You­nis Khan

Saj Sadiq looks at the ca­reer of a vet­eran bats­man who shows no sign of los­ing his touch de­spite his ad­vanc­ing years

The Cricket Paper - - NEWS -

Saj Sadiq looks at the re­mark­able ca­reer of an all-time great

At some point this year, it is hoped that You­nis Khan will cross the ma­jor mile­stone of 10,000 Test runs. He is al­ready Pak­istan’s top Test run-get­ter and once he scores another 23, he will join an il­lus­tri­ous list of 12 other Test bats­men who have had the hon­our of reach­ing the five-fig­ure mark in ser­vice of their re­spec­tive coun­tries.

You­nis’ name will thus ap­pear next to some of the world’s le­gends such as Sachin Ten­dulkar, Ricky Ponting, Brian Lara, Jac­ques Kal­lis and Su­nil Gavaskar.

He would dearly liked to have achieved this goal dur­ing what turned out to be Pak­istan’s dis­ap­point­ing re­cent se­ries against Aus­tralia but he was un­able to re­pro­duce the kind of su­perla­tive per­for­mances that have made him a fans’ favourite.

At the age of 39, many crick­eters would have moved on or at least been work­ing on their farewell speeches but if his in­nings of 175 in Sydney is any yard­stick,You­nis seems to be get­ting ready to launch him­self for another stage of his ca­reer.

Hav­ing played 115 Tests and still re­garded as one of the fittest crick­eters to wear the Pak­istan cap,You­nis’ name also fea­tures among the most il­lus­tri­ous of names in Pak­istan cricket with only Javed Mian­dad (124), In­za­mam-ul-Haq (119), Wasim Akram (104) and Saleem Ma­lik (103) the oth­ers to have played 100 or more Test matches for Pak­istan.

But You­nis has never been about per­sonal glory. In fact, when it was re­cently sug­gested that he could be re­garded as Pak­istan’s best bats­man, he flatly re­fused to be re­garded as the “great­est Pak­istani player of all time”, in­sist­ing that all he wanted from his crit­ics and fol­low­ers was a recog­ni­tion that, when­ever he played, he played for his coun­try and team.

Re­ferred to many times as a hum­ble ser­vant of Pak­istan cricket,You­nis has not only car­ried him­self with dig­nity and aplomb on the field, but he has also set the high­est stan­dards of be­hav­iour for his team-mates to fol­low.

This has en­deared him to a mul­ti­tude of fans around the world who know that You­nis rarely dis­ap­points them and does play with his heart on his sleeve for Pak­istan.

Whether it is in prac­tice in the nets where he is known for his metic­u­lous at­ten­tion to de­tail rang­ing from the way he keeps his kit, to the num­ber of balls he faces, or in his in­ter­ac­tions with fans around the world, or in the dis­arm­ing smile when in the hard­est of bat­tles, You­nis is the com­plete pack­age.

He has faced a bar­rage of crit­i­cism from some, for his pub­lic out­bursts but where he has never dis­ap­pointed his fans and his team is in the in­ten­sity of ef­fort. The abil­ity to dig him­self out of low points in his ca­reer and to take the bat­tle to the op­po­si­tion at times when all ap­pears lost is a qual­ity that You­nis con­tin­ues to ex­hibit with pride.

In the sum­mer of 2016 when Pak­istan stood on the precipice of a dis­ap­point­ing loss to Eng­land, it was You­nis who gath­ered him­self and in­spired a fight­back which saw his team level the four-match Test se­ries.

It is true that he lacks the cult fol­low­ing of some of the flashier play­ers from his era, or the at­trac­tive play­ing style which would en­dear him to mar­ket­ing men, but You­nis’ sta­tis­tics in­di­cate a player who is worth more than his weight in gold when it comes to con­tri­bu­tions to his side’s suc­cess in Test cricket.

Since his de­but in Test cricket against Sri Lanka in 2000,You­nis has amassed 9,977 runs at a phe­nom­e­nal av­er­age of 53.06. Along the way, he has scored 34 cen­turies and 32 fifties, with his high­est Test score of 313 com­ing against Sri Lanka in Karachi in Fe­bru­ary, 2009.

His sta­tis­tics may be awe­some but are not al­ways a true re­flec­tion of his util­ity to Pak­istan’s brittle bat­ting or­der. The roller­coaster ride that a Pak­istan bat­ting per­for­mance nor­mally brings to the ta­ble needs a strong guid­ing hand like You­nis’ to steady it­self.

In­deed, Pak­istan’s steady climb to the top of the ICC Test rank­ings last year would not have been achieved with­out his sin­gle-minded de­ter­mi­na­tion. His con­tri­bu­tions at his favoured No.3 or No.4 po­si­tions have come at cru­cial times and the abil­ity to score runs and work in part­ner­ships with the next gen­er­a­tion of Pak­istan bats­men such as Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq will bring great div­i­dends for Pak­istan in the fu­ture.

A bat­ting style which may not ap­pear as el­e­gant and ef­fort­less as some of the other greats, it is You­nis’s pen­chant of con­vert­ing starts and get­ting hun­dreds, which eas­ily puts him in the list of greats.

Many of these in­nings have been played un­der huge pres­sure. No bet­ter ex­am­ple of this could be found than in his cen­turies in each in­nings against Aus­tralia in Oc­to­ber 2014 dur­ing the se­ries in the UAE.

These also hap­pened to be You­nis’ first in Tests against Aus­tralia which he bet­tered with a re­mark­able 175 in the re­cently con­cluded Test se­ries. In the process, he also be­came the first bats­man to hit a Test hun­dred in 11 dif­fer­ent coun­tries.

As ex­pected, Pak­istan’s most well-known stal­warts, Mis­bah-ul-Haq and You­nis, came un­der a lot of crit­i­cism for the man­ner in which Pak­istan were white­washed by a ram­pant Aus­tralian side. Whilst calls for Mis­bah’s re­tire­ment have be­come fre­quent due to his own drop in form,You­nis’ abil­ity to score runs when needed is a qual­ity which will al­low him to con­tinue for a good few years.

It is You­nis’ pen­chant for con­vert­ing starts and and get­ting hun­dreds which eas­ily puts him in the list of greats

It is there­fore un­likely that You­nis will hang up his boots in a hurry and the drive to get those 23 runs to take him to the 10,000-run mark will push him to greater heights.

You­nis’ per­sonal goals may keep him in­volved in the game but it is also great news for the younger gen­er­a­tion of Pak­istan’s crick­eters who will have no bet­ter role model to look up to then the easy go­ing, yet res­o­lute, per­son­al­ity of You­nis.

Whilst he may ap­pear im­per­vi­ous to out­side pres­sures, make no mis­take that he is very sen­si­tive to crit­i­cism he has re­ceived and takes great pride in ad­dress­ing any short­com­ings which could be af­fect­ing his abil­ity to serve his team.

He may have lost a few friends in the man­ner in which he forced him­self in, and then out of, the Pak­istan one-day squad dur­ing the Eng­land se­ries in late 2015, but his Test per­for­mances have kept the wolves at bay and is likely to en­sure a dis­tin­guished end to his ca­reer at a fu­ture date.

Even­tu­ally, Pak­istan cricket will need to deal with the day when You­nis dons his cricket pads for the last time.

It will be a sad day and an end to a beau­ti­ful era in Pak­istan’s cricket his­tory when the mer­cu­rial man from the town of Mar­dan makes his last strides away from in­ter­na­tional cricket.

But for the fore­see­able fu­ture, we can all sit back and re­lax in the com­fort that You­nis, the man with the over­pow­er­ing smile, will be out there yet in the com­ing months with a sin­gle-minded de­ter­mi­na­tion to serve his coun­try and please his fans in the same way he has done for the past 16 years.

Record: Javed Mian­dad has made most Pak­istan Test ap­pear­ances

PIC­TURES: Getty Images

His lat­est ton: Pak­istan’s You­nis Khan cel­e­brates reach­ing a cen­tury in the third Test against Aus­tralia in Sydney

Desert storm: You­nis on his way to a cen­tury against Aus­tralia in the UAE in 2014

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