In this extract from White On Green: Celebrating The Drama Of Pakistan Cricket, Younus Khan – the highest run-scorer in Pakistan’s Test history – expands on his journey from provincial street cricketer to international great.
Younus Khan has been one of the happiest-looking cricketers of modern times. He smiles regularly in matches and even in tense passages his body language usually seems relaxed. It is surprising that his career has seen so many clashes with fellow players or Pakistan’s authorities. He had a poor relationship with Inzamam-ul-Haq, whom he served as vice-captain. When he succeeded him, he was annoyed by issues over team selection and management, and made a public protest to Shaharyar Khan, the PCB chairman, that he would not serve as a ‘dummy captain’.
He rejected the captaincy under Shaharyar Khan’s successor, Nasim Ashraf, because of the hostile public response, also vented on his family, to Pakistan’s World Cup ignominy in 2007. He walked away from the captaincy again in 2009, upset by unfounded allegations of match-fixing and even more, by being undermined by senior players. His relationship with Mohammad Yousuf was so bad that the PCB suspended both of them for infighting in 2010 (as it happened, he was lucky to miss Pakistan’s scandal-hit tour of England that year).
“Yes…” He paused briefly, as if reviewing all these past dramas. “It’s because of my family and my Pashtun roots. It’s in my blood to speak out. But seriously, in my whole career I have never fought for myself. If something goes wrong for my team, for my country, that’s when things come from my mouth.” Another pause for reflection and then the words tumbled out again.
“Sometimes people think that I am a very arrogant person, but I am not. I don’t go to places and say I’m Younus Khan and this and that. I am a very quiet person. If I see someone I know I will go up to him and hug him and spend time with him, but if I don’t know him I think he deserves his own time and space and I leave him alone. Maybe that’s why people think I’m arrogant.”
When he became Pakistan’s leading run-scorer, he became the face of a Pakistan mobile telephone company, but before that his image was rarely used commercially, compared to the ubiquitous Shahid Afridi, a player of far lesser gifts. If he had any jealousy, he did not show it.
“Well… I have been paid by my country. What I achieve goes into my account, but I have to look forward, not stay in the past. So I don’t make gestures and that kind of thing. I am a famous guy but not like Wasim Akram or Shahid Afridi.” He laughed again, imagining himself as Afridi. “Sometimes a poor person comes up to me and appreciates me. That is very valuable to me. That is what I have achieved in my career.”
Younus Khan is a very devout Muslim, but he disliked the ostentatious religiosity in the Pakistan team under Inzamam. However, he defended Muslim players who have chosen to grow beards, particularly Hashim Amla and Moeen Ali. “I had a beard like this at the start of my career.” (His gesture suggested a luxuriant one). “But for me, faith is about your actions in life. I have been happy all the time in my faith, it has given me a lot of inner peace in my body, and I have always played in the same way, today as at the start.”
That faith sustained him through a series of losses which devastated his close-knit family. These began in 2002, when his sister died while he was playing a Test in Lahore against Sri Lanka. Two years later, his father died while he was on tour in Australia. Then he lost two brothers and, last year, his nephew. “We were all very religious and close to Allah, especially my mother. As Muslims we have always thought that if Allah gives us something in life, it will go back to Allah whenever he wants.” After retiring from the Pakistan one-day team, he committed himself to fund-raising for the Indus Hospital, in Karachi, in memory of his lost relatives.
His present family life gives him great joy. He married Amna in 2007 and their son, Mohammad Owais Khan, was born at the end of that year. They also have a daughter of five, Amarah Khan. “My mother is still alive and she and my two [surviving] brothers live with us in the same house in Karachi. It is a big two-storey home. We are a very close family and every single day we have a lot of fun together. I miss them all the time when I am away, and my mother sometimes cries because I am her youngest.” Then his voice trembled momentarily.
“Quite amazingly, my son looks like my father and my daughter looks like my mother, so that whenever I look at them my mother and father are with me. I am the luckiest man alive that God gave me these things in my life.”
Younus had a strong bond with his father through fishing. It remains his favourite off-field activity, whether river or deep-sea fishing, and he has shared his passion with the next generation. His biggest catch was an eight-kilo sea trout off Karachi. With more leisure he might have shared the details, but he was due to take his young son fishing at the local marina. He agreed that fishing had helped his concentration as a batsman and as a slip fielder.
Pakistan’s exile has cut deeply into his family life, and the team’s. “It is not easy travelling all the time, away from your home and family and children and friends. It can make you very weak. The players sacrifice their lives, staying in the same room for two or three months at a time. I salute the younger players especially for the way they play for their country.”