x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Pakistan's mistake to keep great Younus out

Pakistan cricket proved once again that while it can be exasperating at times, it also has few parallels when it comes to providing edge-of-the-seat excitement.

The presence of Younus Khan, right, in the Pakistan line-up can only be good for players such as Mohammed Hafeez, left.
The presence of Younus Khan, right, in the Pakistan line-up can only be good for players such as Mohammed Hafeez, left.

Pakistan cricket proved once again that while it can be exasperating at times, it also has few parallels when it comes to providing edge-of-the-seat excitement.

The sheer unpredictability of the mercurial mavericks makes for unmissable viewing, seldom more so than in the past week here in the UAE.

The fact that Pakistan head into today's fifth and final one-day international (ODI) encounter against South Africa with the series all square is remarkable enough. It is not an outcome that would have been predicted by many at the start of the series.

However, it is the manner of the wins, the determination and the fight demonstrated by the Pakistanis in the last three encounters, that has been truly special.

Of course, this being Pakistan, it could all go wrong in today's match. So far though, the fighting spirit shown by the team has buoyed the spirits of the fans, who turned out in record numbers for Friday's fourth ODI in Dubai.

While the win in that encounter was very much a team effort, with vital contributions from most of the players with the bat or in the field, one man stood out and was rightly adjudged man of the match. Younus Khan's match-winning 73 highlighted what Pakistan cricket had been missing for the past eight months.

Despite the long and enforced absence from international cricket, Younus has been able to hit the ground running on his return. His calmness and the professionalism of his approach on Friday was in marked contrast to the frenetic nature of the encounter, and proved again that there is no substitute for class.

It appears that Younus had been kept out of the team since January this year solely to appease the ego of one man, Ijaz Butt, the chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB). For this, as for so much else, he has a lot to answer. Or would do, had he not been a political appointee.

Younus's unwarranted and extended exclusion from the team did not just weaken Pakistan's batting line-up in England this summer, it also adversely affected team morale and deprived Pakistan of their only viable choice for captain in Tests and ODIs.

Admittedly, hindsight is a wonderful thing and speculating about "what ifs" is always fraught with risk, but it is safe to assume at least this much: Pakistan's disastrous summer in England would have been very different had the impeccably honest Younus been leading the side at the outset instead of Shahid Afridi. Lest we forget, the spot-fixing allegations involving Salman Butt arose only after he had been over-promoted to captain due to Afridi's selfish Test "retirement".

Also, the PCB's famed "youth policy" launched earlier this year is all very well, but what works best, proven by Mohammed Yousuf in the English summer and by Younus now in the UAE, is the need for experienced professionals to mentor the younger players such as Mohammad Hafeez and Asad Shafiq, and also to take some pressure off them.

Umar Akmal's career might have turned out very differently had he continued to have the benefit of Younus and Yousuf in the team.

Ijaz's apparently petty and vindictive behaviour vis-a-vis one of his country's best current Test batsmen is thus not only unjustifiable, it has also caused great harm to Pakistan cricket.

Most other teams would build their team around a top-order batsman who averages 50 after 60-plus Tests; not Pakistan.

Most other cricket boards would look to create a cricketing culture around a model professional, great fielder, excellent runner and a committed team man such as Younus; not the PCB. And most other countries would be delighted to have such an experienced and well-respected cricketer in the side to mentor a new generation of young cricketers - not sideline him and put him in cold storage for eight months.

Something as bizarre as the Younus ban would only happen in Pakistan. All his coaches, in Pakistan, and during his English county stint at Yorkshire, speak very highly of his dedication, his work ethic and commitment.

Younus is also that rare Pakistani cricketer: someone who left one format at his peak. He chose to retire from the T20 format when he still was an automatic selection; not just at the apex of his personal achievements but also after leading his team to a T20 World Cup triumph.

His exclusion from ODIs and in particular from Tests was thus a travesty on many different levels.

The enforced exile finally ended in October once the International Cricket Council had exerted considerable pressure on the PCB to improve its act in general. So after months of speculation, hand-wringing, legal battles, media briefings and counter-briefing, Ijaz finally did what he does best: a U-turn. But the Younus recall after he had missed 12 crucial Test matches was one of the few instances where an Ijaz U-turn is neither strange nor unexpected, though very belated.

Younus's PCB imposed "life ban" was overturned on appeal many months ago. Despite this, he was not selected. According to the official PCB line, Younus was always "available for selection if the selectors so chose"; but whenever the chief selector was asked about Younus's non-inclusion in squads, he would helplessly shrug and ask for such queries to be directed to the chairman.

His selection for the current series came about only after a personal meeting with Ijaz. There are those who believe Younus should have swallowed his pride and met Ijaz many months ago; even though he was perfectly entitled to go down the proper and legal route to seek redress, it doesn't appear to have helped his cause. Sadly, it appears Younus may have reacted emotionally when a cool, collected approach would have been more appropriate.

But this is why Pakistani fans love him. Younus can be relied upon to stand up and be counted for that which is right. Expediency and pragmatism might be for lesser men; for this player at least, doing the right thing matters more.


Yasser Alvi is a cricket writer on PakPassion.net