Recently, Younis Khan became the 13th batsman to score 10,000 or more runs in cricket’s original format. While plenty may consider 13 as superstitiously abhorrent, the number is a symbol of uniqueness. Perhaps fittingly, it has reached the 39-year old from Mardan.
Amidst masterful technicians and elegant stroke-makers, Younis commands a special place in the annals of greatness. He does not belong to either of the two categories of batsmanship but his accomplishments are second to none. The right-hander does not possess a textbook technique nor is he easy on the eye. His remarkable journey has been painstakingly built on immense resolve and an obstinate approach to the game.
Not many know of the off-field tragedy that he has had to overcome during the course of his career. Younis has seen his father, two brothers and a sister pass away in a span of just six years. Lesser men would have relented. But not him.
At a time when the heart bled endlessly, Younis did not allow himself to be dragged into an internal abyss by the vestiges of sorrow. Instead, he found succour in fetching hard-fought victories and unshakable respect to the land of his birth.
A triumph of endurance
Younis’ tenacity was apparent when he strode into the Test arena against Sri Lanka in Rawalpindi at the start of the millennium. After conceding a hefty first-innings lead to the visitors, defeat was imminent for Pakistan.
From 169/5, he battled hard in the second innings and scored his maiden ton against a bowling attack featuring Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas. While his knock was not enough to evade a narrow loss on home soil, the debutant had shown that he was not the one to give up on his team even if the situation seemed insurmountable.
As the days went by, Younis gradually grew in confidence and carved a niche for himself in the Test team. By the time Pakistan embarked on their keenly awaited tour to India in 2005, he was already an integral member of the batting lineup. In many ways, the tussle against the arch-rivals was a defining moment in his career. In Bangalore, he registered a 504-ball 267 and paved the way for a series-equalling victory.
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The marathon innings would go on to teach him the value of going big. Since that knock, he has amassed as many as eleven 150-plus scores. Overall, his conversion rate is exemplary. He has managed to convert 34 of his 67 fifty-plus scores into centuries.
Once he gets himself in, Younis becomes extremely hard to dislodge. He does not do it with the archetypal josh-e-junoon of Pakistan cricket. The jazba in his batting does not reflect outwardly but gets firmly entrenched on the viewer’s minds once he settles into his groove.
The most difficult conquest of them all
Unlike every other batting icon, Younis is a nervous starter. Frequently walking into the crease at the loss of an early wicket, he seems unsettled and finds himself hopping around in an earnest search for answers. Naysayers point to the technical loopholes in his game against the faster bowlers. On his part, he keeps the opposition interested by appearing to get out at any time.
More often than not, the wicket never falls. He blocks, slashes and dances in the middle yet the bowlers cannot envisage a way to see the back of him during those moments of uncertainty. However, once he gets his eye in and comes to terms with the pace of the wicket, Younis makes the opponent pay very dearly. His series-levelling double ton against England at The Oval is a prototype of his incredible prowess.
No batsman in the game’s illustrious history has scored more centuries in the fourth innings than his tally of five. With the pressure factor at its zenith and rapidly deteriorating pitches adding to the dilemma, he stands head and shoulders above everyone.
Maybe, the secret to his success lies in his ability to conquer the mind. As is often said, the most difficult of all battles is within oneself. For overcoming such initial instability on the outside, an unwavering calmness is imperative on the inside.
The man won’t be around after the third Test against West Indies in Dominica. His voyage has been a lesson in self-discovery and uninhibited persistence. It’s not always about the start but what eventually matters is the end result. Even as turbulence threatens, his grit and gumption never wither away. Seldom does a cricketer’s ascendancy resemble the common man’s spirit.
“You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.” Mohammad Younis Khan’s legacy can be encapsulated by the iconic words of Marcus Aurelius who was the last of the ‘Five Good Emperors‘ in ancient Rome. With the modern world favouring the razzmatazz of white-ball cricket, it is not inconceivable that we may never see a batsman in his mould.