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Taking a stand: The legacy of Younus

Younus Khan, Pakistan’s leading Test run scorer and 2009 World Twenty20 winning captain, has once again found himself mired in controversy. The offence committed was his refusal to take any further part in the ongoing Pakistan Cup, the country’s premier one-day tournament.

Younus pointed out poor umpiring decisions against his side Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, which he also captains, in their matches against Islamabad and Punjab. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa lost against Islamabad by 2 wickets, while it beat Punjab in a nail-biting encounter by 2 runs. The game against Punjab was to be Younus’ last game in the tournament.

After the second match, which was the first game of competitive cricket in an otherwise dreary tournament, Younus threatened the reserve umpire Rashid Riaz, who duly complained to match referee Azizur Rehman. Younus was then handed a notice which had him handover 50% of his match fee.

This however, is not the first time domestic umpiring has come under the spotlight. The Pakistan Cricket Board in the past has itself admitted to poor umpiring in the country, and has even gone as far as to reduce the suspension of Nadeem Ghauri, an umpire who had been banned from officiating after a scandal that involved him willing to accept bribes to give favourable decisions.

On social media and other avenues, fans and commentators alike have taken to criticizing Younus in what they called an undisciplined and cavalier attitude from a senior player who should have known better. They have called him egoistic, and have lashed out at an act which they say has brought the cricketing spirit into disrepute.

In cricket, if you already don’t know, the umpire in general is seen as the sole judge and adjudicator who by his powers ensures that the game is played fairly and in the best of spirits. The umpire is to be respected by not only all the players on and off the field, but by fans, administrators and commentators as well.

Now let us look at this story through the lens of Younus. Having retired from international One-Day and Twenty20 cricket, domestic limited over games are perhaps irrelevant to him now. He could have made straight ducks or straight centuries in the tournament and they would perhaps have been worth nothing. He could have led Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to sublime victory or dismal defeat but for him, as an individual, there would have been no consequence. Younus, in the domestic cricket scene, is sort of like a college professor with tenure now. No matter what he says or does, nothing will hurt him. Yes, he has been fined and handed a three-match ban, but how would that matter for a player who’s already bid farewell to the international limited over formats?

This incident will certainly have no bearing over Younus Khan’s Test future. He recently became Pakistan’s leading Test run-scorer and has been in imperious form in the last couple of years. Since 2013, Younus has scored over 2500 runs at average of 60.73, and has scored a ton against all the countries he’s played against in that time period, with the exception of India and the West Indies, against whom Pakistan did not have a Test series. Since 2004, he has dropped out of the to 10 ICC Test batsmen ranking just thrice, that too only going as low as 14th and 11th. He is currently 5th.

Dropping him out of the Test squad therefore, is unthinkable. He will most certainly be on the plane to England this summer and then on another one to Australia in December.

His heroism in the current controversy is how he has let go of what he loves doing, play cricket, by placing those who make it hard to do so in a difficult position. This is not the first time umpiring standards have been questionable, but it is definitely the first time someone has taken what I believe to be a principled stand against an unprofessional setup.

The fact that it is a senior player, who is loved and adored by connoisseurs of the game both home and abroad, has taken such a serious approach, is what has made the whole situation interesting. What would have happened had it been a young player who had been cheated by an umpire? For the sake of the argument let’s say that the umpire was indeed unfit for the job. The truth is that it wouldn’t have made even the tiniest blip on the PCB’s ancient monitor. The player would have not only had a poor umpiring decision, but would be handed a fine and a suspension to boot. In our domestic cricketing environment, where there are hundreds of aspirants wishing to be where you are now, he would perhaps never have played a game again. The player took a stand, an unconventional one, and lost whatever future he had.

Younus had the luxury of doing what many a domestic cricketer would have wished to do. Stand up in the face of bad umpiring. Stand up in the face of a board which is not taking its domestic affairs seriously enough, because if it had, we would not be facing what we are now. Sometimes you have to take such a radical step to expose what really ails you.

It took Inzamam-ul-Haq forfeiting a Test match to expose what could only be described as racism in cricket. Darrel Hair had been complained about by not only Pakistan but Sri Lanka as well, yet he served on the ICC’s elite panel of umpires. The ICC had been officially requested by the PCB not to let Darrel Hair officiate in any match of Pakistan. Nevertheless, Hair was appointed for that fateful Oval test, which was to become a strong indicator for the governing body of cricket not to regard Pakistan cricket lightly. One does not seem to remember now the last time Pakistan faced truly ghastly umpiring.

The current Chairman of the PCB, Shaharyar Khan, describes in his book ‘Cricket Cauldron’, what he felt when the Decision Reversal System (DRS) was being voted on in an ICC board meeting. “It undermined umpire authority, interrupted the flow of play and devalued a vital principle of cricket- and of life- that an umpire’s decision, even if incorrect, had to be respected.” What the Chairman should understand that this is not life. It is a sport and it is a game in which we can actually have better accuracy in such a vital function. Would not any cricketer always respect an umpire if he felt that the umpire had been doing the job up to his full potential? Why would any rational cricketer ever act as brusquely as Younus did if this had been a one-time thing? The fact that it isn’t is what should make us and the PCB really take notice.

Younus, by virtue of him being a prized asset, the last crown jewel of Pakistani batsmen, is using his power. Some might argue that this is just a form of corruption imbued by Younus, in how he has yielded that power, but it truly is an act of great service to a deteriorating structure which finds itself running helter-skelter whenever a debacle (read Asia Cup and World Twenty20 2016) has taken place. To target the PCB at a time when it is already under immense pressure from all those who are directly affected by its decisions, it being the vanguard of Pakistan cricket, is a point of celebration. If we are overthrowing the system, let it be the whole of it, let there be no wreckage to salvage.

If a judge is not competent enough, no matter how impassioned or righteous the appeal is, there will never truly be a correct and just decision. Fix umpiring, you know how and you know why. Our cricket will surely benefit.

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