To imagine a player who had threatened to “burn his cricket kit” at the apparent injustice when it came to his non-selection for the Pakistan Test team in 2010 as the most successful captain of the Pakistan Test side would require some degree of imagination. As would considering a player banned by his own cricket board to go on and become the highest Test run-getter for Pakistan.
But that is exactly how fate blessed Pakistan in the shape of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan. One, a thoughtful and pragmatic cricketer who lead his country’s team with minimal fuss and no controversies; probably a first in the history of Pakistan cricket. The other, a master at meticulous planning and preparation, blessed with the batting talents that will be difficult to replace in the years to come.
It is said that “all good things must come to an end” and in the current context of Pakistan cricket, it easily applies to the last time when Younis and his Test captain, Misbah walked off the field during the recently concluded series in the West Indies.
A grateful nation, many with moist eyes have watched both the players go about their business during the final Test in Roseau as they have done so for the past 17 or so years. The debt that the followers of Pakistan cricket owe to the two stalwarts who have served their country with integrity and a firm resolve is not one that can be measured in words alone.
The guard of honour tribute by both teams for Misbah and Younis is one which will remain etched in the memories of all those who were fortunate enough to watch this at the ground or in the comfort of their living rooms around the world.
But if there ever was a true measure of the extent of the loss felt by the team, it was clearly visible from the sad faces of their teammates as the two sat down with their comrades for a final group photo before the commencement of the final day’s play in Roseau. The tears that Misbah and Younis wiped off their faces as they left the field to prepare for the day’s play also told a story of their true feelings about leaving a job which both had performed to near perfection for a long period of time.
What is even more amazing is that the same critics of Misbah who were never shy of throwing the vilest of comments at the Pakistan Test captain during his tenure are completely at a loss to find fault with the player.
Misbah’s rescue act for Pakistan came in the summer of 2010 when Pakistan cricket was confronted with a crisis that threatened to make it the laughing stock of the world. It was in August of that year that Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt were found to be involved in spot-fixing during Pakistan’s tour of England. It would be no exaggeration to note that the international cricket community turned its back on Pakistan and a complete ban on Pakistan cricket at the international level was being discussed with alarming regularity.
The Pakistan Cricket Board, in an uncharacteristically bold decision went ahead to appoint Misbah as Pakistan captain. A person of integrity and a calm demeanour was needed to stabilize the team environment, and to give credence to the notion that Pakistan were serious in repairing their image in front of the international cricket fraternity.
The Misbah story is also fascinating because it offers hope for many Pakistani cricketers who have faced similar disappointments in their careers. In fact, the "age-is-merely-a-number" concept was illustrated by both Misbah and Younis as they set new standards of fitness which even left some of their younger teammates red-faced. The bar in this case has been set high by both and it appears unlikely that we will see many Pakistani players emulate what both players have achieved in terms of their performances and fitness.
The Younis story is even more fascinating, but those who knew him well since he began his service to Pakistan cricket in February 2000 would not really have been surprised by his achievement of becoming the highest run-scorer in Tests for his country. In fact, when he broke the 10,000-run barrier in Tests, all Younis did was to underline his value to Pakistan cricket as the bedrock of their success in the Test arena. The unique ability to produce an innings of stature when all seemed lost was seen in the summer of 2016 in England when a double-hundred after a string of low scores helped Pakistan to a series-levelling victory at The Oval.
Unlike Misbah who could not do any wrong in his dealings with the establishment, Younis was never the most favoured person for the establishment, thanks to various run-ins with the PCB one of which even got him banned. Regardless of his dealings with the board, Younis always prided himself as the people’s champion to the last day of his international career.
To his teammates, young and old, his mere presence in the team was a source of great comfort and inspiration. In his meticulous preparation before each game and his attention to detail during matches, Younis was the complete sportsman. Thus, in Younis’ retirement, Pakistan will lose more than a gentleman and a cricketer or even a slip-fielder par excellence. The younger batsmen will lose an on-field mentor and the seniors a true and sincere friend they could rely on for advice at times of crisis.
The road to recovery for the Pakistan Test side is sure to be a rocky one as the void left by the absence of two men with such presence cannot be filled with ease. Not many names spring out as replacements and the list of batting candidates who can stand up and be counted when Pakistan are three down for 10 runs is a rather short one.
With the exception of Azhar Ali, there is no batsman in the Pakistan lineup who has scored consistently and sadly, Asad Shafiq’s form has dipped to a point where selectors will now actively be looking towards further replacements. Some tried and tested names may be resurrected in a bid to plug the experience gap but not always can Pakistan be lucky as they were when they brought Misbah back from the wilderness in 2010. In Sarfraz Ahmed, there appears to be a good replacement for the Test captain Misbah. He has an aggressive style of captaincy which will be change to the calm leadership espoused by the Misbah style of leadership and may not always work in a team like Pakistan.
With the departure of the two stalwarts who played a key role in Pakistan’s rise to the number one ranking, a period of uncertainty is about to begin. The Test team will undoubtedly find it tough to adjust to the loss of two players who have kept the side together and come to its aid when needed most.
Younis and Misbah can leave international cricket with their heads held high because of their achievements. They have served their cricket board and their country with dignity and aplomb. They will be remembered in decades to come as two great cricketers and two fantastic ambassadors.
Saj Sadiq is a freelance writer and chief editor of Pakistan cricket website PakPassion. He tweets at @Saj_PakPassion.