Fond farewell to Misbah and Younis, two of the very best

Saj Sadiq looks back at the magnificent contribution of a superb Pakistan batting pair who may prove irreplaceable

There are moments in history when time seems to stand still and all one can do is to take a deep breath and take in the events unfolding in front of your eyes. Such a time was late on Sunday afternoon in Roseau, Dominica, when West Indies’ fast bowler Shannon Gabriel, surrounded by all of the Pakistani fielders, succumbed to pressure. After obstinately defying the bowlers for 32 minutes, he attempted a wild swing at a ball from Yasir Shah that crashed into his stumps.

While Yasir celebrated wildly to mark a first Test series victory for Pakistan in the West Indies, all eyes instinctively turned towards Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan, given that this was also the last time both would be seen in Pakistani colours.

It was back in the summer of 2010 when the world of Pakistan cricket, already in some turmoil due to their inability to host international sides, was struck by what appeared to be a hammer blow. This was the time when a willingness to spot-fix by Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Salman Butt was exposed by a newspaper sting, resulting in a ban for all three players.

While controversy was not a new word in the lexicon of Pakistan cricket, the severity of the situation was such that calls for an international boycott of the country were being heard with alarming frequency. It was then, that the much-ridiculed Pakistan Cricket Board took a decision that was to change the face of Pakistan cricket for many years to come.

Misbah, who had threatened to “burn his cricket kit” after not being picked for the ill-fated tour to England in that year, was identified by the PCB as the ideal candidate for the restoration of Pakistan cricket’s image. The calm and intelligent Misbah was thus appointed captain of Pakistan and an era of prosperity for the game that millions of Pakistanis love began. While Misbah’s record in leading his team in the limited-over formats was far from satisfactory for his high standards of accomplishment, his tally of 26 Test wins in 56 matches as captain was a fair reflection of his skills in that arena.

To say that Misbah had the patience of a saint would be an understatement but this was a quality that we saw often repeated as he came under pressure from the media, many fans and several former cricketers who found it hard to come to terms with his success. It needed nerves of steel to face up to such criticism on a regular basis and also to lead his inexperienced wards through the thick of battle. It was no surprise then that Misbah has been frequently compared to the great Imran Khan in terms of leadership qualities.

If Pakistan were fortunate to have found a leader of the calibre of Misbah, they were blessed with the presence of another great in the shape of Younis. Known for his meticulous planning and his attention to detail, Younis, in contrast to his captain, was not an establishment man. He was not afraid to express his views to the press and was even banned by the PCB in early 2010 for alleged infighting. But if Younis did not win many friends in the corridors of power, he more than made up for it by becoming the people’s hero.

His friendly demeanour when dealing with his fans was well documented, as was the manner in which he was adored by his team-mates, young and old. The calmness about him when he and Misbah would rescue the fragile Pakistan batting order time and time again was a lesson for any youngster wanting to make a name for themselves in cricket. The 10,000-run mark that Younis crossed during the second Test against West Indies was a great milestone to reach but to the multitudes of his followers this was but a reaffirmation of his importance to Pakistan cricket.

That he retired as the highest-scoring Pakistan Test batsman is another honour that Younis collected in his 17-year career and it will take some fantastic batting from the present crop of batsmen to come anywhere near that record. But as always, statistics tell only a part of the story. The other and more important half of the tale for Younis was in his uncanny ability to fashion an innings when all seemed lost.

In the summer of 2016, Pakistan seemed to be at the mercy of a rampant England side as they went into the final Test at The Oval. It was as if by magic that Younis, himself suffering from a string of low scores, suddenly stood tall and scored a double hundred that helped to win the match for Pakistan. The series was level at 2-2 and Younis, with his captain Misbah at his side, walked off the field draped in Pakistan flags.

Pakistan’s No1 Test ranking followed shortly afterwards and while the ICC’s Test mace was only held for a short period by Misbah and his men, that a team so maligned in 2010 were now the toast of the town was a remarkable story.

It was therefore in line with their devotion to the cause that until the last ball of the third Test was bowled, Misbah and Younis were in the thick of things guiding their wards towards their eventual goal and destiny when that last West Indian wicket fell.

To become the first Pakistan Test side to win a series in the West Indies is an accomplishment that many Pakistan fans will remember, but they will do so with a tinge of sadness.

They will do so, because this was the day when two of Pakistan’s most well-respected players walked off the field for the final time with their heads held high and tears in their eyes.

Like many times before, they were draped in the colours of the country that they represented for many years and the legacy they leave is a testament to their selfless service to their nation and to their millions of fans around the world.

This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, May 19 2017

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