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The significance of an insignificant Younis hundred

All day yesterday and today, something about what Younis Khan was doing didn't sit right. It wasn't in his movements at the crease when he first arrived - now, more than ever before he is extremely vulnerable in that first half hour at the crease. He wasn't outright flaky like he was in England, but he looked iffy. It wasn't quite dance; maybe just some contemplative hopping.

He didn't connect with a couple of deliveries down leg side, which, earlier in his career, he would've put away anywhere between square leg and just to the left of the wicketkeeper. They're the grey flecks of his batting these missed opportunities, the unavoidable detritus of time. Better missed though than strangled down to the wicketkeeper as he has been a few times of late.

There was nearly a run-out because all that nervous energy had to manifest itself into something. The first boundary was one of those unique interpretations of a conventional shot that is so Younis - an edgy mix of a cut, drive and punch through square.

He began to look more secure once he had driven Nathan Lyon through the covers for his second and third boundaries, the security bred from a sense of familiarity. These were shots created by what is Younis' strength: stretching his front foot to get close to the ball first and then extending his arms through the drive - it is this reach, this ability to drive balls or sweep balls that mightn't necessarily be driven or swept that impressed Waheed Mirza, the man who gave him his first break on Karachi's club circuit.

So far, so Younis. It was slightly odd that Azhar Ali was looking more fluid than him. Balls were pinging off Azhar's bat like they've never done before, a man in the form of his life. That was unusual sure. The usual is the other way round, for Younis to be shepherding these guys through a tricky phase. Instead here was Azhar making it easier for Younis. But even that is not so out of kilter, especially not over a year in which Azhar and Asad Shafiq have played Pakistan's most significant Test innings, in which they have become Pakistan's most important batting pair.

What it was that was not quite right became clearer today, as Pakistan lost wickets at regular intervals. They were drifting out of this Test and they're long gone from the series. This was a dead-rubber Test, pointless in all aspects other than the fact that at least it wasn't a two-Test series.

So this Younis Khan hundred didn't really matter. Actually, scratch that - it did matter of course at some nth level, near that one where everything anyone ever does matters and has a consequence. It was important to statisticians, as his first hundred in Australia. That completed a unique set of a hundred in 11 countries, the ten Full Members plus Pakistan's current home in the UAE. That's something.

It must have meant a fair bit to Younis himself, beyond the degree of every hundred meaning something to its maker. He has great regret at not having played more Tests in Australia - missing the 2009-10 series after stepping down as captain wasn't the best career move he made. And a hundred for a Pakistani batsman in Australia is still something to clutch to tightly, a shield to put up at the barrackers when they come sniping (because they always do). It's insurance, protection, whatever.

These things have started meaning more to Younis as he has aged. Becoming the first Pakistani to 10,000 Tests runs is the next and he's been talking about that - and beyond - since he got to 9000 runs. He is in unchartered territory for Pakistani batsmen and he wants to go further out and alone, to put more distance between him and whoever comes next. But that is the way of batsmen. A degree of selfishness helps, of looking out for yourself first and by doing so, looking out for your team. And these are allowances we make for the big ones as they get older, for their service when they were younger. Few have served as dutifully as Younis.

But behind all this, it didn't really matter, not in the way a Younis Khan hundred has come to matter. His recent ones have had more meaning than found inside a dictionary. They're national events in Pakistan. This one though - what real meaning did it have? He's not out there saving a Test (not as it stands now) in the fourth innings, or on the last day. He's certainly not out there winning one. He's not fighting for the series. He's not out there fighting for his career. He's not taking it out on some official who has slighted him. He's not making it after a wrongful punishment. He's not proving a point. There's no heat, no edge and so, no real pay-off.

None of this is to say it wasn't a good hundred. As hundreds go, it was a very good one. Today especially it contained those phases of play a batsman must fight through to make a hundred feel that much sweeter. He was losing partners at the other end, including one in which he was involved and partially responsible for. There was a period of tight bowling to cope with. His own compulsions to go hard persistently, and recklessly at Lyon had to be tamed. At the end, another new ball: this was, make no mistake, a very fine hundred.

Just that it is rare for it to come in circumstances so bereft of charge and occasion, and context, personal or otherwise. One way to understand that is to count it as only the second of his 34 Test hundreds to come in a dead-rubber Test, when the series wasn't still live. The first came against England in Dubai, in the 2011-12 whitewash. That is just another of those little stats gems - like the fourth-innings hundreds, or fifth-day averages - that bring out an essential quality in Younis, that make us realise how good - or great - he really is (another: his hundreds per series ratio is higher than that of Ricky Ponting, Kumar Sangakkara and Rahul Dravid).

As he walked back at the end of the day, unbeaten, a few Australians came to shake his hands. That is customary now. He raised his bat only in the last ten yards as he got back to the pavilion. A smattering of applause saw him through, probably not understanding the significance of the insignificance of this hundred - a hundred Younis doesn't usually make, a hundred for himself perhaps, a hundred just because he can.