August 19, 2014

Younis Khan: unsung and endearing

Despite being part of a dysfunctional set-up, he has managed to get the best out of himself and players partnering him

Younis Khan has performed the No. 3 role with distinction despite never having had a solid opening pair to count on © AFP

Another series and more collapses - combined with the failure of the rain gods - meant Pakistan failed to win a Test series for the sixth time in a row. The return of Waqar Younis as coach was expected to take the team back to the early days of Misbah-ul-Haq's tenure, when they won five of his first seven series as captain. Instead, in a continuation of their performance over the last two years, they competed, even convinced, but couldn't win.

And in the midst of it all, another Younis Khan masterclass was wasted, in Galle. Yet, for two days, Younis finally got the adulation he deserves.

Younis is an odd beast by Pakistani standards. He doesn't seem to elicit the rabid fandom that the country's greats generate, nor is he subject to the vociferous, contrarian hate that every other player of his generation has faced at the tail-end of his career. Younis is different, he has always been.

Pakistanis tend to look at their great batsmen the same way as their bowlers - they arrive on the scene, establish themselves, and become leaders of the pack. It's the players one level below the true greats who tend to struggle and adapt as time goes along. A 17-year-old Hanif Mohammad top-scored in Pakistan's inaugural Test match. Zaheer Abbas scored 274 in his first away Test innings. Javed Miandad averaged over 60 in his first four years of international cricket. And while Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mohammad Yousuf may have had less-stellar starts, their greatness never seemed in doubt: it was seen as inevitable. Their claims were reinforced by their ODI exploits, where within 12 months of their debuts they had shown they belonged. That is something Younis was never able to rely on, much like Mahela Jayawardene, whose ODI record (11,000-plus runs) is always a surprise to some. Pakistani greats tend to be all-round gems, not specialists in one format.

Younis started off with a debut Test hundred but by the time he became a "senior player" his selection in the first XI wasn't guaranteed. He averaged under 40 in his first five years of Test cricket. Even when he was made vice-captain, his place wasn't secure.

Younis is an odd beast by Pakistani standards. He doesn't seem to elicit the rabid fandom that the country's greats generate, nor is he subject to the hate that every other player of his generation has faced at the tail-end of his career

But his promotion to vice-captain resulted in the rise of Younis the batsman - probably the greatest Test batsman Pakistan has produced. It began with a series in India where he tormented the bowlers like Zaheer Abbas had done. And he didn't look back. In the decade since his appointment, Younis averages nearly 58 in Tests - only Kumar Sangakkara and Shivnarine Chanderpaul average higher during this period. His record is no accident, for he has shown a willingness and desire to improve by playing domestic long-form cricket in Australia, England and South Africa - rare for an Asian batsman. He has shown an ambition that seems unfortunately absent from his successors. And he has done it all while performing probably the most difficult role in international cricket.

The Pakistani No. 3 is a position like no other. When we think of the greatest No. 3s - the likes of Viv Richards and Don Bradman, or more recently Rahul Dravid, Ricky Ponting and Sangakkara - nearly all played with great openers. Younis would be entitled to celebrate if he ever had the chance to play with a competent top order. Instead, he has had to deal with a group that puts the ass in morass. The highest average for an opener (with over ten innings) in matches that Younis has played belongs to Saeed Anwar, a man who retired when Younis' career was yet to take off. The second-highest average belongs to Shahid Afridi. This is as great an indictment of Pakistani openers as one could possibly find. Younis has had to play the majority of his career as "the third opener", often coming in when the ball is new and the bowling attack is buoyed by an early wicket or two. To perform as he has done despite this seems extraordinary. To have the average he has, having played more than half his cricket at the dreaded No. 3 spot, and having played fewer than 20 of his 91 Tests in Pakistan, makes it unfair to compare him with anyone else in world cricket.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the setbacks that Younis has faced. There's a reason why we "Younis fanboys" tend to venerate the man rather than the Test batsman. He has had to deal with all the instability that comes with being part of the Pakistan team. In addition, over the past decade he has had to deal with the death of his father, three brothers, and his mentor Bob Woolmer. He was at the centre of a Senate hearing. He has seen team-mates jailed, a mutiny to remove him as captain, and missed over a year of cricket at his peak due to the whims of the Pakistan board. We venerate Younis the man but somehow tend to overlook the fact that he has dealt with so much without letting it affect his performances.

Instead, he has become a great. The hundred in the first innings in Galle means that he's now just one shy of the Pakistani record held by Inzamam. The two century partnerships in that innings mean he now figures in 51 century stands, more than anyone in Pakistan's history (despite having played fewer Tests than both Inzaman and Miandad). Younis' ability to carry his partners, to elicit great performances from them, might be what Pakistan will miss the most once he's gone . It wasn't a surprise that Yousuf only reached his potential once Younis started performing, and that Asad Shafiq looks more secure when batting with Younis than with anyone else. And, despite not being given credit for it, Younis is also a fourth-innings legend (though when it comes to the fourth innings, Pakistani fans generally tend to associate their team with the sort of performance they put up at the SSC).

Younis has scored centuries everywhere, except in Australia. That is due to a combination of factors - the board, and shortage of Tests for Pakistan. He hasn't played Australia in a Test since January 2005, which was before he was appointed vice-captain. If he had played in Australia over the last nine years, you feel he would have conquered that mountain too.

In his debut Test, Younis battled valiantly as Pakistan failed to cope with Sri Lanka's spinners. Fifteen years later - plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose - Younis continues to stand, even when all others fail.

Hassan Cheema is a sports journalist, writer and commentator, and co-hosts the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. @mediagag

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Android on August 23, 2014, 14:32 GMT

    stats speak good for him and certainly does his performance & contribution to Pakistan cricket. Also he may not have the panache of yousufs and dravids of his generation but he certainly is a great example for the cricketing world. He has survived primarily on account of the character & his grim resilience and that -is certainly a great lesson for young Pakistani cricketers . We should also not forget to acknowledge that perhaps most of his performances got shadowed whilst Yousuf & lnzimam. He may not have been a class but his contribution can nonetheless be undermined.

  • Vikas on August 21, 2014, 20:20 GMT

    Talent wise Younis Khan is a notch below Miandad, Yousuf,Inzamam or Zaheer Abbas. But his sincerity towards the game and hard work has reaped him rich dividends and has allowed him to be compared in the same breath as the aforementioned stalwarts.

  • asad on August 21, 2014, 17:35 GMT

    I would say Younis Khan is a great batsman. BUt there is no reason to compare to other greats of the same country like Inzimam, Yousuf, Miandad, Hanif & Zaheer. They are all great & all of them have done great things so no need to compare. I've even seen many people argue about who is the better bowler from Waqar & Wasim. There is no reason to compare greats like that. I rarely see Indians arguing about who is the best batsman from Tendulkar, Dravid, VVS & Ganguly or Australians arguing about who was the best from their legendary teams of the early 2000s. For people who say that Younis is bad in other conditions he averages 50.52 away which is better than many batsmen. His average is 43.16 in Australia but thats a high average considering he doesn't have a century there & hasn't played there for almost 10 years. The only places where he is really bad is WI & SA but he hasn't played in WI for almost 10 years either so he is only poor in SA. But being weak in only 1 country is ok.

  • Kaushik on August 21, 2014, 16:56 GMT

    Nicely done. Truly underrated cricketer. And you didn't even touch upon his catching. Amongst modern day Asian cricketers, only Dravid and Jayawardene were his equal as close in catchers IMO. And similar men and leaders all three of them.

  • imran on August 21, 2014, 9:58 GMT

    Hugely underrated....Younis Khan is a modern great, his stats are great and exceptional if you consider that he has played only 20 tests out of 91 in Pakistan. Those who are saying that he has scored only at home against weak teams are ignorant....Here are his avgs against top teams outside Asia....He avgs 52+ in England, 65 in NZ and 44 in Australia He has only struggled a bit in SA (avg 33) he is not a flat track bully by any means.

    And he has always played with a smile on his face inspite of going through many difficulties and tragedies in his personal life. He is a great player and role model and he should be applauded for his deeds...its a shame that not many people do so

  • adeel on August 21, 2014, 3:29 GMT

    he deserves to play 100 tests and hopefully PCB will let him play out the 9 tests without too much fuss.

  • Dummy4 on August 20, 2014, 23:36 GMT

    He is a very good batsman and given the condition of these current lot of useless Pakistan test batsmen , he is a shining star along with Misbah.My issue with MYK is that he has great stats but has been playing a lot of cricket in UAE and Srilanka. He has thrashed the weaker opposition and that too in batting friendly circumstances. Have a look at the current series . He averaged over 50 but Pakistan lost both tests . why? because he scored 170 in the first innings being given 6 to 7 chances in that innings but when it was really easy to bat. Even Rehman scored a fifty EASILY in that innings. BUt when the going got tough he scored 34 in the next 3 innings. So what should we do with this series average of over 50 ?Inzi and Miandad on the other hand scored when it nattered. Mohd Yousuf, Yaheer and Majid were far more classy. So he will be in the loist behind all of these greats evern if he out scores them. Inzi has the best average in winning matches after Don Bradman not Sachin or Lara

  • shahid on August 20, 2014, 15:02 GMT

    YK is a lovely guy with a smile on his face no matter what. Unfortunately the stats and averages does not tell the whole story. They are all about quantitative analysis and not qualitative analysis. If a batsman score 210/ NO in a drawn match or against a weaker team this will boost the average of that player, however a score of 56 in a stiff but successful chase will be weighed down compared to 210 no. YK is a good player but not great as he fails to deliver when Pakistan needs him ie in a run chase or setting up a target or to wriggle out of a tight situation. Inzi's 17 centuries out of 25 were in the cause of winning a test match for Pakistan. Thats why Javed Miandad and Inzimam will always rate above him even if he becomes the top century maker.

  • Dummy4 on August 20, 2014, 12:54 GMT

    Yes there are many unsung cricket players of World cricket.How many of us talk about Kalicharan or Chandrapaul? Mudasar Nazar or Iqbal Kasim?Chandrasekhar or Kirmani?Gilipsy or Yallop?People go on talking about Tendulkars and Dravids because that would fetch them money.One should never compare players of one generation with another because of different protective gears, rules, field size, money factor,medical therapies,food, staying and traveling facilities, covered pitches and uncovered pitch etc.

  • Harsh on August 20, 2014, 12:07 GMT

    Few batsman have ever posessed the grit of Younus Khan who reminds one of a military commander locked ni battle capable of turning the most adverse of situations.What is significant is that he championed the cause of a relatively weak team.

    I still feel he ranks below past greats t like Majid Khan,Zaheer Abbas and Saeed Anwar in terms of pure artistry or talent.Whoever he comnpensates that with his great temperament and goes to bat with the determination of a great boxer walking to the ring.

    On merit I would adjust Younus Khan's batting average to around 45+ if he batted in the ears of lethal pace bowling in the 1970's ,80's or 90's.Like another great batsmen Mahela Jayewardene he has performed much better in home conditions and not been at his best against the best teams of his era overseas.

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