By Shahid Hashmi
Two fittest players of all. Most determined persons. Honest professionals. Complete team men. Two jewels in Pakistan’s batting crown. Pillars who complement the team. Mentors who always supported youngsters.
There is no praise enough for Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq. What they did for Pakistan cricket will be written in golden words.
As they announced their plans to retire, one after the other in the space of just 72 hours, they left many questions to answer.
Can Pakistan afford to lose both the stars in one go? Can the structure they put in place in so many years and after so many turmoil can stand without the COLUMNS?
The answer is a big NO.
While Misbah-ul-Haq’s departure was very much on the cards — albeit he, besides Younis, is the fittest player in the team — could have played a year or so more.
Younis’s announcement was sudden. Just two months back he had shown interest to lead the Test team once more. He had vowed to play a few more years, two to be precise. So his departure was not expected and was also obstructed, in his own words.
Were chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq’s loud and clear words that he wants to restructure the team forced Younis to quit? One selector showed surprise at Younis’s decision. “We never wanted him to retire now. Perhaps he could have played fro another year or so. His decision has surprised me,” he said.
But Misbah was truly under pressure. “When will Misbah retire and “why the Pakistan Cricket Board is not asking him to call it quits” were every day’s notion.
Together they formed the nucleus of Pakistan’s batting. They used to meet in the centre with team under trouble, 3-15, 3-8, 3-24, 3-33 and so on and so forth. A hand shake will ensure they were up to the task and will not easily part ways. Together they put 3205 runs – the most by any Pakistan pair
A poor series in Australia where he managed just 76 runs in six innings had put pressure on Misbah. If you add 31 and 13 in the only Test he played at Christchurch then those were failures in five Tests and that was enough for former players to raise calls for Misbah’s exit.
Misbah was unlucky to have critics in hundreds. Such was his misfortune. But to his credit he had coped everything, some very nasty and unnecessary, that came his way with humility and courage.
He led the Test team in an admirable manner. Offered captaincy at a time when Pakistan’s image was sullied in the post spot-fixing scandal of 2010, it was a huge challenge.
But Younis had more friends than critics. His fortunes and reception in the two formats – Tests and ODIs – were poles apart. He was “man to go” in Tests, always prolific and most of the time scoring runs when needed.
His five centuries in fourth innings, the last at Pallekle which helped Pakistan chase a record target in 2015, amplifies his stature and his mantra of “team’s interest comes first.” It was totally opposite in limited over matches where Younis did not warrant a permanent place and his exit from the 50-over game was unceremonious.
But their mutual love for scoring runs for the team was unparallel.
Together they formed the nucleus of Pakistan’s batting. They used to meet in the centre with team under trouble, 3-15, 3-8, 3-24, 3-33 and so on and so forth. A hand shake will ensure they were up to the task and will not easily part ways. Together they put 3205 runs – the most by any Pakistan pair.
They beat the previous record of 3137, between Mohammad Yousuf and Younis. Together they put 15 centruy stands, the most by any pair beating the ten each between Inzamam-ul-Haq-Yousuf and Miandad-Mudassar.
But the most praiseworthy fact about the two senior statesmen was their support for youngsters. Ask Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq and Shan Masood. They will vouch on oath that Younis and Misbah helped them grow, help them develop and help them gain confidence.
Coming back to the question that do we afford to let them go one after the other. It will be tough to replace them. Their shoes are too big to fill in. Unfortunately neither the PCB nor the selection committee had the guts to plan their departure or to have pursued them to plan it timely.
Post West Indies series Pakistan will tour Bangladesh. Gone are the days when Bangladesh were minnows. They are now a power in Asia and after registering their progress in leaps and bounds in Odis, they are the team to watch in Tests as well.
Without Misbah and Younis, Pakistan will be hard pressed to beat Bangladesh in the longer format.
Will Babar Azam step in? Will Asif Zakir or Usman Salahuddin be capable enough to fill in the shoes? Only time will tell. For the time being we must clap and get ready to bid farewell to two of the biggest players Pakistan had produced. When they go, only then we will try to find replacements.
As we have always done in the past!