today, it is his turn, tomorrow it could be mine."
It is easy to like Younis. His is a rare kind in an age of PR-savvy, media-trained, brand-conscious and commercially minded cricketers. He doesn't weigh his every word: he speaks what comes from within, and his earnestness is both refreshing and endearing. He wasn't wary of expressing his reservations about Twenty20 even when he was playing it, and he willingly walked away from it at a time ageing cricketers see it as a handsome retirement benefit.
His captaincy came up in the conversation. "You shouldn't walk away from it this time," I said in jest. "No, no," Younis said with utmost seriousness, "some good things are happening in our cricket. Kuchch karke jaana hai (I want to do achieve something before going.")
Two days later, with the semi-final on the line, Grant Elliot lobbed the simplest of catches to Younis at short extra cover, and Younis, his broken little finger in a bandage, went at it gingerly and spilled it. Elliot went on to win the match for New Zealand and Younis was asked the inevitable question at the press conference: was he worried about what people were likely to say given Pakistan's history?
Not at all, Younis said. It was only a few days ago that he had run out Gautam Gambhir with a direct hit with the same hand and he was a hero; today he had dropped a simple catch and he would be a villain. Such things he had learnt to take in his stride.
Perhaps he was being naïve, but then, honourable men have the right to expect better from the world.
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Editor Sambit Bal took to journalism at the age of 19 after realising that he wasn't fit for anything else, and to cricket journalism 14 years later when it dawned on him that it provided the perfect excuse to watch cricket in the office. Among other things he has bowled legspin, occasionally landing the ball in front of the batsman; laid out the comics page of a newspaper; covered crime, urban development and politics; and edited Gentleman, a monthly features magazine. He joined Wisden in 2001 and edited Wisden Asia Cricket and Cricinfo Magazine. He still spends his spare time watching cricket.