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Spotlight: Younis Khan

The vice captain's new groove
Instep had a one on one with Younis Khan before he flew off to the West Indies

Tall and charming, Younis Khan is all Pathan. You can't miss his thousand-watt smile nor the kindness in his eyes. Vice Captain of the current Pakistani team playing for glory in this year's World Cup, Younis is everything a Vice Captain should be the night before leaving for the Caribbean optimistic, relaxed and confident in himself and his team.

The thin minority that is not familiar with cricket might remember him for the guy who caused quite a stir when he refused captaincy in quite a dramatic turn of events. The press labeled him hot blooded and true to his race, stubborn and impulsive. But it was hard to match that description with the Younis Khan I met that day.

In new surroundings, amongst style gurus, their assistants, fashion photographers and journalists a far cry from the field and its sporting politics Younis was every bit as comfortable. He had a ball of a time posing for Amean J and so did all of us watching him. He is a natural in front of the camera just as he is with his bat. With his good looks, newly streaked hair that brought out the colour out in his eyes and a tan thanks to the recent ad shoot in Malaysia, Younis can easily pass for Australian. But he is not. He is a Pathan and a very handsome one at that. .

Since the team was to fly to the West Indies for the World Cup the next day, everyone present at the shoot was harassed for time. But even under all the pressure, Younis was calm and relaxed. He answered questions with concentration and his passion for the game and issues with it was evident. The energy his presence exuded along with his quirky sense of humour was enough to keep everyone at their toes. He talks like a Karachiite but a tinge of Pushto accent gives him away. Born in Mardan but raised in Karachi, Younis is every bit an urban man.

Dressed in jeans and T-shirt, Younis says he is most comfortable in this attire. It is also easier to buy, he says. His wardrobe is mostly Armani Jeans and other such foreign retailers. "Only because I don't have the time to get clothes designed. It is easier to pick things while on tour abroad," he shrugs. Not into accessorizing either, he is a simple dresser, who agrees that, "Style is everything."

For him style does not come from clothes or accessories, but from the personality. A great fan of Imran Khan, it is Wasim Akram that he can relate to more. "I really admire Imran Khan but Wasim Akram is special because he built himself up. Imran Bhai came from an established background but I really appreciate Wasim Bhai and the way he has changed his style," he says with reverence of the two Pakistani greats.

It really is no surprise that Younis Khan relates to Wasim Akram more. From humble beginnings to a world star status, Wasim Akram's is a rag to riches story, one that inspires awe among the younger cricketers who can relate to his street playing days more than Imran Khan's posh Oxford playing ones. Of course, how Wasim's career ended is a black mark.

In his early 30s and already a vice captain, Younis has come a far way since his 2000 debut into the world of international cricket. Touted by many including the great Skipper Imran Khan himself, as one of the best thing to have happened to Pakistani cricket recently, Younis has also been tipped as a future captain. If his pleasant demeanor is anything to go by, it wouldn't be a wrong choice. .

Known for his calm in the face of immense pressure on the field, Younis Khan can be his opposition's nightmare, especially if it tries to irritate him into playing careless shots. It is common knowledge that if the opposition players sledge him or try to upset him, he is more motivated and actually loves it.

Younis thinks it very important for players to be relaxed on the field, "I am always cracking jokes while we are on the field. I feel it is important for me to do that in stressful situations as a senior player. It affects the team if players seem under pressure. I try to relax things when under pressure," he explains his light side.

Fiercely defensive of a team that has been under the spotlight for all the wrong reasons lately, Younis is severely critical of the way media portrays the team and the game. The image issue, that plagues current Pakistani cricket is one that pops up again and again in our conversation. There was a time when Pakistani cricket had a lot of glamour - not only were we winning consistently but our players were heartthrobs. But recently things have really changed for Pakistani cricketers. There aren't any big stars anymore. "Stars are made," Younus responds quickly, throwing the ball back in the media's court. And he is right to an extent.

Gone are the days of a single channel and little to do. In the past five years where Pakistani cricket has gone through a sudden decline, the media has boomed. But that boom hasn't lifted our cricketers, our national heroes on its tide. Where India, a classic example always, has turned every single member of its team into a super star, endorsing products left right and centre and registering themselves onto the minds of every Indian, Pakistani media it seems has ignored its only truly popular star power. A cricketer will get instant recognition, whether it is in the remotest village in the most obscure part of the country or in the affluent clubs of the elite unlike our bevy of musicians, actors and models. So why then have we chosen to ignore our real stars?

"Because Pakistanis don't like to experiment," comes the prompt reply. "It is necessary to experiment, but here whether it's the companies or the media people, they all like to stick to the same thing, the same people, rather than trying something new," Younis says adding that the media is also unfair. He goes on to cite examples when different cricketers are paid unfairly. Unfortunately for us, even though television has boomed considerably, the market is very small and competition is tough, which forces channels to resort to desperate measures to beat others and get those precious sponsors. In the end every channel manages to make its money, but on the expense of the artist, in this case cricketer involved. Younis, like many artists, models, musicians these days is severely disillusioned by it all.

It is this disillusionment that keeps cricketers away from television and focusing on cricket alone when endorsements and media appearances make almost half of their counterpart's earning in other countries. But Younis Khan now feels that the time has come to do something about it and hence signing up with Catwalk, Frieha Altaf's event management company.

While we are discussing image issues the topic inevitable ends up at the growing number of cricketers sporting beards and the increasing surge in religion among the players. Younis is quick to dismiss that, "I am a Muslim, I pray, I give zakat, I fast, I have always done so. We have always prayed like we do now but in the past couple of years as the media developed they have started focusing on our religion more. Printing photos of us praying and making a fuss out of it," says Younis adding, "I don't want to make a show of my religion. And keeping a beard is not a big deal; I will also keep one in a few years."

But for now, he is getting an image makeover and venturing into lucrative sponsorship deals that will also help boost the profile of cricket and cricketers in the country.

Styling Younis Khan
In the buzzing environs of Saima's Salon sat the right-hand middle-order batsman getting his hair cut and styled by Saima. By the time Saima was done styling his swanky new haircut, Younis the batsman, had turned into a rockstar. The hair was dyed just the right shade to compliment his tan and his eyes. At Amean's studio the professionalism with which he changed and got his shoot done, no one would have believed that this man was not a professional model but a cricketer. Giving the photographer all the shots he needed in very limited time, Younis was in and out of the studio like a pro.

Among all the work, he was also available to get photos taken with the crew and signed autographs happily. Easy going and cooperative, he completely trusted the professionals out there to give him a chic look. Overseeing it all was Frieha Altaf herself. Passionate about cricket herself, for Frieha it is a cause close to her heart. Younis is the third cricketer Frieha has signed after Shoaib Akhtar and Umar Gul, and she plans for more of them to join the rank. All set to put them on the style front, Frieha is adamaent that Pakistan's favourite sons should be groomed as well as they play.

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