July issue 2009

By | News & Politics | Sports | Published 11 years ago

“My name is also Khan,” Younus Khan said with a big smile. “And I’m proud to be the second Khan after Imran to win a world title for Pakistan,” the Pakistan captain told a crowded press conference in the Middlesex Room at Lord’s soon after leading his team to a memorable triumph in the World Twenty20 final against Sri Lanka.

Younus had never hidden his most cherished dream: to emulate his idol, Imran Khan. And for him the easiest way to do that was to captain Pakistan to the World Cup.

“When I was younger and was studying in school, cricket was my only passion,” he says. “I grew up watching the likes of Imran Khan and wanted to be like him. He inspired me to work harder as a cricketer.”

One of the reasons why Younus reluctantly accepted the offer to lead Pakistan earlier this year was to take his team to the world title either in England this summer or in 2011, when the World Cup will take place in the subcontinent.

And when not many gave him a chance, Younus led a previously under-achieving bunch of misfiring cricketers to a stunning World Twenty20 triumph just like Imran marshaled his cornered tigers in the World Cup 17 years ago.

Younus says that much more than personal glory for him and his team, the title was a gift for the embattled nation. “We are cricketers but before that we are Pakistanis and human beings. We are also deeply hurt by what’s going on in our country and hope that in our own way we have done something to cheer up our people.”

In the end it seemed Younus and company marched effortlessly to the crown. But that was hardly the case.

During the best part of the 12-nation spectacle, Younus was criticised for the bizarre way he carried himself at press conferences, while his boys were rejected as no-hopers because of the way they performed, especially as fielders, at the start of the tournament.

After Pakistan lost back-to-back practice games against South Africa and India by big margins, critics started to find faults with the Pakistan team in every possible area. And when they were thrashed by hosts England in their tournament opener at Lord’s and faced underdogs Netherlands in a must-win match, it felt like déjà vu as Pakistan had gone through similar situations for two years before getting bundled out of the World Cup in the Caribbean.

When asked whether he was prepared for yet another disaster ahead of the game against the Dutch, Younus ignited another controversy by rejecting Twenty20 as ‘fun’ cricket.

Younus, 34, stayed firm on that assessment till the end of the World Twenty20 but made it clear in the end that he and his players took the tournament very seriously. “It’s fun cricket for the spectators but out there in the field all of us take it very seriously,” he said.

In spite of his team’s poor showing earlier in the tournament and the scathing criticism it ignited, Younus remained quietly confident throughout the three-week tour of England.

“I felt if we played consistently and seriously we could win it. We had worked a lot during the series against Australia, which affected my performance [personally speaking], but I think [for the team], it paid off here in the World Cup. Like all my other countrymen, I am also proud to win this title.”

In what was easily the happiest hour of his international career, Younus did not forget his late coach and mentor Bob Woolmer.

“This title must go to Bob Woolmer,” he said. “He was doing good things with us in 2005, and especially my cricket. I would be very proud if he was alive and sitting with me because he was a very nice guy and father figure to all of us. Why I am captain is because in 2005 — at that time I was not a regular player for Pakistan — he was the guy who all the time was chatting with the chairman and the selectors that Younus will be the next captain. So, because of him, I have become a captain. I dedicate this final to Bob Woolmer.”

Younus also dropped a bombshell after the final that he had decided to retire from the slam-bang version of the game. “This is my last Twenty20 game,” he said. “I’m old now for this kind of cricket. Pakistan has a lot of talented youngsters and they should take on from here.”

However, his decision didn’t go well with the fans back home, who wanted him to carry on. Under immense pressure from the fans and the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB), Younus said before leaving for a 45-day tour of Sri Lanka that he would rethink that decision. “I took up the captaincy on the demands of our public and if they continue to insist, I will carry on playing Twenty20 cricket as well.”

In spite of the World Twenty20 triumph, Pakistan cricket remains in the midst of crisis. The country has been stripped of its status as a 2011 World Cup host and is unlikely to stage any international cricket in the coming years. But Younus remains hopeful for the future of cricket in Pakistan.

“The way people love this game in our country, cricket is going to survive — in fact, flourish,” he says. “But still, we want our fellow teams to show more sympathy to our cause. They should come here and play cricket. Because in Pakistan, we really love this game.”

The writer is ranked among the battle-hardened journalists covering sports. As sports editor for The News, he covers sporting action extensively in Pakistan and abroad.