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Sidharth Monga in Galle
July 6, 2009
A 17-year-old debutant running through some of the best batsmen in the world. A 35-year-old coming back from a ban and hitting a Test century as if nothing had changed in the interim. Dropped catches, run-outs, mini collapses, they were all some of the events that had 'Pakistan' written all over them. But who would have thought of Younis Khan, two wickets in Tests before this match, turning out to be the game-breaker with the ball on four occasions in one Test?
"I just thought I make plans for others, why not apply them myself," Younis Khan told Cricinfo. "Whenever I talk to the bowlers in the middle, I tell them to stick to the basics, and I did just that myself." But don't believe him. This was not an impulsive move made in the middle, but a well thought-out plan on having seen the conditions. "This is a seaming track," the bowling coach Aaqib Javed said. "Pace doesn't matter here that much. What matters is whether you are able to hit the seam. And Younis is a decent bowler, bowls around 125-127ks, and doesn't give away free runs."
More than the pitch, the hot and humid weather played a part. Following his two wickets in the first innings, Younis came on to bowl today just when Umar Gul seemed to have hit a blip. Gul had taken a wicket in the first over of the day, but had lost his rhythm completely, bowling four no-balls and various boundary balls in his three overs. Tharanga Paranavitana took advantage of that, and with the frustrating nightwatchman Ranaga Herath at the other end, started to erase the deficit in a hurry, which was not huge anyway considering the poor records teams have in the fourth-innings in Galle.
"You see, if in that session with the way Herath was batting, if I had bowled Umar Gul and Mohammad Aamer in search of just one wicket, I would have finished them in this humidity," Younis said. "Especially with [Kumar] Sangakkara, [Mahela] Jayawardene, [Thilan] Samaraweera, [Tillakaratne] Dilshan and [Angelo] Mathews still to come, who would have taken wickets later?"
The plan worked, a fresh Aamer came back, and turned the game, taking out Sangakkara and Jayawardene in two overs. That shouldn't mean that Younis took cheap wickets in either of the innings. The seam position of the ball coming out of his hand was perfect, not usual for a man not used to bowling regularly. There were plans to the dismissals as well. After Herath frustrated the bowlers outside off, with Younis beating him several times, he went round the stumps, and tried the inward movement for the leg-before, which worked eventually.
When he came on for the second time, Dilshan and Samaraweera had started putting together a counterattack, tiring out the main bowlers. The stand needed to be broken soon - two partnerships, similar in potential, were broken by Younis in the first innings as well. "All four were big wickets," Younis said. "Samaraweera is Sri Lanka's Bradman [He got Samaraweera in the first innings with one that held its line]. Dilshan was looking dangerous today. And the way Herath and Kulasekara were batting, they were all good wickets." And there was no exaggeration to that.
Aaqib was not surprised at Younis' success. "He can bowl legspin, seam up, offspin," Aaqib said. "So he has the talent to pull off such spells."
So why was this talent not seen before? "He has got into this bowling thing for the last six months," Aaqib said.
It was when he was with South Australia that Younis started taking it seriously. "I am bowled a lot there, and have got a few wickets in first-class cricket too," Younis said. "When I was young, I used to bowl with the tape ball and in club cricket, it is just that here you already have four or five fast bowlers at any given time. So you rarely get a chance."
This has so far been a perfect Test for Younis the captain, but for his batting failures. He read the pitch better than Sri Lanka, he won the toss, he rotated his bowlers well, and he himself bowled like a genuine seamer. If Aamer, one of his players who shaped up this result, has a long successful career as he promises to, this Test will always be remembered for the first time he showed the versatility in his skills. Sitting inconspicuously underneath will be a footnote, an important footnote, on who kept him fresh.