By Kamran Abbasi
At The Oval, in the final Test of a demanding tour that examined both form and longevity, Younis Khan scored a faultless double-hundred. It was an innings of class and unshakeable determination – and it brought immense relief. Until then, his performances had not been those of Pakistan’s premier batsman. But the problem went deeper than a series average of 20; even great players suffer fallow periods.
Younis wasn’t just playing badly: he looked a shambles, hopping about the crease on one leg, executing shots in mid-air, living his trauma before the world’s eyes. His supporters excused it all as a caricature of his usual style. Whatever the reason, it was a quirk rarely seen in a batsman of his stature, and unlikely to produce results against England’s threatening swing and seam.
After a stunning win at Lord’s celebrated with press-ups and – led by Younis – a mass salute in front of the Pavilion, Pakistan were well beaten at Old Trafford and Edgbaston. They were desperate to draw level – not only to square the series, but to give themselves a crack at the No. 1 ranking. Yet Younis’s form cast a shadow over their chances: his six innings going into The Oval had been 33, 25, 1, 28, 31 and 4.
On the second day, with Pakistan 127 for three in reply to England’s 328, he joined Asad Shafiq. Younis had built his reputation on scoring decisive hundreds in adversity. Here was another such hour – but where was the man? Pakistan supporters needn’t have worried. The Younis who emerged was the lithe, silky champion of repute. It was a serene innings, utterly calm and – coupled with his customary brilliance against spin – in full command of England’s pace attack.
A stand of 150 with Shafiq was only part of the story, as Younis’s masterclass coaxed contributions from a suspect lower order. When he was finally legbefore to James Anderson for 218, made in seven and a half hours, Pakistan led by over 200; the game was theirs. Younis had played one of the great innings by a Pakistani in England: only Zaheer Abbas (twice) and Javed Miandad had gone higher. He had delivered, as he often does, when it mattered.
Afterwards, he made little of his battle with form, but revealed a conversation with – of all people – an Indian Test captain. “I received a call before the game from India, from Mohammad Azharuddin, and he talked about my batting, and told me to stay in the crease. I was very calm before the innings at The Oval. I waited and gathered myself for my form to turn around. I was relieved and happy when it happened. Squaring the Test series in England was a high point of the year for me.”
Soon after, Azharuddin told Wisden India: “Younis is a good friend. It pained me to watch him bat in the first three Tests. I felt he was too good to be batting in that fashion, so I decided to speak to him. It was nice of him to hear me out, and adapt in such a short period of time. The result speaks for itself.”
On his return to Pakistan, Younis was hospitalised with dengue fever, and missed the opening encounter against West Indies in the UAE, Pakistan’s first day/night Test. But he returned for the second match, and scored another influential hundred. He has rarely had his fill.
MOHAMMAD YOUNIS KHAN was born on November 29, 1977, in Mardan, in the North-West Frontier Province (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa). One of seven brothers – he also had three sisters – he moved to Karachi in the early 1980s, where he played for Steel Town Gymkhana and Malir Gymkhana. His first coaches included Shamshad Khan, one of his brothers, and Anwarul Haq, a former first-class cricketer; Younis learned about courage by watching Ayub, another brother, sweep the fast bowlers, despite his father’s warning that he would lose his teeth. Domestic runs meant Younis was fast-tracked into the Test team, making his debut against Sri Lanka at Rawalpindi in February 2000. Pakistan lost by two wickets, but he left his mark with a second-innings century from No. 7.
He established himself in all formats, but disagreements with the board, a lack of interest in Twenty20 – which he likened to WWE wrestling after leading Pakistan to the World T20 title in England in 2009 – and flaky form meant he focused on Tests. The strategy paid off. He is now Pakistan’s leading Test run-scorer (9,977) and centurion, making his 34th against Australia at Sydney earlier this year.
In February 2009, he compiled 313 against Sri Lanka in Karachi – his last international innings on home soil before the terrorist attack in Lahore six days later – and The Oval was his sixth double (only five men have more in Tests). He averages 53 in the fourth innings of Tests, the same as in the first. His conversion rate (he has more hundreds than fifties) is remarkable.
Younis’s career is tinged with tragedy: several close family members have died prematurely, as did his coach and mentor Bob Woolmer during the 2007 World Cup. But his drive has never waned: a proud man with a fiercely independent streak, he is still one of Pakistan’s fittest players, and practises relentlessly with his own drills and warm-up routines. And, despite a record that places him above Miandad, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Yousuf and Zaheer, Younis remains humble.
“They are legendary cricketers,” he says, “and I’d never compare myself with them. I have learned from my hard times, and my hunger for learning and hard work is my greatest attribute. I want to keep going and contribute as much as I can.” While the achievements of Pakistan’s other leading batsmen have a powerful emotional pull, Younis has a strong argument to be a notch above them all.