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Younis Khan - Sweeping Away The Norms

From the August Edition of SCORELINE Magazine

Kumara Sangakkara, one of the modern day great batsmen, when once asked to share the expert tips about batting, had no hesitation to name Younis Khan as the man he followed to perfect the art of playing the sweep shot. Another undebated great of the time, AB DeViliers, on another occasion, also named Younis Khan as the man he watched to play the shot with some terrorizing perfection. Both of these men are acknowledged globally as modern day greats of batsmanship. If mastering the art of batting is some distinction, imagine what it means to be a role model, a distant teacher, to two of the modern day masters of that craft.

Fittingly, it was a sweep shot that enabled Younis Khan to become the first Pakistani to claim the distinction of 5-digit Test Runs. Eventually, the same sweep shot turned out to be the last shot he played in International Career. Sweep was the shot he mastered in his time and fittingly, it became his identity and he will be remembered for that particular shot for a long time to come. Forward sweep wasn’t the only version that brought him a memorable moment, it was the reverse sweep that brought him his 300th run at Karachi to become the third triple centurion from Pakistan. 

There seems to be some special connection between Younis and sweeps. Watching closely what was being sent his way, keeping an eye on the positioning and posturing of the opponent, judging early the projectile of the delivery, staying low, stretching out to the maximum and once the target is within his range, swat it with ruthless perfection to send it beyond the line, get up and get ready to face the next challenge - he applied the same principles and technique not only on the field but all of his off the field 'shots' as well. 

Rashid Latif, former Pakistan Test captain, summed it up perfectly when he said, Younis is the only man who played on his own terms and still managed to go on for so long in Pakistan Cricket. All throughout his career, Younis Khan carried this persona of gentle-rebel who kept on rejecting the predefined norms and practices, stand for a principle, fight for it and come out victorious in the end. There were countless norms that he simply swept away during his 17 year career. 

Even at the end of his career, he broke all the norms and paved his own departure route.  Pakistan produced many a greats but almost none of them could pick the time and venue of their liking for their final show. The practice prevailed for so long that it became the unsaid norm of Pakistan Cricket. Younis Khan stretched out and swept away this nagging norm as well. As he beautifully explained, during the event organized at Lord's to pay tribute to his career, he retired at the time when people were still asking why he is retiring rather than the time when people would have started asking why is he not retiring. 

With his appropriately timed retirement, he swept away another norm of Pakistan Cricket, that is, of Pakistani superstar Cricketers retiring not just unceremoniously but in uncelebrated and controversial manner as well. It was probably the retirement of the little Master Hanif Muhammad that set this norm - or maybe of legendary Fazal Mahmood years before him - and it lasted as recently as the retirement of Shahid Khan Afridi. Before Younis, Afridi was the last superstar of Pakistan Cricket and sadly, it followed the very same norm. Arguments about the technicalities of his career aside, nobody can argue that Afridi was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, megastar of Pakistan and his charisma, fan following and crowd-appeal was probably the biggest among all the cricketers ever played for Pakistan. If nothing more, his career deserved to be celebrated, if not by the board but at least by private bodies, associations and institutions. But the confusion, speculations and controversy that surrounded Afridi's retirement made sure that not a single event, of some stature, could be organized, by either PCB or otherwise, to celebrate a career that lasted well over two decades. It may have been a big surprise in some other part of the world but in Pakistan Cricket, its just the norm; the norm that got swept away, finally, by Younis Khan.

While Pakistan Cricket Board is still pondering upon how to honor the man who served that very institution for 17 years, the very first month after Younis Khan's last day in Pakistan colors registered three very prominent and commendable tribute events hosted not by the PCB but by three very different hosts. Not only by their venues, these tribute events also varied in their theme but each one of them served the purpose of commemorating the illustrious career of Younis Khan.

This 'chain of events' started at nowhere else but at Lord's, the home of Cricket. There can’t be any bigger tribute for any Test Cricketer to attend a gathering in his honor nowhere but right there, in the home of Cricket. And if that Test Cricketer happens to be a Pakistani, it just makes it even rarer and more unique. It was the first time when this legendary career was remembered and re-told at a place where many a legends were created and told before. Ebba Qureshi, an independent Marketing and PR consultant based in London, came up with the idea of such an event and from the day Younis gave his consent to for it, during the West Indies tour, she managed to pull it all off in just 15 days. Thanks to conspiracies of the nature, the writer also ended up being one of the invitees and experiencing the event by himself.

The event was meticulously thought out and expertly delivered. From the choice of the venue to the timing of the gathering, the dress code, the run order, the souvenirs, the guests, the speakers, the majestic setting of Lord’s Long Room and even the weather, it all resonated the personality and the career of Younis Khan. It all looked as disciplined, organized, graceful and royal as Younis himself. As the hosts later shared, LORD’s management was extremely forthcoming and supportive in every aspect. They changed the menu to all halal and even allowed to customize it to satisfy the Pakistani taste buds.

On such a short notice, the hosts did not only manage to get UBL, Younis Khan’s employer, and other sponsors onboard but they also managed to ensure the attendance of Pakistan’s High Commissioner as well as the Pakistan team management and the players at the event, which was an achievement in itself. Pakistan players and team management drove all the way from Birmingham to attend the event and went back the same where their camp for Champions Trophy 2017 had already begun. The words of tribute, from the current players and team management, sandwiched between the light-hearted banter made the late afternoon even more enjoyable.

If the fact that the event was being hosted at the same venue where Younis lifted T20 World Cup some 8 years ago, the presentation of Wisden Almanack added prestige of the evening. Lawrence Booth, the editor of Wisden, presented Younis Khan the Wisden Almanack with his name embossed at the cover. It was followed by Younis donating his bat and batting gloves to the Lord’s museum. The guests didn’t leave the scene without something more than moments to remember the evening, they all carried a specially designed miniature bat signed by Younis. All in all it was a nicely arranged event to honor the career of Younis and the hosts did a commendable job in pulling it off on such a short notice.

The regal tribute at the Lord's was shortly followed, appropriately, in a more glittery and glamorous event hosted by Jazz in Islamabad. Younis Khan being their brand ambassador, Jazz celebrated his career in a more festive fashion punctuated not only with live music where Younis also joined the singing party but also with a very artistic and delightful stage performance to narrate the story of Younis Khan's career. The magnitude and level of attention to details at the event spoke volumes of commitment and seriousness of the hosts in paying the tribute to Younis Khan.

The next in the series was the more sedate and less glamorous event hosted by Younis Khan's employer, United Bank Limited. Arranged during the month of Ramadan, it was simple yet graceful and elegant. It was more a straight to the point gathering where the distinguished guests including the President of UBL and former captains of Pakistan, Rashid Latif and Moin Khan paying their tributes to Younis Khan for his exemplary career.

In ideal world, such events mean nothing special but in the context of history of Pakistan Cricket where no Cricketer in the past, as great as Kardar, Fazal Mahmood, Hanif Muhammad, Mushtaq Muhammad, Zaheer Abbas, Imran, Miandad, Wasim, Waqar, Saeed Anwar, Inzimam or even Afridi, was given such tribute, the very execution of these events have swept away the dreaded norm of unceremonious and uncelebrated exit of its superstars from Pakistan Cricket. It has set a trend which is bound to be followed in months and years to come for other cricketers as well.

The whole idea of sharing the summary of these events is just to give a glimpse of it to everyone to know what has already been done and what could be possible even without the patronage of or dependence on Pakistan Cricket Board. It is also to thank all these organizers on behalf of all fans of Pakistan Cricket for honoring a star of the game they love. This may also encourage more individuals and organizations to come forward and honor other stars of Pakistan Cricket as well.

Eventually, it may also wake up PCB from its deep slumber and realize its responsibility in honoring and paying deserving tribute to its very own very successful and exemplary servants. In the end, it’s not a responsibility of anyone more than PCB to honor its legends. For every retirement in the past, PCB availed the convenience of using uncertainty and bitter attitude of the players for not organizing such events and hence embracing the dreaded norm. They can step forward to rewrite the norms of retirement in Pakistan Cricket, now.
Whether PCB would do anything, any time soon to reconstruct the norm, Younis Khan has swept away quite a few already and knowing him, he is bound to dash out a few more sweeps of this sort before he is done.


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