Is Younis Pakistan's greatest batsman?
Someone said Younis Khan was 42, which seemed unlikely. We looked him up, he was 39 the other day. We checked on Misbah-ul-Haq as well. He is 42, which makes Younis a spring chicken. There are 81 years and 181 Tests between them. Then we looked up Matt Renshaw, Nic Maddinson and Peter Handscomb: 69 years and three Tests. These old blokes are giving the young ones a decade and 178 matches, never mind the fact that they are playing at night when others of such vintage prepare bottles and offer rusks before bed. This is apropos nothing other than amazement.
Younis has played 112 Test matches and missed a few in a pique. Among Pakistanis he is not the Lone Ranger. These fellows fall out with their board more often than Steve Jobs once did. You couldn't look at Younis from afar and see rebellion, but rebel he has, both during his tenure as captain and from the ranks. He is bright enough to see how the flaws in the system could be fixed and brave enough to say so. Yet he is generally inward-looking and reclusive in the way of many single-minded and relatively limited batsmen who have fought their way to the top of the game. Batting is a solitary business born of will and reference to method. He puts in long hours, commends others for their input and support and accepts the cards that are dealt his way. A dazzling smile and a frenetic technique do not bring a true impression of the inner man.
The facts are remarkable. Younis has scored more Test match runs than any Pakistani batsman and at a better average. He has made 33 hundreds, eight more than Inzamam-ul-Haq, who is the nearest challenger. The argument about Pakistan's greatest batsman used to belong to Javed Miandad and Hanif Mohammad before Inzamam and Mohammad Yousuf became involved. Now there are five. Forget Zaheer Abbas, Asif Iqbal, Saeed Anwar and other pretenders; these five have climbed the summit. Four of them, the moderns, score at more than 50 per dismissal - a must in this age of the bat. Hanif is difficult to gauge, averaging a mere 43.98 (!) but Bradman once referred to him as the "Little Master" and for good reason. Innings by Hanif were things of monumental achievement long before Pakistani cricketers had carved a place for themselves on the world stage.
The legend of Hanif was formed after his 16-hour, 13-minute vigil to save the game against West Indies in Barbados in 1958. He mixed it with the big boys there all right, fending off Roy Gilchrist and outmanoeuvring a team that had Hunte, Kanhai, Sobers, Weekes and Walcott as its front five. Hanif loved the long fight: he did nine hours for 187 at Lord's once, defeated only by the lack of partners at the other end. Inside the body of his five feet and six inches was the lion's heart and unbreakable mind that spent 10,000 hours and more on the terrace of his parents' bungalow in Gujarat - pre-Partition days - rehearsing for the day in old Karachi, on a hallowed ground, that he would pass Sir Donald Bradman's record first-class score of 452 and go on to be run out for 499, doubtless looking to steal the single for immortality. Only one man, Brian Lara, with 501, has surpassed it.
Javed did less of the long and more of the impact. Javed messed with the minds and the lives of others. He got under skin, challenged the accepted ways, and frequently raged against the machine. He was the best and worst of opponents, slapping boundaries in spaces hitherto unimagined and running between the wickets with the speed of the hunted and the mind of the hunter.
He made a hundred on debut, the youngest to do so at the time, and a double soon after - younger even than George Headley, who had the dibs on that one. In all, he made six double-hundreds, innings that helped to ensure his Test average never dropped below 50. He batted front-on, side-on, low grip, high grip; he hit off-stump lines through midwicket and leg-stump lines past point; he charged at all comers if the mood or need took him, and without argument, had the slickest hands in the east, or west. There really was no one like him. Even the enemy could not fail to admire his sheer gall and uninhibited genius. In the period that Pakistan were stamped upon the cricketing map, Javed was everything and everywhere to Imran Khan's everyman.
Inzamam was entirely different, almost sloth-like by comparison. Frequently, he held Pakistan together with a contemplative temperament that was more a help than a hindrance, and with an iron will. Sometimes calmness has much to commend it. Facing top-class pace bowling or wily spin while vultures wait are such occasions. Younger comrades might fidget, flirt or flick but the old master simply plotted his progress. Clearly he did not regard the sight of the ball misbehaving or the opposition whoopin' and hollerin' as sufficient reason to abandon hope. Indeed, without fire and brimstone, he built a wall that cast marauding forces asunder.
Contemporary batsmen are not as well versed in the craft of countering the moving ball as members of the older school. Trained in the attacking skills required to prosper in the modern game, they are adept at hitting through the line of the ball from a forward and aggressive position; allowing awkward deliveries to pass, playing from close to the body and closing the gap between bat and pad are not so important. Inzy was one of the last who played the ball on its merit and almost always with the full face of the bat. His innings were impressive without quite being box office but his figures are set in stone among the greats. He made 329 against New Zealand in a steamy Lahore back in 2001-02 and many of his wondrously laconic hundreds came as match-winners. His finest series was against England in 2005, when he never once failed to pass fifty, made twin hundreds in Faisalabad, and when the team were truly united behind him. Michael Vaughan's Ashes winners were trounced.
Mohammad Yousuf crept up on the game. A name change from Yousuf Youhana in the call of religion hardly helped the identification. Once settled, he had quick feet, good body shape and fine judgement of length to go with an enviable skill for timing. Unusually for men of the subcontinent, he preferred the off side to the leg side, driving square of the wicket with uncanny precision and cutting with surprising power. The real shock, though, came in 2006, when 11 Test matches brought nine hundreds - more than anyone in a calendar year - and an aggregate of 1788 runs, beating Viv Richards' headlong mastery over all comers 30 years earlier.
These are four special batsmen but still Younis stands above them. Of course, the figures do not complete the picture. At times it appears as if he jumps about the crease like a desperate frog, though even in this there is something to admire and in which to believe. Desperation often brings good things in a man, for his passion and innate sense of survival is revealed.
Younis is honourable and intelligent; he was a committed and decisive leader who found it hard to forgive seniors around him who failed to deliver; he is a batsman who rides the wave of form and fortune. Those who saw him in New Zealand last month are certain he is ''gone''. This has been said of him before but 39 is a rum age to find yourself again.
The bouncy pitch at the Gabba will test all of Misbah's men, not least their talisman. How he copes may well define the series. We watched him play dreadfully in England just a few months back and then, with Pakistan two matches to one in arrears and offered a plumb Oval surface on which to craft something from the past, Younis made 218. This set up victory and a drawn series. The fire still burns within. The mind is willing, the flesh is tight. Only time marches on, only time.
Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel Nine in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK