Nearly two years after he should've taken over, Younis Khan took his place as the captain of Pakistan, after the Pakistan Cricket Board decided to relieve Shoaib Malik of his duties. Younis, who has twice previously turned down the leadership, takes over as Test and ODI captain, his first assignment less than a month away when Sri Lanka return for a two-Test series.
After a night and day of intense speculation, and a day full of meetings, Ijaz Butt, the PCB chairman, confirmed rumours that had begun floating almost as soon as Pakistan trooped off the field after one of their worst ODI defeats to Sri Lanka on Saturday. They were fueled by a 15-minute meeting earlier today between Younis and Butt, in which the offer was first made. There followed meetings between Butt and senior officials from the board and team management at which it is learnt there was clear consensus: Malik had to step down.
"We asked Shoaib Malik to step down as captain. He agreed and only then did we appoint Younis Khan as captain of Pakistan," Butt told reporters at the Gaddafi Stadium, Lahore. "We have taken the step because our performances weren't great. The end result is not just winning but the performance. We didn't just lose to Sri Lanka, we performed poorly. So we have made Younis Khan the captain of both Test and ODI sides."
No tenure has yet been set for his leadership - "as is the PCB way," said one official - but there was unanimous approval for the move to replace Malik and bring in Younis. "The feeling was clear that something had to be done because the team had performed so poorly and Younis was the first choice," an official present at the meetings, said.
Younis has long been seen as the natural choice to lead Pakistan. The impression was built during an impressive two-year reign as vice-captain to Inzamam-ul-Haq, where he often stepped in to take over in sessions and Tests to telling effect. But he blotted his credentials by twice walking away from the post, which in turn led to uncertainty today over whether he would accept.
The first time he had done so was in October 2006, days before the Champions Trophy, when he walked out of a press conference fuming that he didn't want to be "a dummy captain." He turned down the post again after the World Cup the following year, though reasons weren't made clear at the time. But over the course of the year, Younis is said to have changed his views, culminating in the trip to India at the end of the year, where he expressed a desire to captain Pakistan.
It was understood by Cricinfo that Younis was keen to set some terms and conditions for taking over, but it appears that has not been the case. "As far as we are aware, no terms and conditions have been set," said the official. "The chairman is not the kind of man to qualify an offer. Younis was offered it and he accepted and that is that."
Malik's downfall had been on the cards for some time. His win-loss record in ODIs remains impressive but it has been built on weak opposition. Against bigger teams he has been less successful and the resounding nature of the defeats to Sri Lanka sealed the deal. But as much as on-field results, the pressure built on him because of his inability to build a relationship with senior players in the team. Mohammad Yousuf criticised him openly, though he did so only after going to the ICL. Privately, at least two other senior players were also unhappy with his approach and particularly at the clique he is said to have cultivated within the team.
These issues culminated last week with Malik openly questioning Shoaib Akhtar's commitment during the Sri Lanka series, before u-turning and claiming he had not singled out Shoaib. The episode is said to have greatly incensed the board and though Butt played down reports of a rift, another official hinted it might have been worse than previously thought.
"Many things were discussed in the meetings, including Malik's relationship with players. Things weren't great and as an example, during the last ODI in Lahore when the team was staying at the team hotel, Malik stayed at the National Cricket Academy (NCA). Draw what conclusions you want from that."