January 29, 2009

The right choice by default

Younis Khan happens to be Pakistan's sole realistic choice as captain; he's probably the right one as well

To every cause Younis will bring a good, clean fight © AFP

The route has been long, it has been convoluted and it has been difficult, but the Pakistan captaincy has finally found its way to Younis Khan. Two years ago he was the best man for it. Today he is the only one for it. In that difference of detail is found a weighty novel of woe.

Of the many ifs and buts that crowd Pakistan's history, among the most intriguing is what would have happened had Younis done the decent, right and normal thing by accepting the captaincy after the 2007 World Cup. No one really knows why he didn't, but in scuppering Pakistan's first and only properly genuine succession plan, he fathered two years of gloomy stagnancy. Certainly there was less risk attached to making him captain then, but people are pardoned and forgiven worse things in Pakistan.

Beyond that, prospects are bright. Above everything, there is no dispute over his place in ODIs or Tests: even with Mohammad Yousuf in the side, Younis is the most resolute, all-conditions batsman in Pakistan, runs in Australia coming as did runs in England, South Africa and Pakistan. Crucially, his team knows it. He is also the first indigenous Pathan to lead Pakistan: Imran Khan was often romanticised as the fearless Pathan, but he was born and bred in the Punjab, where his family had settled. It is important to know this for Younis is fully hewn from an environment and people his own countrymen have always had difficulty deciphering.

Without quite applying one brush to a whole people, the codes of life Pathans abide by are of a different feel, in place long before the country they now live in came into being. Their views on honour, justice, enmity and loyalty are often views apart. It was written once that if there is an element of lawlessness about them, the flipside is an attractive consciousness of their own dignity. So when Younis walked away from the captaincy before the Champions Trophy in 2006, one of the spurs was the sacking of a peon at the National Cricket Academy. Having to then wait to meet chairman Shaharyar Khan for a meeting subsequently tipped Younis over the edge. Not everyone will understand it, but that is the way it is.

He wanted things his own way when he was first offered the post, as does everyone, but he was less willing to compromise on it than most. There was similar talk this time too, but better sense has prevailed. His basic integrity, his sense of purpose, were never doubted. He is fiercely independent, but just as fiercely committed. To whatever the cause, he will bring the fight, and a good, clean fight. Lord knows Pakistan needs more than anything right now to fight on the field; off it, fight off the danger of mediocrity and obscurity.

Younis is less likely to tolerate the mistakes that Shoaib Malik - thus revealing the limit of his ambitions - was willing to. Thankfully he is also less likely to put up with the passengers Malik carried. But grudges, rest assured, will be held. Altogether, however, he will give himself whole to the job; it was the worst of Malik's faults that it always felt like he didn't, that he was always holding something back, in words and deeds.

It must work; it must be made to work, for if there isn't Younis what is there beyond him? Can people seriously tout Shahid Afridi as an option?

Immediate impacts cannot be guessed. Younis has downplayed how much should be expected of one man, while also stressing the depths of Pakistan's ills. Realism remains preferable to the blandness of most captains stating they want to do well, or some such: the team will still be mostly the same so miracles cannot be expected.

But some fight can and should be, some sense that this is a team, in someone's image. So far have Pakistan fallen, so blah have they become, that even a return to the days when people genuinely believed they could beat anyone on their day, will represent progress. Unpredictability is still more seductive and productive than insipidity.

With Younis as captain the wheel has now turned full again. Much like in the country's politics, the policy and personnel of the last regime have been swept clean. It has given way to a dynamite-laden structure: Younis, Abdul Qadir, Aamir Sohail, Ijaz Butt are some of Pakistan cricket's wildest horses (and that says something). Javed Miandad has already gone, and though Younis wasn't the reason, Miandad was one of the men not happy with Younis' appointment. The decision, it turns out, wasn't so unanimous after all.

The edifice remains fragile, like an eggshell mind, to quote a dead man. If the whole shebang goes off without many casualties, it will be the greatest miracle since Keith Richards lived past his 60th birthday.

But it must work; it must be made to work, for if there isn't Younis what is there beyond him? Can people seriously tout Shahid Afridi as an option, when his own place in the ODI side is so insecure?

And Malik's experience confirms what Miandad's and Wasim Akram's first stints showed: in Pakistan, the young, for whatever reasons, cannot lead. In time to come this may change, but for now these are rigid and unbending structures we deal with. For now Younis is the only option. As a bonus, he might just be the right one.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ameel on January 31, 2009, 15:06 GMT

    It seems sanity has left us all alone out on a limb.I mean we are digressing from the main theme and pushing ourselves on superficial issues more.The nub of the issue regarding our dismal performance will not be helped out by merely belting the skipper.Infact we have had disastrous results during Inzi's tenure as well.But please fix our grassroots and infrastructure because if captain alone has the key to change the fate of team then Ricky Ponting wouldn't be so proud of his team's ruthless progress when Mcgrath's,Warne's and Gilly's were there and wouldn't be so hapless now without them.Why don't we pin Ponting down now?Simply because captain is finished without forceful resources and beleive me unless Pakistan produces quality batsmen,bowlers and fielders,thes Malik's,Younis and Misbah's would be useless for team's improvement.Younis although is a better choice amongst all the available lads but that wouldn't guarantee you games unless thay have genuine pacemen to unrattle opponents.

  • Faisal on January 30, 2009, 15:34 GMT

    Continuing with the next possible choices of captain ....

    Shoaib Akhtar: He is on verge of decline, he has lost his pace and cannot bowl long spells. So if he cannot lead by example then that may turn bad to the overall bowling.

    Misbah: A good cricketing brain indeed, a good captaincy record in domestic and Pakistan A team circuit but he seems polite. Currently a more versatile and disciplined captain is needed who can create discipline in himself and ask the same from others.

    So in my view, the best choice currently is Younis Khan.

  • Faisal on January 30, 2009, 15:33 GMT

    I agree with Osman, Younis Khan seems to be a wise choice in the current Pakistani team, as he is potentially agressive captain and he always tries to lead the team from the front. And he is an automatic selection to ODI and Test teams and to some extent T20 as well.

    Lets try to see were there any other worthy candidates for captaincy.

    Shahid Afridi: Has been inspirational in leading his teams in the domestic circuit. Always tries to lead from the front whether bowling or batting. But in the international circuit, he has his confidence down in his batting, he is unwilling to open the innings. And no place for him yet in the Test arena. So he is inspirational and agressive, but he is not currently an automatic selection to the Test team, so he seriously needs to take care of his batting by playing same aggressive cricket but controlled down the ground shots.

    To be continued in the next comment ....... ;)

  • Prince on January 30, 2009, 13:35 GMT

    Younis is the only cricketer in this Pakistan team who is a serious candidate for captaincy,but it's difficult to believe that he can cause some major changes in Pakistan's performances.Truth be told,this Pakistan team is lacklustre & lacks 'THAT SOMETHING'.Younis is a fighter,but he ain't a genius,& the rest of his team mates are even less a fighter than him.Salman,Kamran,Manzoor,Tanvir-all these players are limited.So a change in captaincy might change Pakistan's attitude,but it's uncertain whether there will be any change in Pakistan's results.

  • Nasr on January 30, 2009, 6:13 GMT

    The only reason i support this change is that Younis will bring an energy back in the team, the boys will atleast look like a team regardless of the result. He will make us all feel proud again.

  • Tashfeen on January 30, 2009, 0:14 GMT

    Completely nonsensical and unrequired decision. Useless hoha over nothing. What was the board expecting? if they were expecting a win, that was a wrong expectation. The team hasn't played in along time against quality opposition. Players and Captains grow by playing matches and not by sitting and playing twenty20 matches. When they play they learn and progress. PCB and the senate should concentrate on getting some games under the players belts first and stop creating a mountain out of a molehill. Completely useless excercise to replace the captain when there are no matches to be played on the horizon and if there are no different result is expected as the team has not been a team because they have not played on the field together.

  • junaid from on January 29, 2009, 23:38 GMT

    Younis Khan is the best batsman at present Pakistan has got(ODI&TESTS) and as a captain,he has the quality and attributes to bring the best out the team. Pakistan has got the talent to challenge the top teams around the world but need a strong leader who is respected and Younis Khan fits in perfect for that role.Hope he might get some good news regarding the ban on ICL (former Pakistan international) players, getting the likes of Mohammad Yousaf,Abdul Razaq,Imran Nazir will get the ball rolling!!!! Finally must say this,he needs query if some of the current players in the squad (Shahid Afridi,Shoaib Akhtar,Kamran Akmal) deserve their places looking at their current performances,if Younis is strong then we hope not to see these guys in the next squad and see some young talent getting their chances which will surley benefit Pakistan Cricket future!!!!!!!

  • Ali on January 29, 2009, 22:02 GMT

    A riveting and splendid article that represents in its very way the hegemony of thoughts and hopes any well wisher, especially the country folk has in their minds. I agree with each comment you have made Mr Samiuddin, as I believe that the troubles we have seen, younis khan seems to be the only option left out of this downward spiralling disaster train that started its journey genuily after the 99 world cup even though after which we had legends playing in the team. Goodluck to Younis Khan and the thoughts we share as the ever eager fans of this game which unties us all...

  • Cricinfouser on January 29, 2009, 22:02 GMT

    Shahid Afridi as a captain. . . . hahaha. Not in this life.

    I think Younis Khan is a perfect fit for this role. But no one can be a good captain without supportive players. So if there is unrest in the team, Younis will find it tough to win matches.

  • Atish on January 29, 2009, 20:23 GMT

    I agree with the author. Misbah is the only other viable option, and I am not sure he has enough experience. As a fan of the game, I wish the Pakistan team all the very best. A strong Pakistan team brings to cricket a unique flair which the game just cannot afford to lose. As an Indian national, I wish the people of Pakistan all the very best. It is time for us to clearly learn the difference between the politicians of a country and its people. If we don't understand, who will ?

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