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Misbah-ul-Haq, Younis Khan retirement leaves a void in Pakistan Cricket

LiveMint logoLiveMint 17-05-2017 Ayaz Memon

Pakistan winning the thrilling last Test—and a series in the West Indies for the first time—was fitting farewell to two of their greatest cricketers, Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan. Any other result would have been divine injustice.

Over the past decade, Misbah and Younis had been the pillars on which Pakistan cricket survived—not just through their cricketing deeds, but also their personalities. They were talented, gritty, ambitious, sagacious and—most importantly—selfless.

Threats to Pakistan cricket have come from within and outside. Cricket politics in the country can be treacherous. Players can be mercurial and volatile. Corruption cases erupt with more regularity than acne on a teenager’s face.

Then there was the terror attack on the Sri Lankan team in 2009 that made Pakistan a pariah where cricket is concerned. Nobody was willing to tour the country. Even now, major cricketing nations shy away.

That could have killed enthusiasm for the game among fans in Pakistan, not to mention completely demoralized its players. How does one sustain interest in a vacuum, as it were? From where would salvation come?

For Pakistan to have not just redeemed its image but also rebuilt its cricketing prowess (briefly, it was even ranked No.1 in Tests) redounds essentially to the credit of Misbah and Younis—as much for their cricketing achievements as for bridging the credibility gap.

Most fascinating has been their growth in the past seven-eight years as the elder statesmen of Pakistan cricket, feeding and living off each other’s presence and achievements, giving their teams and Pakistan cricket stability and purpose.

Younis, in my opinion, has emerged as Pakistan’s best batsman ever. I say this with a caveat because I haven’t seen Hanif Mohammed, who old-timers still aver was peerless. But of those I’ve seen—Majid Khan, Zaheer Abbas, Javed Miandad, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mohammed Yusuf—Younis surpasses them all.

Even five years earlier, I would have been chary of saying this.

But Younis puts them all in the shade on sheer statistics alone. He has scored more than 10,000 runs, averages over 50, has centuries in all 11 cricket-playing countries, six scores of 200 and over. Pertinently, he’s won more matches and series off his own bat than any other.

Misbah does not compare statistically with most of the batsmen mentioned earlier, but the value of his batting has to be seen in context—whenever the difficulty quotient in a match rose, so did his performance.

It must also be remembered that he missed more than four peak years, having been banished from the Test team from 2003-07. By the time Misbah returned to the side, he was 33, and not given more than a season or two by critics.

That he lasted more than a decade, playing on till he was almost 43, tells a story that is not only unusual in the annals of the game but acquires an even more remarkable dimension when clubbed with his captaincy.

He brought to this job a sobriety and sense of purpose that, over time, was revealed to be part of his mental make-up. He won the faith of his peers, younger players and—perhaps the most difficult—even the mercurial administration.

The way he handled, and the direction he gave Pakistan cricket saw Misbah grow from stand-in captain to arguably its most influential leader ever: not ahead of the iconic Imran Khan, at least alongside him, in my opinion.

To say that an era has come to an end with the retirement of Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan is no exaggeration. The mushy sentimentalism is understandable. But think of the good fortune of being in the same era as them.

Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.

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