“Why does he continue to play?”
“Shouldn’t he retire now?”
“He is nowhere close to his best”
Sportsmen are used to these statements. The longer they play, the more likely their form will dip, their reflexes will slow and what came easy once will seem arduous.
Few, like Roger Federer, have been able to roll back the years and prove that even in an extraordinarily competitive sport, age need not be hurdle. In a team sport such as cricket timing one’s retirement is far more complicated.
History is rife with multiple examples of players staying on longer than they perhaps should have and leaving after a torrid, extended period of bad form.
In the case of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq, it has to be said that they could not have picked the moment better.
Their exceptional batting over the last few years, coupled with Misbah’s astute leadership, took Pakistan to the top of the Test rankings briefly.
For a team that has been forced to play its home matches in the Middle East, this was perhaps the greatest achievement. When Australia’s magnificent side witnessed an exodus after the Ashes win 2006-’07, the team went through a tough transition phase.
Given that Pakistan’s biggest challenge over the years has been their batting, the exit of Younis and Misbah will be a huge void to fill.
Since 2007, Younis and Misbah have been the mainstay of Pakistan’s batting line-up. While the likes of Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq have walked in and performed fairly consistently, the experienced duo has rescued Pakistan in the toughest situations.
In last year’s series in England, Misbah scored a brilliant century at Lord’s, while Younis added a double-century in the final Test, as Pakistan achieved a stunning 2-2 result.
Younis also played superbly in Australia, but was unable to prevent a series whitewash as the rest of the brittle batting caved in under pressure.
Younis and Misbah have scored close to 26 per cent of the team’s runs since 2007. In away Tests, this number goes up to 31pc. Perhaps not surprisingly, the proportion of centuries scored by these two is 39pc (home and neutral Tests) and an astounding 48pc (away Tests).
For Pakistani players, home and neutral runs are considered together since they play all their home Tests in the Middle East. For every other team, neutral Test stats are combined with their away performance.
P1 – Proportion of total (centuries and runs) scored by Younis & Misbah overall, P2 – proportion of total (centuries and runs) scored by the duo in home/neutral matches, P3 – proportion of total (centuries and runs) scored by the duo in away Tests.
There have been previous few players like Younis Khan.
A single glance at the elite club of 10,000-plus run-getters tells the story. With most of the other players, fans expected style, grace, monumental scores, stunning innings, and backs-to-the-wall performances.
Few would have expected all these from Younis.
While he perhaps was not the most stylish of players going around, he more than made up for it with grit and purpose. Younis scored centuries against every Test-playing nation and boasted the best conversion rate (converting 50s to centuries) among batsmen with 10,000-plus runs.
Of the 13 batsmen in the list, Younis finishes in the top five when it comes to his overall average (52.05).
The average ratio (AR), which is the ratio of the away average to the home average provides a view of how consistent players in foreign conditions compared to their performance in familiar conditions.
Younis loses out a bit on this front with his average in away matches dropping below 50 but it is important to remember that Pakistan have hardly had what can be termed ‘home advantage’ in the last decade or so.
Younis is Pakistan’s highest run-getter (4,910 runs) and century-scorer (19 centuries) in wins, surpassing Inzamam-ul-Haq who had 4,690 runs and 17 centuries in wins.
The percentage of career Test runs Younis scored in wins (49pc) is only behind Ricky Ponting (68pc) and Steve Waugh (59pc).
Given that both Ponting and Waugh were part of a world-beating, all-time-great Australian team, Younis’s performance stands out.
It does not end with this – among the 10,000-plus run-getters, Younis has the best average in Test wins (74.39) ahead of the Sri Lankan great, Kumar Sangakkara (71.69).
Interestingly, Younis showed a propensity to get out quite early in his innings often.
Among all batsmen who played 200 or more innings, Younis had the third-highest proportion of ducks (8.9pc) behind Mike Atherton (9.4pc) and Mark Waugh (9.1pc).
According to most fans and experts, Pakistan’s finest run in Tests came during the 1980s when they went head-to-head against the mighty West Indies team and managed three successive drawn series, even as the rest of the cricketing world had no answer to the Caribbean firepower.
Imran Khan, Pakistan’s captain during the 1980s, had a 14-8 win-loss record in his 48 Tests as captain. Matching Imran, and his team, might seem near impossible, but Misbah went on to become Pakistan’s most successful captain.
After his initial struggles to get into the team, he became a permanent fixture and then went on a golden run after he took over captaincy.
He racked up 26 wins as captain in 56 Tests – the highest for a Pakistan captain. His win-loss ratio of 1.4 is lower than Imran, Javed Miandad and Wasim Akram but the fact that Misbah has led a combustible, unpredictable unit like Pakistan uninterrupted for more than six years sets him apart.
Both Younis and Misbah made their Test debuts within a year of each other in 2000 and 2001 respectively.
However, they had a completing contrasting journey in the beginning. While Younis became an integral part of the Pakistan batting line-up over the next few years, Misbah was left out after playing just five Tests in the first three years after his debut (2001-2003).
He then spent almost four years out of the team before returning to the fold in 2007. In the same period, Younis experienced a purple patch, averaging more than 50 every year between 2004 and 2011 (Pakistan did not play a Test in 2008).
After his return in 2007, Misbah started brightly and continued his run of good form every year till 2015 and averaged 52.90 during the eight years with a high of 78.7 in 2007 and 69.5 in 2011.
Younis suffered a slight blip in 2012 when he averaged just 36, but recovered his form quickly to average nearly 61 in the three years between 2013 and 2015.
Both batsmen, however, had a slightly difficult inconsistent run between 2016 and their retirement, combining a series of low scores with the occasional good performances.
While both batsmen had a very successful run despite their age, Misbah’s record stands out.
He has the second-highest number of runs after the age of 35, behind Graham Gooch, and is also second on the list of batsmen scoring the most centuries (5) after the age of 40 behind Jack Hobbs, who had eight.
Misbah and Younis greatly differed in the way they warmed up to the responsibility of captaincy. Younis had a tough time and decided to quit and focus on his batting.
Misbah, on the other hand, seemed to relish being in charge and made eight of his 10 centuries while he was captain. His average as a captain (AC) was almost 60pc better than his average as a player (AP).
While Younis’s average did not suffer greatly during his captaincy stint, he led the team in only nine Tests. Younis’s exceptional conversion rate contrasts greatly with the corresponding measure for Misbah.
Misbah made just 10 centuries and 39 fifties with a conversion rate of close to 0.25. He had the ability to score extremely fast though; he equalled Vivian Richards’s record for the fastest Test century (since broken by Brendon McCullum) when he smashed a 56-ball ton against Australia in Abu Dhabi in 2014.
Batsmen rarely get to be match winners in Tests. However, the fourth innings provides an opportunity for batsmen to either turn the contest in their team’s favour or salvage a draw in trying circumstances.
Younis Khan features prominently in the list of the most successful batsmen in the fourth innings – often considered the greatest challenge for a batsman.
Not only does Younis have the highest number of centuries in the fourth innings (5) but is also one of only six batsmen with a 50-plus average (among batsmen with 1,000-plus fourth-innings runs).
It is extremely interesting to notice the proportion of scores made by the two batsmen.
One always felt Younis was the kind of batsman who was extremely vulnerable early on in his innings. In 38pc of his innings, he was dismissed before he passed 20 runs.
However, once he got in, he almost always cashed in as is evident in his exceptional conversion rate.
In contrast, Misbah fell less often in single digits (24pc as compared to Younis’ 28pc) but fell much more often after getting a start and failed to capitalise and register the big scores (in nearly 60pc of his innings, he was dismissed between below 50 and in 20pc of his innings, he fell between 50 and 89).
While Younis has been dismissed 66pc of the time by pace bowlers, Misbah has fallen 54pc of the time to the fast men.
In contrast, Younis fell less often to spin (32pc) as compared to Misbah (43pc).
While Misbah has a slightly higher proportion of dismissals caught (65pc), Younis was dismissed bowled more often (14pc) as compared to Misbah (8pc).
Younis and Misbah may have had contrasting styles and success when it came to their batting and captaincy but as a partnership, they formed one of the best pairs.
Among batting pairs with 3,000-plus partnership runs since 2000, Younis and Misbah had the third-highest number of centuries (15) behind Jayawardene/Sangakkara and Hayden/Ponting and the fourth-best average (68.3).
They also have the best conversion rate (CR – converting 50 partnerships to 100 partnerships) among all the batting pairs in this group.
In fact, their conversion rate is the finest among all batting pairs with 3,000-plus aggregate partnership runs.
Pakistan have made it a habit of producing exceptional young talent when it comes to fast bowlers. In recent years, however, they have managed to unearth quality batsmen who have stood firm against fine bowling attacks.
Using Misbah and Younis as inspirational role models, Pakistan cricket will have to dig deep and find batsmen who will step up and fill the massive void created by the exit of the two greats.
How well Pakistan address this problem will undoubtedly have a massive say on their performance in the next decade.
This article was originally published at Scroll.in and has been reproduced here with permission.