THERE comes a time in every successful sportsman’s life when he has to make a decision and say farewell to the game he loved and made a living out of, besides providing high class entertainment to his fan and followers.
It, indeed, is always a tough decision to suddenly switch off and fade into a different world where hero worship is non-existent and exposure in the media much less than what he has experienced in his heyday.
Those who stand up to realize the moment of truth go for it with a big heart while those who don’t invariably rue the missed opportunity later on. This has happened thousands of time in every sport and in every country and Pakistan is no exception.
From experience we know a great majority of our cricketers, from the fifties to the modern day, have only themselves to blame for the way they were unceremoniously removed and were asked to leave.
The recent announcement of retirement from Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq on Thursday and by master batsman Younis Khan at the weekend, before the start of the forthcoming Test series in the West Indies, is something which must not only be appreciated but also needs to be applauded.
Both are thus leaving a proud legacy for the future generation of cricketers to emulate and to follow that leave when the going is good.
Younis’ contribution to Pakistan cricket and its success at the highest level is a sort of a fairy tale.
It certainly is my privilege to have seen his entire career, his high and lows as he progressed into a most prolific batsman for his country from the time when he first stepped into a Test arena with a debut century (107) at Rawalpindi against the visiting Sri Lankans.
Though his passion for the game as a youngster started in a small way after his father moved to Karachi from Mardan to work in the steel industry, he was heartily encouraged by his brothers to take up the game seriously which he did and was soon noticed.
He did not lose heart when Karachi failed to recognize his talent, but that did prompt him to go back to Peshawar and make his first-class debut against Karachi Whites in 1998 with a century against those who had abandoned him.
Slowly and gradually, having honed his talent and skills, he moved up into the top bracket to illuminate his and that of his country’s cricket with countless sterling performances with the bat.
Not always on the right track in his relationship with the cricket board officials or at times with some of his colleagues, Younis, however, managed to maintain sanity and discipline in his life and in his cricket by notching up runs when needed, thus acquiring the reputation as the best fourth innings batsman with most hundreds to his name in that category.
Not always as technically sound as the Hanif Mohammad, not as graceful and elegant as Zaheer Abbas, neither as daring and dynamic as Majid Khan or brilliant as Javed Miandad or calm as Inzamam-ul-Haq and his recent captain Misbah, Younis emerged taller than all of them by scoring most runs and centuries for Pakistan.
A cover drive on the front foot off a spinner or a fast bowler seemed as glorious as his hooking and pulling on the on side and at times dabbing the ball away with perfection.
I am privileged to have watched his memorable innings round the cricket circuit in nearly every country. His double century against India at Bangalore and against England at The Oval in a drawn series recently. And, of course, his triple century (313) against Sri Lanka at the National Stadium Karachi in 2009 at once come to mind.
His love and passion, though, still undiminished for the game, he indeed has done the right thing to emulate his captain Misbah to quit when on top. His mother’s presence for the first time and that of his brother and wife Amna and children when announcing his decision spoke a thousand words about his sincere intentions to say farewell to cricket.
In a few weeks time, with only 23 runs needed, he will become the first man of this country to reach the landmark of 10,000 runs. A just reward for the richness and his reputation as a batsman of quality which brought him 34 Test centuries, more than any other player of his country.
His own saying sums up his approach to the game and to his life. ‘Whenever things go hard for me or the team, I love to become the man who comes in and takes everything on his chest.’
He did that all those years and is likely to do that even when he bows out of cricket.
Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2017