Cricket can be such a fickle game.
In the 17th over of South Africa’s run chase, Younis tossed the ball to 23 year old Fawad Alam for his first over of the tournament, not to mention his first over in international cricket for 7-8 months.
If Alam had picked up a lucky wicket or two, very likely since the Saffies had to go for broke at that time, Younis’s move would have been hailed as a masterstroke. Rather than be confounded by its perplexity, we would have been awed by its creativity.
Sadly for Younis, and Alam, such an outcome didn’t come to pass. Luckily for Younis, nothing hinged on that over and Pakistan ended up with a spectacular victory against a team which used to beat us for fun even during our 99-00 heydays.
But there was much more to the rationale behind Younis’s decision than simply exploiting an opportunity for picking up cheap wickets. We all know Captain Younis has a unique approach to the game, thinking far ahead of the current situation – a Galileo of his time if you will. In his inventiveness, Younis is so far outside the box that the box is just a dot on the horizon to his maniacal eyes. His decision to bowl Alam makes perfect sense, given the circumstances and the way he gauged the situation:
1. He wanted Alam to scuff up the old ball by being hit around to facilitate reverse swing.
Its hardly rocket science. Batter a ball enough, and its bound to start swinging. The South Africans werent going for their shots and Younis needed the ball to develop some roughness in order for it to start reversing. Hell, he outright pointed out this strategy at a press conference where he bitchslapped that cry baby Vettori by reminding him that a ball could wear and tear by constantly being smacked around and being hit into the stands. And he needed a bowler who would help him accomplish that. Malik is way too senior to be sacrificed in that manner. So the onus fell on Alam. Who responded admirably under pressure to keep the run-rate down. He'll bear a lot of brunt from short sighted Pakistani fans. But he'll know that he did the job asked of him. He gave the ball every chance to reverse once it got back into Gul's hands. And Gul needed every advantage since...
2. Umer Gul was concussed.
Did anyone see Gully’s head smack the turf when he spilled a halwa catch off Aamir’s bowling. The thud on impact jerked his entire body. There’s no doubt that Gully was seeing stars, further evidenced by his lackluster first two balls. Younis didn’t want to put too much pressure on Gul’s fragile cranium at that point so he had to opt for someone else.
3. That someone else couldn’t be Shoaib Malik.
Shoaib Malik can keep the runs down when the asking rate is just around a run-a-ball or slightly more – basically, where the batsman don’t have to go out of their way to smack him around. If they’re looking for a bowler to outright hit out of the park – Malik is their man. He can’t beat the batsmen through the air. He sucks at darting the ball in. Younis was probably sure that Malik would be expensive at that point and I’m absolutely positive Malik would have leaked as many runs as Alam. Additionally, Kallis had already had a sighter of Malik’s one over, so why not just go for something new since it’s our inherent unpredictability which got us this far in the first place. Younis is always thinking two overs ahead of the match, which is why…
4. He actually gave Alam that over to warm up his throwing arm to effect those last over run-out(s).
Say you’re Younis Khan. You know your team is inches away from pulling off something special. You’re racking your brain about South African failures in the past and wondering what you can implement from those instances. Your mind harks back to the most famous South African debacle: the 1999 WC semi against the Aussies. You realize the South Africans are prone to frenzied running in the final over, making them vulnerable to sharp fielding. So you want your best fielder to be patrolling long on/off and be ready to fire in a great throw. Who’s your best fielder? You can’t trust Malik because he found his wife on the internet. You want Shahid close by getting under the batsman’s skin. Gotta be ALAM. But Younis is as cunning as he is farsighted. You don’t want to make your strategy too obvious. You need Alam to secretly warm up his arm. Here’s a thought: give him a bowl! And what’s more, that’ll give you a chance to subtly move him FROM point TO long on/off without the batsman noticing and second guessing your plan. You, Younis, are fucking brilliant!
You’re saying no normal person thinks in such convoluted terms? Well that’s why you’re sitting at some boring office job with your life beginning and ending with your family and friends. That’s why Pakistan won’t remember you and you have added nothing to society and culture. When you and I die, no one outside our circle will remember us and we’ll be forgotten after a generation. Younis will live on. Younis has made something of his life even though his family couldn’t afford to give him even a quarter of the opportunities we were privileged to have. But the few chances Younis did get, he took them. Something we didn’t have the balls to do. So 50 years from now, someone will say: “Hey, remember when Younis gave Fawad that over during the T20 World Cup? What a dick.” And someone will respond: “Hahaha, yeah that was nuts. And then he gave Alam the last over in the final against Sri Lanka and we still won that tournament. Man, I wonder if that’s what gave Alam the confidence to go ahead and score consecutive hundreds in test series verses South Africa and Australia as well as marry Shakira. Anyway, I’m off to watch President Younis’s latest address to Parliament and the Senate”.
Oh, you think the suggestion that Younis might one day lead our country politically is far-fetched do you? Well not if you consider the fact that…
5. Younis gave Fawad an over to ease communal tension in Karachi.
The facts behind this argument are as clear as day. In fact, we’re stupid not to consider it. Alam is Urdu-speaking. Younis is Pathan. Younis is all about brotherhood, love and having “fun”. Younis just wants everybody to get along, which is why the tension between the Mohajirs and Pathans in Karachi is particularly unbearable for someone like him. He feels he has to contribute to easing the hostility between the two sides which is why he gave the Urdu-speaking chap his chance in the sun. What better public display of communal togetherness than a Pathan trusting a Mohajir in a time of crisis. It’s like something out of a movie. Sure, you can turn this around and say that by putting an inexperienced Mohajir player in a pressure situation, Younis risked doing more harm than good when that player inevitably failed. Fair enough. But Younis acts on impulse. And his initial impulse is always a positive one. And if there’s one thing Pakistan has come to accept from this tournament, it’s that they’re at their best when it comes to relying on their instincts. Which brings me to my last, perhaps best, reason for bowling Alam in the last over.
6. Just go with the unpredictable flow.
Pakistan’s approach to this tournament can be likened to Christian Bale’s movie career. Everyone knows that Bale has all the natural talent in the world but he refuses to stick to the safe route of conventional studio dramas and chances his acting chops with risky roles which could break his career. “American Psycho” could have killed him. Instead, it made him Batman. But for every Batman, there is a “Reign of Fire”. For every “Machinist”, there is a “Swing Kids”. But why should he stop taking chances in the roles he chooses? He holds an eminent position in Hollywood due to most of those risks paying off so why toss the philosophy out the window.
Likewise: Pakistan. Would ANY other team have responded to a peripheral batsman’s failings by promoting him to one-down? Most teams wouldn’t have chanced Afridi as a central batsman, let alone trust him with that kind of responsibility. And I for one am glad we aren’t most teams. It’s what makes being a Pakistan cricket supporter so fucking special. It’s the one unique thing we have in sports. Our natural drama. And I’d absolutely hate it if our team became as formulaic as the Australians or the South Africans or as inflexible as England. To love Pakistan is to love the romance of chance. In a game of poker, we are the eternal first timers. Totally unpredictable; always rethinking our strategy without a clear understanding of the mechanics; capable of flashes of brilliance yet, more often than not, vulnerable to moments of stupidity. So please, take the good with the bad. If you love Pakistan cricket, the Fawad Alam decision was totally in character with the spirit we play the game with. I’m glad Younis is making moves like the Alam decision – it reinforces my belief that we’re playing cricket the best way we know how. I say open the batting on Sunday with Alam and Gul and
7. Because Salman Butt is an asshole.
Yeah I only said 6 reasons. But I’m being like Pakistan – unpredictable and impulsive. You know what IS predictable about Pakistan cricket though? Salman Butt’s lame-ass batting at the top. This guy is a bane to Pakistan cricket. He doesn’t know how to accelerate. He sucks at being a good anchor because he can’t rotate the strike. And he’s the reason Alam didn’t bowl a better over. Butt has been keeping guys like Alam out of the team for years now. If we had dropped Butt like a year back, maybe Alam would have gotten more exposure and, thereby, would have been better equipped to bowl such a crucial over. But no – the management refuses to drop Butt because he can string together a few sentences worth of English. As Afridi showed the world yesterday, you don’t need a broad vocabulary to get your message across in this game. All you need to do is be able to blow an obnoxious kiss and have at your disposal a solid, hearty “Inshallah”!
Bring on the final.