Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Younis Khan Problem

One of the strange findings in Political Science is that a country being democratic or not has surprisingly little impact on whether it enjoys economic growth. To be sure, democracies tend to be richer than non-democracies, but research suggests that while the correlation between the two factors -- a state's system of government and its economic well-being -- is strong, a true causal significance has been difficult to pin down.

What, then, is the point of democracy, if it cannot be guaranteed to deliver a better life for a country's citizens? Advocates for democracy argue that the value of democracy lies not in the quality of leaders it delivers -- George W. Bush, take a bow -- but in the fact that bad leaders can be easily replaced. George W. Bush may have been a terrible President, but he could not remain in power forever. Robert Mugabe, by contrast, is still going strong.

We frequently hear from supporters of authoritarian governments the argument that "more gets done" when you don't have to worry about parliamentary niceties. Since one man or woman gets to decide everything, there's less of a chance that they get bogged down by people who may not have the country's best interest at heart. This view rests on a very particular idea of dictators, however. It rests on the supposition that a dictator will be benevolent, and one who has a country's national interest squarely in mind. Dictatorship only works when you have an excellent leader. What happens if you get an evil dictator? You're stuck. You need a plane crash or an assassination or a revolution to get rid of him.

Younis Khan's problem was that he thought he was a benevolent dictator, but his teammates thought that he was an evil dictator.

By all accounts, Pakistan cricket has had two excellent captains in its history: A.H. Kardar and Imran Khan. It would strike few as coincidental that both were strongmen to the fullest; both enjoyed powers almost unheard of in other countries, including Pakistan. They picked their teams, they lorded over their contemporary boards, they took responsibility for everything. They were, in a word, dictators. Good dictators, to be fair, but dictators nonetheless.

Imran's tenure, in particular, has embedded the belief in every follower of Pakistan cricket that for a captain to be successful, he must enjoy unbridled power. He must not be held back by meddling boards or corrupt selection committees or power-hungry players. It must be his way, or the highway.

Younis Khan, in particular, is a man who has taken those lessons to heart. He has now given up the captaincy of his country on three different occasions: once because he had to wait outside Shahrayar Khan's office for five minutes, once because a publicity-hungry and mentally challenged parliamentarian accused the team of throwing a game, and finally because he felt he had inadequate support from the team at large. Whatever the merits of those individual decisions -- and let us be honest, only the third could be construed as broadly rational -- the common theme running through them was that Younis always opted for the path of least resistance, and most security. You may lay this at the door of his pride, or his Pathan-ness, or whatever, but the fact remains that he never felt comfortable getting scrappy, getting down and dirty in the muddied waters that constitute Pakistan cricket, and fighting back. His idea of fighting back was walking away, because in his view, someone as pure and unsullied as him shouldn't have to fight back. He wanted the powers of a dictator (like Imran Khan), but the trouble-free tenure of a democrat (like, say, Mark Taylor).

The logical fallacy underpinning this is obvious. Specifically, there are two issues of concern. First, Imran Khan was Pakistan's best player for over a decade, and among the three best cricketers of his era. His performances rendered him above reproach. Younis Khan, on the other hand, has struggled lately, particularly in ODI cricket (which is all Pakistan seems to have played in the last two years). If you're going to be a dictator, you must be incapable of being attacked for the quality of your play.

The second problem is that to be a dictator, you must fight constantly for your dictatorship. In a democracy, a leader does not have to worry about being supplanted from power, outside elections. Barack Obama may have a lot on his plate, but he can rest assured that he will get his four years, irrespective of his performance. By contrast, a dictator must constantly be aware of threats to his rule, and snuff them out if he wants to remain in power. Occasionally, this instinct will have unhappy (and stupid) consequences, as when dictators get paranoid, and start seeing threats from every which way (Stalin famously purged his military of senior officers, leaving the Red Army in disarray just two years before Hitler invaded the Soviet Union). But in general, for you to be a successful dictator -- successful in the sense that you stay in power -- you must dig your heels in, and be ruthless.

Imran Khan knew this. He did not try to mend fences with irreconcilable elements. He simply got rid of them. He dropped Majid Khan, his own cousin, and the two, to this day, do not speak. He kept the Miandads and Sarfarazs on an extremely short leash. He was ruthless, as a dictator must be. He wanted to be feared. Younis, by contrast, wanted to be loved. And as any dictator will tell you, you cannot have it both ways.

In the latest drama, there are three parties at fault. I have already discussed what I consider to be Younis' failings: his desire to patch things up with members of the team who were unhappy under him. He should have either resigned when these concerns first came up -- and by all accounts, they began almost as soon as he assumed the captaincy -- or acted like a mob boss in retaliation: calmly and clinically, and finished them off. But of all the parties involved, he was the most sympathetic. His mistakes involved trusting others too much, and believing they were people who could be reasoned with. Evidently, this was not the case.

The other two parties involved are easier to hate. The first is the shambolic organization that is the PCB. Do you think the board in Australia would have put up with this? South Africa? Hell, even the West Indies board would have handled this fiasco better. If Younis Khan was their man -- and extending his tenure to the 2011 World Cup suggests that he was -- then they should have stuck with him. They should have told the coup makers that if they faced a simple choice: shut up, or ship out. Back the captain, or pack your bags.

The funny things is that our board has shown inclination to back a "to hell with these guys" attitude in the past, but for the wrong reasons. For example, they were more than prepared to support the BCCI in ending the careers of the ICL players. But when it came to backing their own captain, they were found woefully short, and succumbed to player power. They allowed the entire mess to fester, and for that deserve some of the blame for this blowing up in their face.

But even their culpability pales in comparison to the so-called "senior players" cabal. By now, we all know their names: Malik, Yousuf, Misbah, Butt, and Akmal. It is unclear, at least from my perspective, to what extent Afridi participated in this coup. Was he simply the front-man, a la Waqar in 1994, or was he the instigator? In many ways, it simply does not matter. What does matter is this: a bunch of nobodies took on the rightful captain of the country, a man who tried to do right by them, a man who kept lines of communication open and backed them. And not only did they take him on, they won.

What I find most interesting about the cabal is how none of them should really have a secure place in any of our three teams, aside from Yousuf in tests. Malik? Tried, tested and failed, and a selfish SOB to boot. Yousuf? A terrible fielder, a bad runner, a slow batsman. Misbah? His career should have ended a year ago. Butt? His career should have ended two years ago. Kamran? He's drops catches like Chris Rock dropping f-bombs in his stand up, and has done so for four years now (all the while Sarfraz Ahmed languishes on the sidelines). This isn't exactly Waqar-Inzi-Malik taking on Wasim in 1994. It's more akin to Mark Ealham, Ian Salisbury and Robert Croft taking on Nasser Hussain.

My question to these players would be: who the fuck do you think you are? You're all lucky to still be playing for Pakistan. Surely you should be thankful for the opportunity, instead of politicking and ensuring that ouster of a man who has done nothing but try his best? Where do you find the gall? The doctor who surgically removed their ability to feel shame must be a rich man or woman indeed.

One understated effect of this tragedy -- and I use that phrase in the Greek literature sense of the term, in that there are no winners in this game -- is that we lose not only Younis the captain, but Younis the batsmen. He has had his problems in ODIs, to be sure, but no one really cares about ODI cricket anyway (a dying format if ever there was one). In test cricket, not only is Younis one of only two quality players we have (Yousuf being the other), he remains, in my opinion, Pakistan's best number three ever -- a position we have always struggled to fill. With him in the team, I always felt assured. Without him, our batting looks exceptionally weak, especially on the seaming pitches of New Zealand the bouncy tracks of Australia. He is one of the very few players we have who have been successful in both countries, with an average of 43 in Australia and 70 in New Zealand.

Even if he comes back into the team for the Australian tour, hardly a given at this stage, would anybody place money on his doing well there? Younis is an incredibly emotional player, and the tamasha that routinely accompanies Pakistan cricket has taken its toll on him. This much was clear in both the Champions Trophy and the ODIs against New Zealand, when the free-wheeling, smiling and exuberant Younis we are used to was nowhere to be seen. He was clearly a different person, and we now know why. For better or worse, he is not one of those cricketers who can block all distractions out and play at his best (unlike, say, Wasim Akram who arguably became a better bowler after the revolt against him, and who took 25 wickets in three tests at an average of 17 in his first tour after the revolt). At the risk of sounding melodramatic, this episode may have ended, for all intents and purposes, Younis Khan the batsman.

It has certainly ended Younis Khan the captain; there is not a snowball's chance in hell that he ever becomes captain again, with or without the cabal still in the team. To that end, let me say the following: goodbye, Younis. You were too good for us.

And to Yousuf? Watch your back, maulana jee. They're coming after you next.


takhalus said...

As Truman said "Whenever you have an efficient government you have a dictatorship."‎

I've never bought the debate between economic well being and democracy. I do agree that Democracy is usually better for the citizens of the said country..but not neccessarily better for it's opponents (leave alone GWB, consider Trumans decision to nuke the already broken japs)

The greatest strength of democracies is self correction, they have the capacity to renew the state through elections..and innovate through debate and freedom of expression.

Pakistani's love of authoritarian leaders starts in part with Jinnah who was no democrat in his early days his action against the Frontier provincial govt, Balochistan and removal of provincial CM's in Punjab and sindh set unfortuante precedents.

However Ayub Khan is always used as the benchmark by your average Pakistani (which reminds me I bought his newly released diary's interesting reading) of economic development and in particular how economic growth needs to precede democracy because the people of pakistan were not wise enough to make their own decisions.

I like your comment on Imran Khan versus Younis..reminds me of another quote i liked “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.”

zardari said...

So how was this 'coup' carried out? The PCB had just given Younis all the powers that he had asked for. Only possible way was for the players to deliberately under-perform but given that Younis had absolute powers over the selection of the final 11 he could have easily benched those throwing their wickets away..

Rabia said...

awesome post. In a way Younis Khan's situation is really similar to Zardari's. On paper he had a lot of power, I remember you or Cyril Almeida wrote at one point that Zardari is on paper one of the strongest presidents in history, but in the end it comes down to personality when one is under attack. In that respect, Imran Khan seems a lot like Bhutto.

Ali K. said...

/has surprisingly impact on whether it enjoys economic growth./

Forgot the word No.

Spark said...

Ahsan, I think you made me understand cricket. I salute you, sir.

ghazalintokyo said...

ahhh this is why i love being a poli. sci. major. awesome post :)

humairahumaira said...

great post

dil hay hindustani said...


You sound like a moron. How do you not understand cricket and how did this post help you. Please explain.

@ Sachin Yeah

You sound like a retard.Seriously.


I disagree with the above that this is a great post. The post is "okay".

Indophile said...

Salman Butt, seriously, what's his angle ? I think you were bit lenient about Afridi, he is the one who is the next best candidate so if anybody who was supporting other guys it should be him, instead of an out of form Butt.

defender of the faith said...

@ dil hay hindustani

First of all I'd like to set the record straight by telling you this was a great post. A hall of fame post if you wish. As a poli sci major whose only dream is to get recognition for writing ground breaking articles for newspapers in Pakistan under the Express banner, I would like to defend the sanctity of this post.


Please do not let the moron above discourage you from flying with the eagles

@Sachin Yeah

Sorry your post got deleted mate. This is a serious blog which discusses serious isssues.Issues such as

and the recent plight of Liberia. Our African brothers do not appreciate your coarse mocking of their lack of legal system.

JJY said...

where's farooq?

still alive, i hope, given all that has come to pass...

dil hay hindustani said...

@defender of the faith

First things first, which faith are you defending. Seriously, I need to know.

@ Sachin Yeah

Why are posts being deleted? If you guys delete posts you dont like, we should be able to delete blog posts we dont like (Read: most of AKS posts)

@Ahsan @ defender of the faith

Seriously, the post was "okay"


You still sound like a moron.


That is a weird screen name

We know you that its not that you dont understand. You just don’t care. (from her blog creatively titled: The adverntures of Super Humaira - A midget amongst small people)

We dont care either about your praise for this post. The post is "Okay".

defender of the faith said...

@ dil hay hindustani

A) It should be sufficient that I'm a defender of 5 rupees and poli sci majors everywhere.

B)Who are you to comment on content. How much have you tipped in the tip jar recently?

C)Why are you after AKS's posts. Have you even looked at Humairas creatively titled blog. Its cringe worthy. Don't get me wrong. Its not bad, just reads like a personal diary. Maybe she should change the privacy settings so only family members can read it. Read the entries on Nov 12, 13 and 15 which leads us to ....


How can you love Shoaib Malik (AKA JUDAS!) and still read this blog.

PS- you're welcome for all the traffic I have directed to your blog. If you put up a tip jar please give me 10%. I am a poli sci major after all :(

Shahab Riazi said...

I loved this post at

Little Younis went into the playground with his brand new go go pets hamster that his parents bought for him.

He had wanted it for years; perhaps he was a bit old to carry it around at this stage, but he knew that no one would treat it like he would.

A few years earlier he was supposed to get one, but he made such a fuss at the store about his role in the toy decision making process, his parents didn’t buy it for him.

Now he was obsessed with it, he wouldn’t let anyone touch it, although the go go pets hamster style bouncy ball that came with it he gave to the excited kid to play with.

Then a distant relative told Little Younis’ parents that they saw him kicking the fake hamster around in the dirt.

Little Younis had heard his uncle telling his parents and before his parents had even talked to him about it Little Younis was so angry he ran away from home, not for long, but long enough to worry his parents.

He came back with tear stained cheeks and found out that no one had taken his crazy uncle's word for it, and he then started playing with the fake pet hamster again.

Not for long though, one day when out on the play ground another kid, one much smaller than Little Younis kicked dirt on the hamster. The small boy said it was an accident.

But soon more and more kids were kicking dirt on him, all of them were claiming innocence, but Little Younis knew better.

Instead of fighting back, or even getting his parents to help he through the fake pet hamster down and ran from the play ground in an over the top dramatic way.

This time his parents can’t even be bothered with him.

Little Younis is now all alone, under a tree, crying his little heart out as the other boys now fight over his beloved fake pet hamster.

Perhaps he will be able to get his fake pet hamster back, but he might have to fight for it and stop being a pissy little bitch all the time.

Ahsan said...


That was exactly my point. If YK really wanted to get rid of these guys, he could have. But he did not have the balls. He wanted to be a good cop, not a bad cop. But with his powers, you have to be a bad cop.


Yeah it was me. I'm sort of regretting that pronouncement now. Check out Arif's latest piece on AfPak.

Ali K:

Corrected, thanks.


Hahaha. At your service.

To the idiot with the pseudonym:

Stop picking on and attacking other readers and commenters. I will delete your next comment if it's not relevant.

Anonymous said...

@ Ahsan

Wait which post are you getting upset about. There seem to be a couple of guys?

confused said...

so why were senior players unhappy with Younis in the first place?

karachi khatmal said...

great post ahsan

love how imran is such a fan of unbridled nationalistic democracy these days - seems to have forgotten how he preferred to run the ship in his day.

i know all of us hate MYK's resignations, and i hate conspiracy theories, but the way shoaib malik got out in that third one-day was atrocious. he was on one leg, pirouetting, trying to swat a short ball which went to deep midwicket. surely no self respecting cricketer can play that shot for reasons other than throwing his wicket away.

i don't know what exactly the players' problem with younis could have been. i mean its not like we're a people unused to strict taskmasters, and unlike inzi MYK was not forcing people to read extra prayers on flying jets, so it has to be cricket related. i think he was trying to teach akmal to catch, shoaib to bat and bowl, yousuf to field, and misbah to stop reliving 2007. and these fucking bastards just couldn't deal with being taught to play right. as for afridi, i know i recently did an unabashed man-crush post on him, but i am seriously disappointed.

as an aside, you now have the hot pakistani girls in the uk ad on your blog, and people claiming that their right to comment comes from their contribution to the tip jar. such a poignant critique of capitalism.

nsahmed said...

I honestly don't know. Since when does Malik have any credibility at all in the team? He was kicked out for being a weakling! Akmal is still hanging on to his spot because he can bat, and Butt just returned to the fold. Misbah has never seemed like a political figure to me...

my point is that we have rumors and cricinfo as sources..i for one am not personally in touch with anyone on the ground (like osman samiuddin) who might know what's happening...let's see what happens.

younis is not necessarily finished as a player or batsman. if this episode has shown anything, it is that there are no goodbyes in pakistan cricket - mohammad yousuf being the current example, but you can look towards razzaq and shoaib and asif too. younis was out of the team for several years before making his comeback against hong kong, of all teams, and i wouldn't rule him out of playing down under yet. perhaps he might even succeed there with his experience in the domestic league.

zardari said...


But how exactly was the 'coup' carried out? By the relevant players throwing away their wickets? Did it happen more than once (aside from the 3rd ODI?)

Anonymous said...

"What, then, is the point of democracy, if it cannot be guaranteed to deliver a better life for a country's citizens?"

Democracy has its own significance irrespective of whether it boost economic output or not.Democratization of a country surely yields benefits - in terms of individual freedom and empowerment - that are valued independently of their consequences for material wealth.

SADE DIL TE said...

BEST POST EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!

OneGina said...


Yeah I think that's what happened. I mean the team actually looked sort of worried/nervous as Aamer and Ajmal got close to the target. And not in the excited way. Not sure if it happened any other time.


I hope you're not one of those people who are posting foolish comments. Be scared of getting deleted.

Seriously though, best post ever :)

SADE DIL TE said...


Your comment was the BEST!!!!!!!!!!

anoop said...

I think this post speaks more about Pluses and Minuses of Democracy and Dictatorship than anything cricket.. That is what makes it a good post- It is applicable to team sports,a mini-country so to speak..