Some retirements leave you feeling older all of a sudden, as if time has just moved on in a leap. There were two such on Sunday night. Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan played their final games, a Test against West Indies at Windsor Park in Dominica.
Younis is the last great batsman of his generation to go. Thirty men scored 4,000 runs in Test cricket in the 2000s. Among the other 29, you can still catch Chris Gayle swishing sixes in franchise cricket, see Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene on the county circuit. The rest are retired, have become coaches, commentators, administrators. Younis, who made his debut in 2000, was the only one still playing Tests. We are not on the brink of the new era anymore but so far into it the one just gone is a business only for historians.
Of course they finished together. Younis and Misbah were one of the great partnerships. They started late, because Misbah became a regular member of the team only in 2009 when he was 34 but still scored more runs together than any other pair of Pakistan batsmen. In the long history of Test cricket, only two pairs scored more runs in partnership at a higher average. Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe were one, Justin Langer and Ricky Ponting the other. Then it is Misbah and Younis, 3,213 altogether, at 68.36. After Allah, his wife and his children, Younis was the one Misbah wanted to thank in his farewell speech. “It was a very fine journey with him in the middle,” he said. “My name will come with his and be remembered in history.”
Younis was one of the finest players Pakistan have had, the first to score 10,000 Test runs, the first to score more than 30 Test centuries, his batting characterised by his bloody minded determination to be “the last man standing” as he once put it, the one who “comes in and takes everything on his chest” when things get hard for the team. Younis was as tough as they come. He scored five centuries in the fourth innings, more than any other player in history. Since he started, Pakistan have won 28 Tests away from home, outside of the UAE. And in the 24 of those matches he played in, Younis scored 2,826 runs at 94.20, with 10 centuries. Steve Waugh is the only player with an away record anything like it.
Then there is Misbah, a player who was pretty much the Pakistan Cricket Board’s last choice to be captain, who has led the team to so many firsts, mosts and onlys. Misbah, who won more Tests than any other Pakistan captain. Misbah, who never lost a home series. Misbah, who became the only captain in history whose team whitewashed England and Australia. Misbah yoked himself so tightly to the needs of the team his career seemed to became one long exercise in self-abnegation. He batted so slow they called him “Tuk Tuk” but who also scored, one carefree day, the fastest 50 in Test cricket and tied Viv Richards’ record for the fastest ton.
If it had not been for Younis, Misbah would not have become captain. And if it had not been for Misbah, Younis would not have become Pakistan’s greatest batsman. The captaincy was meant to be Younis’s. He was groomed for it by the PCB chairman, Shaharyar Khan. He picked Younis to be Inzamam-ul-Haq’s deputy early in 2005. When the time came for him to take over, before the Champions Trophy in 2006, he refused to do it. He said he did not want to be a “dummy captain” and, though he never said it in public, the problem was the selectors had insisted on picking Faisal Iqbal when Younis wanted Misbah instead. In 2007, when Inzamam stepped down, Younis refused the job again, because he was so upset by the fallout from the World Cup.
“I am still hurt and upset at the sort of hostile reception we have got on our return,” Younis said. “When your family gets threatening calls and our effigies are burnt and our pictures put on donkeys, I can’t lead the team in such circumstances.” He finally took on the job in 2009 and won the World T20 that same year. He quit again after he was falsely accused of fixing by a Pakistani politician and his own players turned against him. He even began to suspect they were deliberately losing matches out of spite. In 2010 he was banned for life, part of a cack-handed effort by the PCB to clean up its team. It meant he missed their infamous tour of England that summer.
The life ban lasted only 10 months but by the time he returned Misbah was in charge. Mohammad Yousuf, Shahid Afridi and Salman Butt had done the job in the time in between, one was banned, one quit, and the other was caught fixing. The captaincy was cursed but Misbah lifted it. He led Pakistan to the top of the world rankings for the first time and did it even though his team were stuck in perpetual exile, away from their families and their fans, had lost their two best fast bowlers to spot-fixing bans and their leading spinner after he was called for chucking and made to remodel his action.
Younis, freed from leading, was with him all the way, the bulwark of the batting. There will not be any ready way to replace them. Pakistan will be a shadow of the side they once were for a while yet, just as Sri Lanka have been since Sangakkara and Jayawardene quit.
For all their records, their achievements are not of the kind best expressed in numbers or on lists. Between them they carried Pakistan through the hardest, darkest years and in doing so they did not just serve their country but the sport and all of us who love it.
This is an extract taken from the Guardian’s weekly cricket email, the Spin