India v Pakistan, 3rd Test, Bangalore, 2nd day March 25, 2005

Younis's defining innings



Younis Khan was unorthodox at times but always effective © Getty Images

Be honest. How many of us really thought that Inzamam-ul-Haq, and not Younis Khan, from the overnight batsmen, would construct a colossus, a behemoth such as this? It has been this way only for most of Younis's career. At times he has been adequate as an international batsmen, and at others lacking but always for 34 Tests his career had a middling feel to it and questions around it. Whatever happens hereafter, after his century at Kolkata and his epic here, that is unlikely to remain the case; now, he will forever be judged with this innings for context.

Strangely perhaps for a double century, what he did in between deliveries as much as with them should linger. He fidgeted doggedly, adjusting pads and gloves, replacing bits (of what?) from the pitch, a bit of gardening here and there. Irrespective of partners, he chalked out a routine, a little chat for the loose shot culprit, bat claps all round for singles, cheeky, tight, comfortable or otherwise and even for balls that were left or padded away. It was overt, excessive cheerleading and utterly alien to Pakistan but it kept the momentum going when Inzamam flagged yesterday afternoon and it added an intriguing layer to his current role as vice-captain and eventual ascent to leadership today.

There was so much more - his tete-a-tete with Harbhajan Singh shortly after tea yesterday after scooping him over long-on for six and his kiss and make-up the subsequent ball. Today, he had balls flung at him twice in quick succession from bowler and then fielder. One struck him, the other just missed and he remonstrated. Furthermore, his unusually emotive celebration at reaching his century yesterday echoed Nasser Hussain's famously defiant gesturing at the Natwest Series Final in 2002, but possibly it was more cryptic.

What he did with the deliveries should also be recalled. Lazily, he has been accused of being an ungainly batsman. He isn't although his work strays from the conventions of batting. Certainly he can look awkward, particularly as he did in his first innings dismissal at Mohali, when he falls over a little too much to open up the leg-side. But today, as Lakshmipathy Balaji strayed onto his legs, he leant over and drove through midwicket, only this time compensating for imbalance by giving his back leg a little flick up, in time with a twirl of the wrists. His sweeping was not elegant, but it is effective, a long, uncomfortable reach out concluded by, well, truly a jharoo sweeping movement of the bat. The two reverse sweeps, unorthodox as they are, off Kumble late in the day were, by contrast, executed with passing nods to orthodoxy.

But until his dismissal - a sliced hoick to mid-off - his off-side game sparkled. A few of the drives - one off Irfan Pathan immediately after tea today - were efficient in their movements, a small step into the flight of the ball and a checked prod just wide of mid-off. In that same over, he followed with a directed glide to the point boundary. This was convention. Usually, and yesterday in particular, he drove through the covers with flourishes, stretching out more to meet the ball, proud on one knee. At times, he gave his cuts a real whip, the motion after the meeting of ball with bat almost as pretty as the preparation before. This was convention but with flamboyance.

His boundaries, statistically (134 of 267 in boundaries) and figuratively, were only half the charm. In Kolkata, with Youhana, he had run the Indians to distraction. Here, he wasn't as daring for he had others to run with, but he was scarcely less effective. It tottered between the reckless and the sublime; Kumble warned him for backing up too far, yet he telepathically stole singles particularly in his 84-run partnership with Youhana this morning and with Inzamam yesterday afternoon. Even as late as post-tea today, he was scurrying twos and threes with Mohammad Sami, having been on the field for the greater part of two days.

But what two days they have been, for him and for us. Time will be required, by him and by us, to truly appreciate the magnitude of what he has achieved. It is more than just the highest score by a Pakistani, or for that matter any visiting batsman, against India. Bookending, as it does, five months and seven Tests of his rebirth, it marks his elevation, finally, into a more tangible realm of batsmanship. Now, with 267 runs in a crunch situation, he demands attention as an international batsman, for however long. The question has changed now; we know now he can do it. Can he keep doing it?

Osman Samiuddin is a freelance journalist based in Karachi. He will be covering Pakistan's tour of India.