Younis Khan has given up the captaincy of Pakistan once again, and taken a temporary break from the game altogether, after failing to overcome a long-running rift with a group of players. Effectively, after Younis informed the Pakistan board chairman Ijaz Butt of his decision, it signaled a victory for player power over an unpopular captain.
"I met the chairman today and told him I needed to rest," Younis told Cricinfo. "I told him I feel as If I have no command over this team. And if a leadership has no command over its players, what is the point of continuing to lead? I also told him that the last 3-4 months have been very trying times for me, not just with the cricket but all that has happened outside it. I need time to get myself together now."
At least eight or nine players in the current squad have been unhappy with Younis as captain for a while and had made their concerns clear to Butt immediately after the Champions Trophy. The loss to New Zealand in the three-match ODI series, in which Younis failed with the bat, cranked up the pressure, with a number of voices in Pakistan calling for his ouster. Today Younis decided that he had lost "command" over the team and carrying on was not an option.
The PCB immediately named Mohammad Yousuf, senior batsman and one-time stand-in captain, as the man to lead the side in a three-Test series in New Zealand beginning later this month. Kamran Akmal, the wicketkeeper, will be his deputy.
The PCB's no-frills press release stated simply that Younis had asked for a rest and Butt is reported to have said that they did not object to the decision. "We did appoint Younis captain until the 2011 World Cup, subject to his performance and fitness, but we have no objection to him asking for a rest, and I don't think it's turmoil in Pakistan cricket," he said.
Younis' tenure, which began earlier this year, has been crippled by a lack of support from his players. Ostensibly his resignation last month, after the Champions Trophy, was over the match-fixing allegations leveled against his side, but as the affair progressed it became increasingly clear that Younis was trying to outmanoeuvre a group of players who were not with him. It worked briefly, as the board made him captain till the 2011 World Cup, with enhanced powers over selection, but the players' support has clearly not been forthcoming.
Younis refused to go into further detail over which players had revolted but it is believed the group is led by Shoaib Malik and includes other seniors such as Shahid Afridi and Kamran Akmal. Sources close to Younis say that he was particularly disappointed in the manner in which some players were dismissed in the last ODI against New Zealand.
Though Pakistan ultimately lost by seven runs, their batting had collapsed to 101 for 9 - effectively losing those nine wickets for 54 runs - until a miraculous last-wicket stand took them nearly all the way. But the way established batsmen were dismissed - in a rash of pull shots - on a placid pitch has led Younis to conclude that it was done to undermine him.
"He was really unhappy with the shots some of the batsmen played and he feels as if they did it deliberately to undermine him," one source told Cricinfo. "He just feels as if he is knocking his head against a brick wall, telling batsmen, senior guys, how to play and them just not listening. He is tired of the constant fighting within the team, especially when it is not clear what they are all fighting or upset about. Nobody has gone to him directly to say anything and that has upset him the most. It isn't so much the pressure of his own failures that has brought him down as this."
Younis's immediate future is unclear. It is believed that he wants to continue playing international cricket and will return to Pakistan and play some domestic cricket to set himself up for the Australia tour, beginning at the end of December. A return to captaincy seems highly improbable; neither is the PCB likely to offer it to him, having been burnt so many times, nor is he likely to take it up, given his experience this time round.
As a result, Yousuf's elevation marks a remarkable comeback for the batsman, who only recently was in exile from the national team for his involvement with the ICL. He has led Pakistan in the past, twice in Tests in Australia - both lost - and once at home against South Africa in 2003-04, which Pakistan won. Incidentally, he was also a replacement captain for Younis once before, for all of a day, when Younis walked away from the post ahead of the 2006 Champions Trophy, only to be convinced to come back.
The buzz in Pakistan suggests that former captain Inzamam-ul-Haq has also played a hand; in recent days, Inzamam has been publicly vocal about the need to dispose of Younis, openly pushing the candidacy of Shahid Afridi as ODI captain. According to some reports, Yousuf contacted Inzamam - the pair are very close - before accepting the job. Some are even touting Inzamam as the next coach for Pakistan.