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Departure of Misbah, Younis hands Pakistan testing transition

Updated May 16, 2017
TEAM-MATES hold retiring Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq (L) and legendary batsman Younis Khan on their shoulders as they celebrate winning the Test series against the West Indies at Windsor Park Stadium on Sunday.—AFP
TEAM-MATES hold retiring Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq (L) and legendary batsman Younis Khan on their shoulders as they celebrate winning the Test series against the West Indies at Windsor Park Stadium on Sunday.—AFP

ROSEAU: As Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq head off into the sunset after long and illustrious careers, Pakistan begins a tricky period of transition looking for a new wave of players ready to fill a huge void left by the retired batting greats.

In a fitting finale, Younis, Pakistan’s most prolific Test run-scorer, and Misbah, the country’s most successful captain, bowed out together in a blaze of glory on Sunday with the team celebrating a first-ever series triumph in the Caribbean.

The thrilling 101-run victory in Dominica sealed a 2-1 win over West Indies and was Pakistan’s 26th under the 42-year-old Misbah, who also led the side to the top of the International Cricket Council (ICC) world Test rankings last year.

Since his 2001 Test debut in New Zealand, Misbah accumulated 5,222 runs in 75 matches at an average higher than 46.

Admired for his unflappable temperament in a dressing room replete with mercurial talent, Misbah was handed the Test captaincy after the 2010 spot-fixing scandal in England led to the expulsion of his predecessor Salman Butt.

ICC chief executive David Richardson was among those to pay a glowing tribute to the consistent right-hander.

“Misbah has been the bedrock of many a Pakistan innings, time and time again extricating his team from difficult situations with a terrific temperament,” the former South Africa wicket-keeper said. “He knew how to graft for his runs but could also be inventive and score at a brisk pace, as was evident during his impressive 56-ball century against Australia in 2014 in Abu Dhabi, which equalled Viv Richards’s world record.

“He was a leader who took charge at a difficult time... He was a true sportsman and role model.”

If Misbah represented the voice of reason in both the dressing room and out on the field, Younis let his bat do the talking and is currently the only Pakistani to have joined the coveted 10,000 Test-run club.

The former captain, who led Pakistan to the World Twenty20 title in 2009, tallied 10,099 runs in 118 Tests, embellishing his legacy with 34 hundreds at an average of more than 52.

Together they were the pillars of Pakistan’s batting lineup for over a decade and it could take many years for the country to find anyone capable of matching their feats.

Pakistan’s situation mirrors the dilemma South Asian rivals Sri Lanka faced when batting mainstays Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene ended their international careers two years ago.

“It won’t be easy to fill the vacuum left after their retirement,” former captain Rashid Latif said. “Both have provided great services for Pakistan cricket.”

Pakistan have coped with their absence in the shorter formats since 2015 but the challenge of white-ball cricket is completely different to the patience and technique required in the red-ball arena.

“The onus is now on the likes of Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed to step up and fill the void,” Misbah told Cricket Australia’s website in an interview last month. “When two Pakistan greats Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mohammad Yousuf left the scene, Younis and I tried to fill that gap. Azhar and Asad have developed in the meantime and now they are at a stage to replace us.

“We need Azhar and Asad to take ownership of the Test side... Every team goes though transition periods and Pakistan is no different.”

Pakistan’s victory charge was held up by a valiant, unbeaten century by Roston Chase before West Indies were all out for 202 in their second innings with only one over remaining at Windsor Park.

Chase and the West Indies tail made the Pakistan bowlers sweat after the visitors took the new ball with 17 overs remaining, still needing two more wickets.

With a draw tantalisingly close, last man Shannon Gabriel was bowled by leg-spinner Yasir Shah on the final ball of the penultimate over when he tried to slog over the close-in field but instead edged the ball onto the stumps.

Had Gabriel, who stoutly defended 21 deliveries before his rush of blood, survived the ball, Chase would have had strike for the final over and a draw would have been on the cards. Chase ended 101 not out.

Two balls earlier, Gabriel had been given out caught at silly point but the decision was overturned amid high drama when video review showed the ball had struck only his pad.

Misbah said he could not have asked for a better finish to his career.

“This was just incredible,” said a breathless Misbah. “The bowlers bowled their heart out on a slow track.

“Everyone was so motivated. They were working hard for me and Younis, too. There were so many things happening in that last session — dropped catches, appeals, no-ball dismissals, couple of chances here and there — it looked for a while as if it wasn’t going to happen.

“But you enjoy wins like this much more than straightforward wins. I’m happy with what I’ve had in my career, couldn’t have asked for a better finish. Really happy for this team.

“I am thankful for myself, the team and all supporters of Pakistan cricket that we were able to pull it off.

“The way they gave me and Younis a send-off ... I wish Younis all the best. It was a fine journey with him in the middle, sharing a lot of partnerships. In the history books, both our names will be there.”

Misbah retired sadly without having captained his team in his own country.

Other cricketing nations have refused to play there in the wake of the 2009 terrorist attacks on a Sri Lanka team bus.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2017