In the previous part of this series, we took a look at the conflict between two of the greatest fast bowlers that Pakistan has ever produced and how that conflict split the entire dressing room into separate cliques. The chaotic environment resulted in the team losing some very talented players who could have played a key role in the success of Pakistan cricket for years to come. Perhaps the biggest casualty of the ever-present dressing room politics was none other than the Twenty-Twenty world cup winning captain Younis Khan.
It was 2009 and Pakistan team’s campaign in the world cup had not started in the desired manner. The team had lost to England by 48 runs and nobody, at that point of time, could have predicted the success that Pakistan went on to achieve. At the front and center of Pakistan’s successful world cup campaign was Younis Khan. For many Khan is the best batsman that Pakistan ever produced and was the most obvious choice for captaincy after the dismal performance of the team in the 2007 world cup which resulted in the ouster of Inzamam Ul Haq. Khan’s refusal to become a ‘dummy captain’ resulted in Shoaib Malik being handed the reins of the team and while he did everything he could, a disastrous loss to Sri Lanka in the ODI series marked the end of his captaincy. It was quite obvious that Younis Khan was the leader that the team needed and Khan justified the belief that people had in his abilities when he led the team towards victory in the twenty-twenty world cup. His retirement from the format immediately after the tournament also meant that Khan left on a high note with an impeccable legacy. His success also gave hope to the fans of the team that now Pakistan will become a force to be reckoned with in the other formats of the game as well and why not? Khan was a world cup winning captain and if there was anyone who could make a difference then it was him. Alas, this was not the case.
Younis Khan has always been known for being a man who shoots from the hip. He does not mince his words and is not afraid of speaking his mind. This can be a recipe for disaster in a dressing room where people were more interested in looking out for themselves and their ‘spots’ rather than working as a team. By all accounts, Khan was a fairly strict disciplinarian who expected the same level of commitment towards the game and fitness that he had. This certainly did not endear him in the eyes of his teammates. The seeds of dissent had been planted a long time back when Khan replaced Malik as the captain who has had a reputation for being one of the most politicized players in the squad. Khan’s temper also resulted in him alienating other senior members of the team which allegedly included Shahid Afridi, Muhammad Yousuf, and Misbah Ul Haq. It was around this time that the team started its campaign in the 2009 ICC champions’ trophy. Naturally, people had high expectations and all eyes were on Younis Khan. Will he be able to do it again? Khan had suffered from a fractured finger in one of the warm-up games but continued to lead the side in the tournament after missing the first game. The expectations reached at their zenith when Pakistan qualified for the semi-finals against New Zealand. Pakistan seemed to have things under control but then Grant Elliot entered the field. Elliot went on to score an unbeaten 75 runs which led his team to victory. Khan’s performance throughout the tournament was nothing short of abysmal with the man scoring only 53 runs throughout the tournament. More crucially the man also dropped a catch of Elliot in the semi-final which shattered Pakistan’s hopes of winning the coveted trophy.
The loss in the semi-finals, as well as poor performance, did nothing to improve his relationship with the senior members of the team. The loss in the semi-final also resulted in match-fixing allegations being leveled against Younis Khan. Khan was slowly being isolated both on and off the field and the pressure started getting to him. The next series against New Zealand was the final nail in the coffin for Khan’s reign as the captain. The series was another disappointment for the fans and for the captain who felt that the senior players intentionally played careless shots just to get back to him. The fight had gone out of the captain and he resigned from his captaincy soon after claiming that he was disgusted by the allegations of match-fixing that had been leveled against him. However, the drama was far from over. In his absence, Younis was replaced by Muhammad Yousuf who led the team in a disastrous series against Australia where the team failed to win even a single match. The performance forced the PCB to ban Yousuf and Younis for ‘infighting’ and take action against several other players of the squad.
One has to feel for Khan in his ‘one man against the system’ crusade. Younis Khan was not very different from the other world cup winning captain Imran Khan in the way he conducted himself on and off the field. Both men had confidence in their abilities and demanded respect along with complete autonomy and who could blame them? After all, a team is only as good as its captain and Pakistan had a great captain in Younis Khan. The dressing room politics, that had been a staple since the early nineties, prevented the team from reaching its potential. One can blame Younis for dropping the catch in the Semi-final against New Zealand but how can we question the commitment of a man who wanted to lead from the front in spite of having a fractured finger. Had Younis opted to drop out people would have questioned his commitment to Pakistan cricket. Hence, Younis Khan was in a position where he was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. It has been alleged that several players got together and took an oath on the Holy book that they would ensure that they would get Khan removed from captaincy. If true then this incident gives one an idea of the corruption that exists within the dressing room. One can sympathize with Khan’s decision to let it all go in the end. The ultimate loss was for Pakistan cricket and the fans who truly loved the game.