The lassi itself isn’t all that good, mind you, the Arabs not being all too proficient in concocting the famed yoghurt-based drink. Rather, Younis’s enjoyment of the drink derives from the smug satisfaction of a man completely at ease with everything around him knowing that he is finally back where he belongs.
There was no need for a dramatic statement to reinforce how much the team needed him. However, just to be on the safe side, Younis provided several anyway. His 17th Test century. Pakistan’s highest partnership in Tests against South Africa. Our highest fourth innings total. Ever.
The numbers, as they say, don’t lie. And these ones testify to the gospel truth.
There was one moment though that stood out amidst the excellence, which perhaps best revealed the value of the man to the team.
It occurred in the 93rd over of the fourth innings bowled by Morne Morkel. Morkel had just seen Younis barely evade an exceptional bouncer and decided to let the batsman know what might have happened if he hadn’t been so lucky.
And how did Younis respond to the six-foot-five-inch bowler?
He smiled gleefully.
As Younis laughed in Morkel’s face and traded words with him and AB de Villiers, it appeared like the last year of Younis’s life never happened. The complications, controversy and strife faded into nothingness as Younis asserted himself back onto the highest stage of this game and duly completed his century with minimum fuss without succumbing to a rash stroke more becoming of a lesser player.
That passage of play perfectly summarised what Younis represents to the team. Coolness mixed with an element of bravado. Boyhood cheek backed up with a warrior’s fortitude. And an intelligence complemented by application. All these virtues were on ample display and it was easy to forget that he had ever been gone.
But he was. For far too long. And every run scored and milestone breached was a glaring testament to the fallacy of his exclusion.
It doesn’t take much these days to make a case regarding the mismanagement and utter shortsightedness of the PCB. All one really needs to do is wait a couple of days for their next eventual screw-up. However, the asininity involved in leaving out a man with a 50-plus Test average batting at one down for 16 months deserves special mention lest it become simply a blip in the PCB’s radar of incompetence.
Pakistan has played a total of 12 Tests without Younis and won three of them. Not even the staunchest of Younis’s supporters would attempt to argue that the win-loss ratio would change significantly with his inclusion in the side. Unlike a twenty20, a Test match cannot be won on individual performances alone and even drawing the first Test of this series took more than just a Younis hundred, with Azhar Ali and Misbah-ul-Haq playing crucial hands and our openers providing invaluable starts.
But indulge me. Would it be too much of a stretch to conjecture that, with the addition of a world class batsman in our side, this run-chase against New Zealand might have proved more gettable? Is it that improbable to imagine that Pakistan’s fifth most prolific run-scorer in Tests may have helped the tail post a more challenging target for England a few months back? And, to reawaken the ghosts from our past, is it that unreasonable to suggest that, armed with the assistance of a batsman averaging over 60 in fourth innings’, Sydney 2010 may have been a sensational landmark rather than the painful memory it is now?
Maybe. Could have. Might have. Re-evaluating the past with different variables will always be a subjective exercise. But this much is true that the PCB selectors repeatedly failed in their most basic function of equipping a squad with the best possible players. And it is also true that Ijaz Butt’s petty ego issues and misplaced notions of discipline kept the most selfless servant of Pakistan cricket out of the team.
It’s funny that Ijaz Butt of all people should demand high standards of conduct and compromise considering he has incensed the entire cricket world over the last few months and, at one point, even voiced his own unwillingness to compromise before having to eat crow. It’s strange that a man who believes that little voices inside his head told him that the England players are the actual match-fixing culprits would expect another to exercise better judgment.
However, Younis put his country ahead of his own pride, a balancing act he has struggled with for his entire career, and effected his auspicious return to the Test and one-day sides. The PCB can never be trusted to act in the best interests of this team. So Younis bit the bullet and did.
Obviously it would be premature to term this as a turning point for our team. It is not. It would be equally premature to expect our fortunes to shift. They won’t. Our bowling is fairly impotent and the reason we didn’t chase a win in this Test was due to Umar Akmal’s unreliability and our tendency to follow the loss of one wicket with a succession of others.
What we can expect Younis to bring to the team though is dead simple.