It’s been another of those months for Pakistan; one where the team swings wildly between confident victory and abject defeat. Really, it’s getting slightly boring now, the sheer predictability of Team Pakistan’s fates – as the cliché goes, they are always unpredictable.
Nowhere is that unpredictability better illustrated than the activity and subsequent inactivity of captain-apparent Younis Khan. It was difficult enough handing him the captaincy after he walked out on it years ago in Nasim Ashraf’s tenure as chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board. Shoaib Malik’s failures to establish his authority ultimately handed the proud Pathan the reins, and he responded with a Twenty20 World Cup win that raised the spirits of a nation and awoke patriotism in Pakistanis from all corner of the world. Pakistan seemed to be on the rise again with a series of dominating displays in a format that could have been designed for the team.
The joy was to be short-lived as it was only a matter of one indifferent Sri Lanka tour and a semifinal defeat in the Champions Trophy before questions were being asked back home about the commitment of the team. In indignant (and in most eyes, justified) protest, Younis announced his resignation on the spot. With the majority of public opinion in Pakistan still backing him, the board convinced the volatile captain to return with a greater role in team management and, crucially, a guaranteed position until the 2011 World Cup. Thus the New Zealand series was meant to, after a series of failed ignitions, start the Younis Khan era in top gear.
That was the script being followed in the first ODI as Pakistan comfortably won the first match against the Kiwis, fueled by Shahid Afridi’s brilliant all-round performance, although Younis failed to stamp his signature on the game and batted poorly. Two games, two batting collapses, and a series defeat later, Younis abruptly stepped away from the captaincy again, citing a loss of authority in the dressing room this time and requesting a ‘rest’ for the tour of New Zealand. The rumors have ranged from differences with senior players and provincial conflict to a behind-the-scenes revolt instigated by none other than recently retired Inzamam ul-Haq. Remember, this is a Pakistani script, with more shades of grey and chaos than anything the best writer could produce.
For the remarkable actions of Younis are mirrored by the equally remarkable comeback of Mohammad Yousuf, acclaimed as the most experienced and elegant batsman in the Pakistan cricket team. His story is no less sensational – after a record-breaking year in 2006 where he accumulated more runs in a calendar year than any man before him, Yousuf was dropped for the Twenty20 World Cup as Shoaib Malik almost led the team to victory with a heartbreaking loss in the final against perennial rivals India. Yousuf promptly launched into a series of disputes, signing for the rebel Indian Cricket League, then for the officially endorsed Indian Premier League, and eventually returning to the ICL, whereupon he was banned by the PCB. After cancelling his contract with the ICL after just one season, he returned to the Pakistan side after two years in the wilderness – and is now the captain.
A remarkable incidental statistic underscores the stranger-than-fiction reality of Pakistan cricket. Younis Khan and Mohammad Yousuf are the most successful batting partners in the country’s history, having scored over 3000 runs together at roughly 78 runs per innings. When and if we see them add to their list of nine century stands in nine years together remains a moot point.