The first thing you notice when you hear him talk is the genuine humility. Not for him the misplaced over confidence of an Umar Akmal or the pious false modesty of a dozen recent superstars. He is the most successful Pakistani batsman in history and a World Cup winning Captain to boot, yet Younis Khan’s greatness lies far beyond the stats, and the youth of Pakistan could do worse than emulate the underappreciated man from Mardan – the anti-thesis of the ‘ideal’ Pakistani cricketer.
Younis has quietly moved to the top of the statistical pile of Pakistani batsmen through sheer hard work and bloody-mindedness. Never a gifted player like Inzamam, Younis had to work hard for every run he’s ever made, which is probably why nearing the end of his career he is still piling on the runs while others more gifted have fallen on the wayside. For a man who has often been thought of as an ‘also ran’ among Pakistani batsmen, even a cursory glance at some of his career highlights is awe-inspiring.
Century on Test debut, a Test average above 53 (the highest ever for Pakistan), one of 3 Pakistani triple-centurions (with Inzamam and Hanif), one of 4 Pakistanis to score 3 hundreds in a row, maker of most centuries for Pakistan (at a rate better than either Inzamam, Miandad or Yousuf) and most catches by a Pakistani fielder. These are just some of the high points of a splendid career.
His superb work ethic is aligned to the quintessential (perhaos stereotypical) Pathan ethos; Integrity, fortitude and pride. As part of several Pakistan teams that were knee-deep in fixing, way before they actually got caught, Younis’ reputation has always been impeccably clean, something that can be said of only a handful of individuals in successive Pakistani teams in the late 90’s and beyond. And as a rare man of principal has suffered often for refusing to tow the official line, paying the price in the form of a career which has had more stops than starts.
To me, though, his most important contribution to the Pakistan cricket team, and indeed the country, has been his quiet but firm refusal to tow the ‘tableeghi jamaat’ line that has so blighted our teams since Saeed Anwar walked down that path and took dozens with him. The height of this unfortunate culture peaked under Inzamam’s captaincy when the weight of your runs or wickets was as important as your willingness to pray 5 times a day. Younis, a devout Muslim, has never fallen for the overtly ritualistic, in-your-face brand of Islam that was so popular in the team just a few years ago. Witness his refusal to do sajda at every opportunity on the ground and his refusal to start and end every sentence in an interview with ‘bismillah’, ‘inshallah’ and ‘alhamdulliah’.
In a country being torn apart by religious fundamentalism and intolerance, where the only way to get ahead is by being a crook and trampling over everyone else, Younis’ integrity and work ethic is not only a breath of fresh air, it is a template for success which is hard to beat.