It is safe to say that, when Pakistan’s Test series against the West Indies concludes in May, a huge hole will have been left in both a cricket team and a nation. Misbah-ul-Haq has already announced that he will retire from internationals after the series, and the 41-year-old will be joined by another veteran whose perseverance over the last decade can scarcely be matched by any other cricketer in that time.
Younis Khan’s international career looked as good as over at the turn of the decade. He was captain during one of the most difficult eras in Pakistan’s history. A parliamentary investigation into a match-fixing—in which he was cleared of any wrongdoing—and a series of player rebellions led to Younis’ resignation from the Test captaincy.
To make matters worse, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) then chose to ban him indefinitely for his role in team infighting. This decision was overturned three months later, and he returned to Test cricket with the side which he had once captained in turmoil. A 3-1 series defeat to England was the least of Pakistan’s worries, as a fresh match-fixing scandal had plunged the nation into further disrepute.
Staggeringly, this was not even close to the most difficult period of Younis’ career. That was between 2005 and 2006, when his father and two elder brothers passed away. The death of Bob Woolmer, Pakistan’s coach, whom Younis saw as a father figure, in 2007 aggravated his woes. It is testament to his character that despite this never-ending supply of setbacks, he was nominated for the ICC Test Player of the Year Award in 2005.
It is easy to focus on the off-field difficulties which both Younis and Pakistan have faced over the years, but this only serves as a distraction from what has been a glittering career in the last 20 years or so. On the pitch, the 39-year-old was nothing short of legendary.
Cricket is a statistician’s dream, but scorecards and averages, unless they show something completely extraordinary, often fail to show the true extent of a player’s greatness. Younis’ Test batting average of 53.07 and his 9,977 runs means that he will be remembered in history as an excellent batsman; the first Pakistani to reach 9000 runs—and almost certainly 10,000 by the end of the West Indies series—in the longest form of the game, no less. The record books will preserve that, but what should also be documented is how enjoyable a batsman he was to watch.
His footwork, flicks to the leg side, cover drives and whole demeanour were all a joy to behold. There were few more satisfying sights than watching him take on slow bowlers, and his performances in this particular area should be analysed by coaches who want to improve their team’s efforts against spinners.
Every big innings which he built—the 34 centuries in Tests and seven in ODIs are only the tip of the iceberg—was one of poise and beauty. When a good start presented him with the opportunity to make a big score, he rarely spurned it. Fifties quickly turned into centuries; centuries turning into double centuries were not all too uncommon; and one glorious Test against Sri Lanka in 2009 he was able to score a staggering 313, making him the only Pakistani to score a Test triple hundred. One can only hope that the highlights of his greatest innings are preserved for future generations to enjoy.
He participated in 44 Test victories for Pakistan and was often a key part of his team’s success. His Man of the Series-winning performances against India in 2005-06 and Australia in 2014-15 were two of many highlights in his career. Of his 34 centuries,
He graced English county cricket on three occasions: with Nottinghamshire in 2005, Yorkshire in 2007, and Surrey in 2010. He had his most success in his second spell in England, scoring two double centuries, the first of which came in the same match as another century, in his time with Yorkshire. He will certainly always be thought of fondly on these shores and in that particular county.
His achievements and entertainment value in the shorter form of the game should not go unnoticed, either. His fluency with the bat meant that he could always be relied upon to produce runs at a rate of knots whenever he needed to. He played in 265 ODIs, scoring over 7,000 runs and picking up 15 Man of the Match awards. Three of his seven centuries in the format came against bitter rivals India; further evidence of his ability to rise for the big occasion.
Younis never quite hit the heights in Twenty20 cricket that he did in the other formats of the game—though he did captain his country to a World T20 win in 2009—but his solitary appearance (and solitary run, at that) for Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League in 2008 is worth mentioning. Any Pakistani who is willing to compete in India’s most-watched domestic competition deserves credit either for his bravery or his ability to put differences aside, regardless of how much he is being paid for it.
In Younis Khan, Pakistan had a stylish but effective batsman on whom they could rely to produce at an impressively consistent level. They will lose not only one of the best cricketers in their history, but an experienced head who was able to persevere through the most adverse of his conditions to lead his team to success in all three forms of the game, both as a captain and a batsman. The game of cricket will lose a lavish entertainer whose sumptuous strokes should be appreciated for years to come.