Cricket: Younis, I hit

By Ant Sims 15 February 2013

South Africa doesn’t often have a bad day out in the field. But at Newlands on Thursday, Younis Khan and Asad Shafiq were impeccable with the bat, helping Pakistan recover from 33-4 to 253-5 at stumps. ANT SIMS reports from Newlands.

Rotating the strike is often such an overstated concept. The theory goes that if you rotate the strike in Test cricket, you will get yourself into a good position. Sometimes it’s hard to rotate the strike, though, especially if the bowling attack you are up against is the best bowling attack in the world. A bowling attack so good it has had three different teams all out for sub-50 in the last two seasons.

Day one of the second Test started just like any other day, when South Africa stepped out in their Test whites. There was just enough cloud cover to instigate a hint of swing and just enough juice in the wicket for the spearhead pair of Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander to extract some pyrotechnics. Those who had tickets for the fourth day were already looking glumly at ways they could possibly flog them as mementoes, when the visitors’ opening pair discombobulated to 33-4 in the first session.

Enter Younis Khan and Asad Shafiq. The two combined for the highest partnership by visiting batsmen on South African soil since Stephen Fleming and James Franklin combined for 256 in April 2006. With astute patience and wry smiles, both Khan and Shafiq rode out the storm of the often unforgiving South African attack as if they were just some ordinary team, adding 219 runs before Younis was dismissed in the final overs of the day. Pakistan ended the day on 253-5.

“It was my plan to just hang there. Everybody knows that they have tall bowlers and they don’t bowl any friendly balls. We put on that good partnership and I was quite lucky, because a few times I played and missed. They bowled very well, but everybody knows if you play for three sessions you’ll score a hundred,” Younis said, smiling.

The pair scored only 30 boundaries, just 68 runs of their 219 runs; 60 runs came in singles while they faced 429 balls, leaving the balls that should be left and not taking any wild swipes or irresponsible drives when it wasn’t called for. The running between the wickets was the best by any side all of the  South African summer, and sharing the responsibility of seeing off ferocious spells from South Africa’s best helped put Pakistan in a good position by the end of the first day.

Younis was impeccable. Even when peppered by a Morne Morkel short ball, rising up to his ribs and creeping into his skin, Khan would simply turn around and smile. It was only thanks to the slightest of edges in the dying overs of the day that he was sent on his way. Philander, steaming him with a stomp as he usually does, thought he’d trapped the batsman leg-before, while AB de Villiers had seemingly thought he’d managed the catch behind the stumps. The South African contingent deliberated for a short while and sent the decision upstairs. Lo and behold, there was a speck on Hot Spot and the on-field decision was overturned: Younis had to go after a solid 111.

 “Morkel and Steyn are good athletes, but they are top lads. It’s not the first time we’ve played each other, so we have a relationship. They keep talking and I keep smiling,” Younis laughed.

The most fascinating thing about the partnership was that Younis and Asad made South Africa look so completely ordinary, despite the bowlers still being good, accurate and fierce. Perhaps that’s where the trick in playing South Africa lies. Not to take them lightly, not to disrespect them, but to simply stay calm.

That might be easier said than done, though. A few sides have tried and failed over the last 12 months. England got close to being competitive last year, but as soon as they gave the Proteas a single finger, the South African juggernaut would gobble up the entire hand and arm, and swallow the shoulder blades for good measure.

Pakistan, on the other hand, though they gave South Africa chances, stayed calm and did the basics right. Despite two flashy sixes from Khan, there was very little else that was overwhelming – it was just old-school, straightforward Test cricket. The pair have batted together four times before, and this is the third time they have notched up a hundred partnership. Younis says the key is to keep it simple.

“If you are a youngster playing in a Test, sometimes you get scared on how to play and whether to play shots. My advice is very simple: if there is a bad ball, go for it. I try to always build a partnership and take singles. If you take singles  and a bad ball comes, just hit it,” Younis added. DM

Photo: Pakistan’s Younus Khan plays a shot on the first day of the second cricket test match against South Africa in Cape Town, February 14, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings


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