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