Mohali: Squinting below the shade of his floppy green hat, with his legs shuffling to-and-fro in anticipation, Younis Khan adjusted his stance nervously. The trigger movement shifted Younis’s torso backwards, before Saeed Ajmal’s looping off-break forced him to flap his front leg out of the way. With right leg bent at the knee, Younis threw the kitchen sink at the ball, trademark squint replaced with wide, bulging eyes. Unfortunately though, the sink missed, the ball thudded into his pads, and a sheepishly smiling Younis raised his own index finger — filling in for the missing umpire, who would have given him out in a match situation.
Prone to playing one attacking stroke too many during the early part of his innings, Younis — usually the solid spine to Pakistan’s fleshy middle-order — has been plagued with a faulty sweep while contending with the turners, a weapon he once used to fearlessly unleash during his younger days.
While Kenyan part-timer Steve Tikolo trapped him when he was playing the sweep, Sri Lanka’s Rangana Herath targeted the same chink in his armour. Following the two knocks of 50 and 72 — his best scores this tournament — Pakistan’s mainstay has scored 6, 0, 13* and 31, a shambolic record for a player of Younis’s class.
Maybe it was the lack of self-belief that caused Younis’s downfall even against the likes of Kenya and Canada, but 172 runs from seven games (at 34.40) in this campaign is not a true reflection of the big-match player that the Pathan from the North West Frontier Province really is. Nothing gets bigger than a semi-final of a World Cup against India, and luckily for Younis, he cannot find a cosier spot than Mohali to turn his terrible tide.
Out of a career total of six centuries, the 33-year old has clobbered half them against India, the first of which arrived at this ground. While he averages 32.29 in ODI cricket, the number shoots up to 40.96 against India — and 117 against them in Mohali. And if Younis manages to keep his love affair with the PCA Stadium ablaze during the last-four clash, he may become the first Pakistani in this World Cup to surpass the three-figure mark in an innings.
“We would rather have good contributions than landmarks,” says Misbah ul Haq, when asked if he thought Team Pakistan’s batsmen were struggling — none of them featuring in the top 20 run-getters list. “If we can continue to win matches in this World Cup without a single century, then so be it. Our middle-order provides the results for the country,” adds Misbah.
Misbah of course, is right. Even though Younis hasn’t managed to notch up an outright match-winning performance with the bat, his presence in the middle has resulted in helping Umar Akmal (211 at 52.75) and Misbah (192 at 48) settle into their roles, both fellow middle-order players. “Players such as Younis have lent a lot to us doing well in the World Cup, on and off the field,” Misbah adds.
And everyone at the ground on Sunday witnessed these contributions. He brain-stormed tactics with skipper Shahid Afridi, explained Akmal junior the nuances of Zaheer Khan’s knuckle ball, and comforted Shoaib Akhtar and Wahab Riaz after smacking them with straight-batted menace. All that remains for Younis though, is relearning that dreaded sweep shot.