Hassan Cheema

The truth about Younis and Yasir

Or, the Pakistani way of judging talent and contributions

Hassan Cheema
Hassan Cheema
Do Pakistan wish for Younis to return to the way he batted a decade ago?  •  Getty Images

Do Pakistan wish for Younis to return to the way he batted a decade ago?  •  Getty Images

Pakistan were in trouble. Their unbeaten record in their adopted home was under threat. At lunch on day one of their series against Australia in 2014, the scoreboard read: "Pakistan 50/2 in 29 overs."
It wasn't unexpected either. Pakistan had not won a series for two years. Australia, meanwhile, had reclaimed the No. 1 ranking earlier in the year after destroying England and South Africa. Azhar Ali was going at his unique morose pace but was still far better off than Younis Khan, who had managed 14 off 77 balls. At that moment a former Pakistan cricketer sashayed into the press box with two predictions: first, Pakistan were going to win this series; second, Younis would score big, and continue to do so until he played on a wicket with steep bounce.
Over the next fortnight, as Pakistan ground Australia down on course to a historic series win, those early troubles were forgotten. The second era of Team Misbah had begun.
But after Younis' struggles during the 2015 World Cup, and his status as a certified internet meme during the current tour to England, I've been reminded of the second of those predictions. That prophecy was based on the evolution of Younis' stance, particularly the crouch he employs, so I wondered, how much change could there possibly be?
The first two images are of Younis (No. 1 in Asia, No. 2 outside) in 2006, the next two are both in Asia, and show his evolution from 2012 (No. 3) to 2015 (No. 4). The final image is from his latest innings, at Old Trafford. In all five he ends up playing a drive down the V, yet his starting position, particularly the crouch, has changed. It's not that he hasn't succeeded with his latest technique (there is hardly any difference between the fourth and fifth images), but it almost feels like he's thinking about it as he plays rather than doing it subconsciously.
The exaggerated crouch might seem like a deterioration rather than an evolution if you've only seen him bat this summer. Yet that crouch has helped him prosper in Asia. It allows him to deal with the low bounce of those wickets and helps him to continue being a fourth-innings god.
Since his last tour in truly non-Asian conditions, in 2013, Younis had averaged 66 in 22 Tests going into this series. It has also enabled him to remain in the discussion about the best player of spin in the world. After two dismissals to Moeen Ali, and the best imitation of Bambi on ice that Lord's has ever seen, it seems like Younis has finally fallen off the cliff edge that he has been teetering on for years.
Of course, Younis is the last person you should count out, even in his twilight years. This is a man who says with a hearty chuckle that he never remembers anything positive written about him, but who carries around clippings of everything bad written about him to look at when he needs motivation. He was once told by a member of the management staff that he wasn't good enough for Test cricket and that his career was finished. Over 7000 Test runs (at an average in excess of 60) later, that prediction ranks alongside Charles Duell allegedly saying at the turn of the 20th century that "Everything that can be invented has been invented."
If anyone has earned the benefit of doubt, it's probably Younis. But, as the saying goes, Father Time is undefeated.
The question to be asked is whether Pakistan would forego everything Younis has done over the past five years if it meant they had to settle for him batting the way he did a decade ago. The answer, sadly, might be yes.
The first of the predictions issued by that former player on that afternoon in Dubai was based on the logic that nearly all of Australia's success prior to their tour of the Emirates had been on true pitches and that they wouldn't be able to deal with the two-paced nature of the desert. In hindsight, a 2-0 result looks logical. After all, since the retirement of McGrath and Warne, Australia's record in Asia reads: played 15, won 1.
It's a worse record than what Pakistan or India have in an equivalent number of Tests in England or Australia, but one that's far less likely to be brought up. England have also failed to win any of their nine Tests against Pakistan in Asia in this century. But neither of these facts is seen as a lack of mental, technical or masculine fortitude in the way it's seen when the roles are reversed. In essence, Younis is the inversion of foreign batsmen who tour Asia, but those two scenarios are rarely considered equivalent. All Test cricket is created equal, but some is more equal than others.
Yet it's not just Younis who was "exposed" in England, in the words of Pakistani broadcasters and columnists. The Pakistan spinner who debuted in that Dubai Test has also been revealed to be a fraud, we are told - Yasir Shah, one match after becoming the No. 1 Test bowler in the world, has finally been proved as too good to be true. In Manchester, Yasir was Taylor Swift to Cook and Root's Kimye (or is it Coot? Rook? Jolistair? Never mind).
Such statements might seem preposterous to non-Pakistani ears, but there are many who have waited almost two years for this day. On his debut, the most common refrain was: Pakistan let Imran Tahir go for this guy? A legspinner who didn't even have a googly?
For two years the praise for Yasir has been delivered through gritted teeth, every achievement brushed aside for fear of being proven wrong. Cricket in Pakistan is not seen as a science, where opinion evolves with evidence. It's seen, as that tired cliché goes, as a religion, and to change your opinion based on mere facts would be considered blasphemy.
There's a larger truth to these views about Yasir. This is a country where leggies are judged by how big they can spin their stock balls and how good their googly is, and never by how often they can land it on a sixpence. Yasir, with seven years of domestic cricket under his belt, is very much a Misbah spinner - someone who relies overwhelmingly on control, suffocation and subtle changes, as shown by the fact that 43% of his wickets have been bowleds and lbws (though the impression that figure gives was dulled by an Old Trafford wicket where he never found his length), a higher percentage than nine of the 12 leggies who have taken 100 Test wickets, and the best since Bhagwath Chandrasekhar.
Yasir's skill lies in the way he can change his length and speed by the minutest extents, where the search for a wicket is a long-form article, not a scene in an action movie. Of course, to comment on a book, you really ought to read it, and to comment on Yasir you really have to watch his spells, not judge him by highlights and the scorecard. But hey, who has that much time before a TV show?
Yasir is, quite simply, the spin version of Mohammad Asif, another man who always felt like he was under-appreciated in his country.
Now with their backs against the wall, Pakistan need Yasir and Younis more than ever. It's a challenge they have mostly been able to rise to. Even if they don't, Pakistan will always have their Lord's redemption.

Hassan Cheema is a sports journalist, commentator, co-manager of the Islamabad United PSL franchise, and co-host of the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. @mediagag