Feb 28, 2009

Younis Khan: A unifying force for the Pakistan team

Younis's innings could be called emotional fuel and the spark plug of cricket's soul. He actually set a soul on fire and never let it go out
By Dr Nauman Niaz
Day one of the Pakistan-Sri Lanka Karachi Test stimulated quite a bit; there were whimpers and wild calls. Younis Khan replacing Shoaib Malik as the country's captain was intensely targeted for poor leadership failing to imply tactically sound field positioning. His arrival as Pakistan's captain didn't see a trademark start. It looked like a lobster.
A lobster, yes! It has remained relatively unchanged for nearly 100 million years and it is built funny... the brain is in its throat, its nervous system is in its belly, it listens with its legs, it tastes with its feet, its teeth are in its stomach and its kidneys are in its head. On day three there were curtains to an anti-Younis sloganeering. Sticking to his most honest credentials, he responded manfully to join the party, scoring a massive triple-century.
Younis's triple-century presented the synthesis of his philosophy and its concretisation; in it we saw the effects of embracing his genuine responses to adversity -- and his critics. We saw his path leading to grand achievements, glory, peace and tranquility; it was also an answer to failure, rot, corruption, self-hate, and eventually social destruction of Pakistan cricket.
Younis's wild, careening plot concerned the first strike by the creative men of the mind. His was not only a supreme innings, it had a handful of messages woven discreetly and ready to be examined minutely. As Sri Lanka amassed a 640 plus total, and with a million tongues wagging and spurning words, Younis displayed his emotions with each stroke he played.
He explained to a Pakistani game heading to ruin exactly where it had made its wrong turns, he stitched together his philosophical vision, by the end of the third day known as objectivism. He left everyone in a trance he went on, famously, at great length.
Younis, when challenged on day one, charged of rigid and innocuous captaincy, was able to deliver a precis of his philosophy while standing untiringly: objective reality. Epistemology: Reason. Ethics: self-interest, selflessness; politics; cricket's capitalism. Younis's exposition gave meat, context and drama to this bare presentation -- and connected the nightmare world of the Pakistan game. Younis's innings could be called emotional fuel and the spark plug of cricket's soul. He actually set a soul on fire and never let it go out.
Younis's multiple hundred gave the viewers a chance to contemplate in dramatic form the thrilling, fulfilling places to which the intelligent, dedicated and purposeful seeking after goals could lead. And it didn't matter whether or not those goals were grand in the eyes of the rest of the world -- not everyone admired his technique and method of run-scoring, even his batting architecture. And he didn't just tell, he showed, with the unique combination that great fiction provides of the emotional and the rational in a package weightier, yet easier to grasp, than either alone.
Although he sometimes saw himself on the wrong end of the stick, dropping the country's captaincy twice and was often written off as merely a clumsy power-passionate ideological cricketer, the most significant part of his appeal, then, was not purely classical; it was from the top-tier. Younis batted with the notion that the Pakistaniness wasn't obsolete from the India dominated world game. While conservatives mostly found little to admire in Younis -- and vice versa -- he, more than most conservative and orthodox batsmen, that his batting could focus the human soul on greater aspirations.
He presented the real theme of his grand achievement inspiring and creating an aspiration toward a higher, better, more wondrous and brave vision of what batting could be -- however unrealistic a triple hundred for a batsman like Younis could see because since 1999 he didn't talk or act like the folks at the corner. As Younis collected his 300th run, he nailed the key to what was really glorious and inspirational about Pakistan.
And throughout his marathon innings, there was a philosophical demonstration that to live for one's own rational self-interest, to pursue one's own goals, to use one's mind in the service of one's team and its happiness, is the noblest, the highest, the most moral of human activitiesÖspeaking to the unnamed, un-championed, beating heart of his new land, and I said: "Younis, yours is the glory".
Younis knew from the beginning that that glory had as much, if not more, to do with individual creative striving as with cricket politics per se. He was the type who was in the centre of action, battled and played marvellously, a complete team man and yet he never was part of the politics-ridden culture. Politics did matter, of course -- and no one dramatised that in a career better than Younis, especially when he intended to break the power-driven mores.
There we saw precisely how the decisions of faceless, malign, or the just ignorant PCB's top-tier lead to dire effects in the game's environment. Twice he rejected Pakistan's captaincy, standing firm on principles and during this period, we saw real-world confirmation of his notions in the grim, constrained deprivation that gripped Pakistan cricket through much of 2007-08, and on a smaller scale in the PCB where any number of dreams and lives were destroyed by eminent domain and local zoning and regulations.
Younis agreed to captain Pakistan in an hour of pure distress, at a time when the national game didn't seem on track, and there were a lot of nannying, bullying, commands, and a huge skim off the top. That can seem abstract, especially in Pakistan cricket.
As the first Test against Sri Lanka shaped one-sidedly on day one and day two, Younis helped us really see, and really feel, what mental toughness and complete faith could do to times of depression when his effort, his life, his essence were hijacked from his own choices and subjected to the whims of the powerful.
When Younis rejected Pakistan's captaincy for the first time, immediately after the World Cup 2007, in spite of common misunderstanding based on the use of the phrase 'the virtue of selfishness' (used intentionally to shock), his decision was by no means purely selfish in the sense that he wanted only himself to be satisfied and happy.
He was motivated by love, conviction and admiration for what he saw as best in humanity and his desire for a world that could encourage and rewarded that opportunity. Younis played under Shoaib Malik and mostly showed a sense of deep compassion for how decent humans were injured in a world that followed wrong premises motivated what his detractors saw as horribly uncharitable contempt of people who could destroy the values of an ill-driven culture.
Younis's critics who heard only hate and heartlessness in him were themselves tone-deaf to peals of glory. In his presence and in his work, one felt that command: a command to function at one's best, to be the most that one could be, to drive oneself constantly harder, never to disappoint one's highest ideals.
Younis on day four of the first Test against Sri Lanka himself put it the essence of life is the achievement of joy, not the escape from pain. He reverse-swept one to reach the magical 300-mark, and in spite of cavils about his unrealism, he was a man of consummate skill, bursting creativity, and unyielding integrity, a man eminently worth being.
That is the positive side to what is sometimes seen as purely negative vision of restricting someone of Younis's calibre. His epoch-making innings was not contempt but his passionate belief in the possibility of individual glory and greatness, and his burning admiration for it.
His standards were demanding -- a call to be the best he could be, achieving the most he could achieve. But the respect and admiration he showed for those who rose to those demands was a warming, revivifying sun. Younis's one great innings at a time when Pakistan cricket was not sinking but it had already sunk has had such an energising effect on millions, including almost every significant figure in the Pakistani game.
This one batting performance will doubtless stay in print and continue to capture and thrill future generations -- and, through his romantic evocations of heroic individuals, continue to lead a certain observant, thoughtful percentage of people to really see, and really feel, how personal liberty is necessary for such heroic striving to reach its zenith.
The writer is a Member of the Royal College of Physicians (UK) and official historian of Pakistan cricket

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