Misbah ul Haq and Younis Khan bid adieu to the game after this series against West Indies. As I write, both have just finished their last innings in test cricket. Their last test was by no means remarkable in terms of their own performances. But that doesn’t matter. Now is not the time to rue. Now is the time to celebrate the contributions and services of these two giants of Pakistan Cricket.
What they have managed to do between the two of them in the twilight years of their careers has turned more than fifty years of cricketing culture on its head. They brought discipline and consistency to a side that was known around the world for its flair and unpredictability. They brought the calm in the most tumultuous of storms. They saved and restored the dignity and integrity of the team at a time when all you could see was humiliation for years to come. They came, they saw, they resurrected.
When Younis swept Roston Chase for his ten thousandth run in test cricket, it wasn’t just a personal achievement. He looked to the dressing room, and pumped his fist in acknowledgement as much as celebration, as his old friend stood up along with the rest of the dugout in admiration. It was nearly as much down to Misbah that Younis had achieved a pantheon hitherto unknown to Pakistani batsmen. Younis has not had a smooth career. He has been in, he has been out. He has been captain, then been removed. He has been threatened with having his career ended (answered with a magnificent century against India, that too accompanied by a fist pump). It was not until Misbah was brought in as captain following the nightmare of spot-fixing that Younis has enjoyed his longest and by far his most fruitful stint in the Pakistan team. This opportunity afforded to him, in no short measure thanks to Misbah, has enabled him to set a multitude of late career records like the most hundreds after the age of 35.
But yet, for Younis, the biggest influence on his career in his own words was Bob Woolmer, the late coach who turned Younis into the modern day test giant that he is. Younis was quick to acknowledge him after he reached the ten thousand milestone- the man who was in charge when Younis first showed his full potential against India in 2005-06. That series will go down in history as arguably Younis’s best, where he scored a magnificent 267 in Bangalore to take Pakistan to a memorable victory.
When Misbah walked back for the last time after scoring 2 runs in 14 balls, there were a few things quite evident. This was the most “un-Misbah” test match performance- in the first innings he had scored 1 from 55 balls at one point- from a man who we had come to expect would always be there to save the team’s blushes when the other batsmen had done what most Pakistan batting sides are prone to do quite often. For the last seven years, Misbah has been a bedrock for our batting lineup the like of which we have seldom witnessed in our entire history. Not since Haneef Muhammad was a Pakistani team so reliant on one man than it was at times in Misbah’s career. And Misbah is not a man who disappoints very often. When he was thrust directly into national captaincy in 2010 and tasked with the trivial matter of rebuilding a team that had its stars in jail and was not playing any tests at home, he took the challenge head on. In the company of his fellow stalwart Younis, he triggered a turn around in the team’s fortune that reached its peak when Pakistan was crowned the best test team in the world in 2016.
There was no lack of personal achievements either. He defied age and logic to score a hundred in his first test match at Lord’s, and become the oldest captain in the history of test cricket to score a hundred. Before that, he had astonished all and sundry, especially those who called him Tuk Tuk– by blasting his way to a record equalling fastest test century of all time against Australia.
But in spite of that once in a lifetime whirlwind knock, his defence was where his strength lay. He defied all his nay-sayers, critics who hurled abuse from their comfy chairs, by bringing a style of captaincy never before seen or expected from a Pakistan captain. Safety first has never quite been Pakistan’s motto, but Misbah proved time and again that it worked. It started from his very first series against South Africa, where he and Younis used all their experience and grit to save the test match in a marathon stand in Dubai. He was often criticised for settling for draws instead of going for the kill, but I’m sure when he lifted the ICC Test mace in Lahore, he would have felt a sense of justification.
From chasing 300 in fifty odd overs on the last day to draw a series, to rolling over the world number one side for 72 defending 144, these two men have been part of some of the best moments in Pakistan Cricket history, on occassion themselves being the orchestrators. Be it scoring a double ton at the oval to win the match or defying age and critics to be the most consistent batsman in your team, they have led by example on and off the field. They leave their legacy in the form of the batsmen whom they groomed from young talents to globally acknowleged superstars. Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq will testify the influence these men have had in shaping their careers, as they prepare for the responsibilities of seniority. For now, Pakistan says good bye to its modern day legends, who served their country with pride and distinction. Thank you, Misbah and Younis.