At some point during the upcoming series against the West Indies, it is hoped that the retiring Pakistan batsman Younis Khan will cross the major milestone of ten thousand Test runs. He is already Pakistan’s top Test run-getter and once he scores another twenty-three runs, he will join an illustrious list of twelve other Test batsmen who have had the honour to cross the ten thousand run mark in service of their respective countries. Younis’ name will thus appear next to some of the world’s legendary batsmen such as Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Brian Lara, Jacques Kallis and Sunil Gavaskar.
He would dearly have liked to have achieved this goal during what turned out to be Pakistan’s disappointing 2016/2017 Test series against Australia but he was unable to produce the kind of superlative performances that have made him a fan favourite.
Until a few days ago, Younis at the age of 39 seemed to be well on his way to yet another Test series and if his last outing of 175 not out in Sydney was any yardstick, Younis seemed to be getting ready to launch himself for another stage of his career. Not that he needed to add any more accolades to an already impressive resume with one hundred and fifteen Tests to his name and still being regarded as one of the fittest cricketers to wear the Pakistan cap. Incidentally, his name also features among the most illustrious 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 contrary to what many of his critics say, Younis has never been about personal glory. In fact, when it was once suggested that he could be regarded as Pakistan's best batsman, he flatly refused to be regarded as the "greatest ever Pakistani player of all time", insisting that all he wanted from his critics and followers was recognition that whenever he played, he played for his country and team. He repeated the same sentiments during his retirement announcement where he was clear that whatever he strove for in his career was always for his deep passion to glorify his country’s name.
Referred 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 teammates to follow. This has endeared him to a multitude of fans around the world who know that Younis rarely disappoints them and has always played with his heart on his sleeve for Pakistan. This is exactly what Pakistan cricket will miss in the coming days as together with Misbah-ul-Haq, no other cricketer has done so much to improve the image of Pakistan cricket which was pretty close to being destroyed due to the sad events of 2010.
Whether it was is in practice in the nets where he has been 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 and has been the complete package.
It is no secret that throughout his career, he has faced a barrage of criticism from some, for his public outbursts and also endured sanctions from the PCB. 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 appeared lost was a quality that Younis continued to exhibit with pride. Thus, 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 fight back at The Oval which saw his team level the four-match Test series. The victory also gave Pakistan a fair chance at the number one Test ranking which they duly took later that year.
It is true that he has lacked 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 his statistics are an indication of a player who has been worth more than his weight in gold when it came 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 in 115 matches 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 have been awesome but were not always a true reflection of his utility to Pakistan’s brittle batting order. The roller-coaster ride that a Pakistan batting performance normally brings to the table has needed a strong guiding hand like his 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 number three or four 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 as effortless as some of the other greats, it is has always been Younis’s penchant of converting starts and getting hundreds, which easily puts him in the list of greats. Many of these innings were played under extreme 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. This 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-ever batsman to hit a Test hundred in eleven different countries.
As expected, Pakistan’s most well-known stalwarts, Misbah 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 due to his failing batting form seemed to have resulted in his decision to move on, Younis’s consistent ability to score runs was a quality which should have allowed him to continue for a few years. Whether it was a personal realisation that he had reached the limits of his physical abilities or if there were some external pressures, Younis has also decided to follow his captain’s decision and move on after the series against the West Indies.
The departure of Misbah and Younis from the international scene at incredibly the same time is likely to put added pressure on a batting order which has relied heavily in the past on the two stalwarts. But, as Younis has said, this was the same case when he stepped into the Pakistan dressing room and the top players of the day were departing. Pakistan was still able to develop new talent which took them to the highest rankings in Tests and a World T20 title as well. If the younger generation would have learnt anything from their association with Younis, it would be the power of resilience and courage in face of overwhelming odds which is what Pakistan will need in the days, months and years after Younis departs.
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 takes his last strides away from international cricket at the end of the tour of the West Indies. It would have been ideal if Younis had stayed back to guide the team until a replacement for Misbah had established himself but sadly that is not to be. What we are now left with are the final opportunities to see the man with the overpowering smile perform his duties for a few times more with a single-minded determination to serve his country, and please his fans in the same way he has done for the past seventeen years.