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It’s Yous... er Younis
- Pak cricket caught in musical chairs

New Delhi, Oct. 7: The Pakistan team manager pointed to Younis Khan. “Mohammed Yousuf, the Pakistan captain,” he said.

The news conference was in splits. But Talat Ali could hardly be blamed for not remembering who his side’s skipper was.

Only a few hours earlier, Younis had made a U-turn to take back from Yousuf the hot seat he had thrown away in disgust just two days ago.

The announcement, made this afternoon in Lahore as the players packed their bags for the trip, capped three dizzy days of drama when positions at the top in Pakistan cricket kept changing faster than the English weather.

“Since he (Younis) was our first-choice captain I spoke to him again and he agreed to change his decision,” explained Pakistan Cricket Board’s new chairman, Nasim Ashraf, who himself assumed charge a day ago after Shaharyar Khan quit under pressure.

But what Ashraf had to reveal next hinted at a coup: assistant coach Mushtaq Ahmed — appointed by Shaharyar and a favourite of suspended captain Inzamam-ul Haq — had been sacked.

Since Ashraf is considered close to President Pervez Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party quickly smelt the general’s hand in the double regime change — in the board and the team.

“It (Ashraf’s appointment) is a clear case of favouritism. The new chairman has already started… messing up the sport by re-appointing Younis Khan as the captain just before the departure of the team on tour,” said PPP senator Muhammad Enver Baig.

Ashraf argued the team needed someone strong like Younis at the helm during such a big tournament. The captain lived up to the billing as he stepped forward to take control after Talat’s gaffe.

Had he been under pressure to take over the captaincy again, the reporters asked. There was a hearty chuckle from the Pathan as he deftly dodged the question.

“Yeh international cricket hai. Yahan to har din pressure hota hai (this is international cricket. You are always under pressure here).”

Younis admitted he was sorry for his hasty action on Thursday, when he told a news conference he didn’t want to be a “dummy” captain.

“Yes, I do regret,” he said. “I regret because I took things in a negative manner. My aim will be to play positively and win all the matches for Pakistan. My body language will prove that. Please do watch out for me. I will give of my best till the last ball is bowled.”

The “best” must come not only with the bat but also man management. Senior players Yousuf, Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq are believed to have long been opposed to Younis as captain – a fact cited as the likely reason for Younis’s emotional decision on Thursday.

Younis said Yousuf was his best friend in the team. “We have been playing together for many years, long before we started playing international cricket. We have an understanding on everything – from running between the wickets to things off the field.”

Yousuf, who will go down in history as holder of one the most short-lived captaincies, said he had accepted the situation as, being a religious man, he believed in fate.

Younis chose philosophy. “Yeh jo kaptan ki kursi hai, isse ham kabhi chipakna nahi chahte hain. (This seat of the captain… I’ll never try to cling to it).”

“I know it’s always difficult to be captain in Pakistan, like it is in India,” he added to guffaws from his audience. “But I am not going to play for 10 years. Maybe I will play for another two to three years, so I want to spend my time peacefully.”

Talat Ali, however, will have no peace if one of Younis’s little dreams comes true.

Younis said he would love Inzamam — who has just a four-match ban — to come back later in the tournament and lead the team to victory. “I would prefer to stand behind and watch the scene in sheer delight.”

Talat Ali will wish he doesn’t provide that moment.

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