Younis Khan August 3, 2012

Howard Roark via Atticus Finch

Not lovable on first sight, Younis Khan grows on you with his determination and commitment

The private adulation of a sports fan may be a one-sided and self-contained mental activity, but it still bears the contours of an emotional relationship. When as a boy I became besotted with Javed Miandad, the experience played out inside my head like a thrilling adventure. With Younis Khan, to whom I lost my cricketing heart after his 267 and 84 not out in Bangalore, it has been more nuanced and intense. Idolising Miandad felt like a back-slapping camaraderie; with Younis it feels more like a brooding bromance.

There are certainly enough reasons to fall in love with Younis - a Test average above 50, a triple-hundred, that double-hundred against India in India, some unforgettable rearguards, and captaincy of Pakistan's title-winning T20 team. But Younis does not make it easy for anyone.

At the crease, he is not especially attractive: too much bottom hand for the Asian aesthetic, a coarse forward-defensive, and - early in the innings - a wobble in the arc of his bat. As a captain, he has been aloof and reserved; as a person he is rumoured to be a social recluse. None of these are particularly endearing traits.

Yet he exudes a silent magnetism that, combined with his cricketing feats, can be quite overpowering. If he were a character in a novel, he would be something of a meld between Ayn Rand's Howard Roark and Harper Lee's Atticus Finch - dignified, dedicated, fiercely individualistic, and unquestioningly committed, albeit in his own idiosyncratic way, to the greater good.

As with any complex package, when you peel away the layers, Younis' persona becomes ever more compelling. He was born in Mardan, a prominent city in Pakistan's northern region, but then moved southwards, and his cricketing life began at the opposite end of the country, in Karachi. A perpetually restless city, in the mid-nineties Karachi's restlessness was at its peak. Political ferment had spilled over into violence, on a larger scale than had happened before or has since. Pitched battles were fought on major thoroughfares, and the army had been called in. People still went about their daily business, but in a stifling atmosphere of struggle and siege.

At the time, Younis was an energetic Karachi teenager whose daily business was mastering cricket. Ambitious, talented, and driven, he had caught the eye of Rashid Latif at Malir Gymkhana, one of the city's famous sports clubs. Multiple stages lay ahead - Under-19, Karachi probables, domestic first-class and beyond. This was a foot in the door.

Younis' daily commute was nearly 20 miles, along the city's eastern outskirts. He would set out from the employees' colony at Pakistan Steel, where his father worked, and make his way through a series of tough neighbourhoods to reach the suburb of Malir. According to Latif, Younis never missed a match. Even if he was 12th man, he would show up. Latif found him to be industrious and determined. He felt he had spotted a gem.

If and when Younis narrates his story, we will know first-hand the kind of risks he took. The lore, for now, is that he dodged bullets to play cricket. What makes his early history truly captivating is that Younis' relationship with Latif straddled the very faultline on which Karachi was aflame. A Pushto-speaking Pathan, Younis' lineage is firmly placed in Pakistan's northwestern frontier; Latif, in contrast, belongs to Karachi's Urdu-speaking community, which migrated from India at the time of Partition and has tended to claim the city as its own.

At the crease, Younis is not especially attractive: too much bottom hand, a coarse forward-defensive, and - early in the innings - a wobble in the arc of his bat. As a captain, he has been aloof and reserved. Yet he exudes a silent magnetism that, combined with his cricketing feats, can be quite overpowering

The bond between the two men provides an important window into Younis' character, his honesty and warmth, and his capacity to accord and receive respect. Forged as a mentorship that prepared Younis for entry onto the world stage, over the years it has sustained him through the ups and downs of his career. It is said that Younis does not take any major decision without consulting Latif. And if you get Latif speaking about Younis, he will talk your ear off with heartfelt praise.

Younis is now officially 34, which places his real age anywhere between 34 and 36. The talk these days is of his legacy. After runs at 51.69 in 79 Tests, there is no denying that he has carved for himself a spot in Pakistan's batting pantheon. But what ultimately distinguishes him is not so much the size of his scores as the manner and circumstances in which they were made.

The Bangalore performance was triggered by a sarcastic remark - leaked to the press - from the Pakistan team manager that undermined Younis. His captaincy of Pakistan in the 2009 World Twenty20 championship came weeks after the terror attacks outside Gaddafi Stadium; in many ways, most of all emotionally and in terms of morale, this was the lowest point in Pakistan's cricket history, and it proved the perfect setting for Younis' crusading streak to kick in. Even his triple-hundred, although made on a flat track in Karachi, came under pressure, after he, eschewing the nightwatchman, stepped out in the dying moments of the second day with Pakistan staring at a huge Sri Lankan total.

This resilient spirit of confronting obstacles head-on and quietly fighting his way through is perhaps Younis' most enduring trait. There is something very tough in it, as well as very noble, and it has marked him from an early age. In his teenage years, despite his ability and Latif's unflinching patronage, Younis' ethnicity was held against him when he was trying to break into one of the Karachi teams. Frustrated with the high-handedness of Karachi's selectors, he travelled north to try his luck in Peshawar, the capital of his ancestral province. With Younis in the side, Peshawar won the Quaid-e-Azam trophy, Pakistan's flagship domestic tournament, for the first time. Later in life, it is this same streak that has made Younis a rearguard specialist, something to which his remarkable fourth-innings record in Tests bears ample testimony.

The closest I have come to meeting him is when I once caught his attention by yelling from the stands at the Dubai Cricket Stadium. At the end of the second day during the third Test against England earlier this year, Younis was walking back to the pavilion after making a hundred in the second innings on what had been a lethal pitch. Head bowed, face dripping with sweat, helmet nestled in the crook of his arm, he cut a figure of dignity and poise. Two friends and I had positioned ourselves on the upper stand balcony, immediately above the Pakistan dressing room. We lavished praise on Younis and his innings but he kept quietly walking on, seemingly unaware and unmoved. It wasn't until I shouted that he had saved his team that he finally looked up. And he flashed a smile.

Saad Shafqat is a writer based in Karachi

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Muhmmad on August 6, 2012, 15:02 GMT

    @Puroniks...and to compare irfan pathan and other of urs ordinary bowlers to the great WASIM AKRAM and other great bowlers is itself a great shame to those legend.Your Umesh Udav which u people think as a great talent won't make to bangladesh b side even lol but coz u guys don't have good fast bowlers an ordinary bowler lyk yadav seems to be a great talent to u guys.cricinfo plz publish!

  • nikhil on August 5, 2012, 9:47 GMT

    Younis khan: One of pakistans many overhyped , useless and lacking world class ability players like miandad and inzamam and mohd yousuf. all the three mentioned above perfectly fit into the category of: "CAN BARELY PLAY ABOVE VILLAGE STANDARD THAT TOO ONLY ON TWO PITCHES: KARACHI AND LAHORE" sadly younish khan had none to look up to .. I mean they had imran khan as their best player. Some one who would barely get into a B side of anytime's any country. Pakistan have a lovely adoring fans but their players have been a complete shambles. To even mention the likes of lara and sachin and viv et all in the sme breath as any pak batsman is an utter disgrace to those two greats. Please publish and dont ignore my comments please!

  • Dummy4 on August 5, 2012, 6:14 GMT

    Well written article. Younis is a excellent batsman, who has played many match winning knocks to help Pakistan win. Not sure, how long he will continue to play, but I hope he does not decide to retire any time soon. Khuda hafez.

  • Dummy4 on August 4, 2012, 23:50 GMT

    A lot of fans aren't aware or forgetting about how good a fielder this guy is. His fielding record especially the catches he has taken is off top standard in fact, he's in the top 5 of the most number of catches taken in the past 6 years of International Cricket. Great player!

  • Dummy4 on August 4, 2012, 19:16 GMT

    Dignity and grace earn their own respect. Younis Khan bears testimony to this simple fact. Salute.

    It would be unfair not to mention just beautifully this heartfelt piece has been composed. Kudos to you Saad Shafqat!

  • Dummy4 on August 4, 2012, 18:05 GMT

    nice article..younis is my favourite cricter and i love to watch him batting in tests

  • Bobby on August 4, 2012, 9:48 GMT

    What a wonderful article by Saad. It is a shame that Saad does not write much as it does get boring reading all these worthless articles about so called God's and walls. Younis khan is a true fighter and he plays to win. One huge testimony is his 4th inning record. Fouth inning of a test match is when matches are won or saved and that is where Younis has excelled. No one comes close to him. Cricket is a team game and it is all about winning. Younis Khan along with Sangakara and Kallis are the most under rated batsmen in the modern era. They are true match winners who may not have the usual glamour about them but they actually win matches! Player like Tendulya should learn from likes of Younis Khan to win matches. There is no point in scoring worthless 18K runs that do no win matches and there is no point when you have an averages of mid 30's in 4th innings of a test match. Younis, Sangakara, Ricky Ponting also led their teams with a distinction! Younis is way better than tendulya!

  • Mohsin on August 4, 2012, 8:38 GMT

    And the only one-down batsman in the world's top 8 teams with the average of less than 33 after playing more than 250 matches and that too with the SR of 75....And his latest form in ODIs is even worse Everyone has right to like or dislike someone, but making a double ton on slow Indian tracks and against crappy Indian bowling isnt by any means a world class achievement (his avg. again Ind=106)... & the t20 world cup...Khan sb was the only captain in the worldcup who didnt deserve even a place in playing 11, realizing which khan sahab retd soon after WC....

  • Dummy4 on August 4, 2012, 7:59 GMT

    A really nice article. Younus Khan is one guy who has always been shadowed by ethnicity yet that guy always plays for his team, never for himself. He is probably among the few unselfish cricketers in Pakistan's current team. Pakistan would fare pretty badly without that guy in their side and I do hope the selectors give him a few more chances in the ODIs as well.

  • Dummy4 on August 4, 2012, 5:16 GMT

    At Present "Younas Khan" is the only batsman who is no parallel in Pak Team. I am unable to understand why selectors are thinking to drop him from Pak ODI side. Despite he is 34 still he is the fittest and most active athelete in Pak Team. He is great servant od Pak & he can still play 2 to 3 years more as ODI and Test Player. I believe he will never disappoint the selectors as well as his Fans. I wish him Good Luck..................................

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