A few years back, Sri Lankan cricket was at its peak on the back of heroic exploits from its golden generation. Then two of the country’s favourite sons – Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara – bowed out of the international game one after the other. Predictably, Sri Lanka’s stocks took a major hit. More than two years have passed and the Sri Lankan team is yet to fully stand back on its feet.
Pakistan are facing similar fears. Next month, they will bid farewell to two of their most important players – Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan. Together Misbah and Younis took Pakistan to the summit of Test cricket, catapulting the country to the number one spot in the five-day format last summer. More importantly, they provided an otherwise brittle batting line-up with a spine. It’s difficult to imagine Pakistan cricket surviving major catastrophes like the 2010 spot-fixing scandal without the calming presence of Misbah and Younis.
But that’s the way life is. Heroes come and heroes go. Pakistan will have to quickly learn to cope with life without two of the finest batsmen of their generation. But can they?
The positive aspect is that they have already been doing that in both One-day and Twenty20 Internationals. Both Misbah and Younis had just been focusing on Tests after having retired from limited overs cricket. Pakistan’s stocks tumbled in both formats though things are finally starting to look a bit better.
In Tests, however, Pakistan should brace for a rough ride once Misbah and Younis retire after the three-Test series against the West Indies which will get underway with the first Test in Kingston (Jamaica) from April 21.
There are reliable batsmen like Azhar Ali and Babar Azam in the line-up but you can’t compare them with legends like Misbah and Younis. It’s not just their batting prowess which made the duo so important for Pakistan. They bring to the side a combined experience of almost 200 Tests. They are two players who like to lead from the front. Their exit will surely leave gaping holes not just in the team batting line-up but in Pakistan cricket itself. We have to ask ourselves whether Sarfraz Ahmed is ready to replace Misbah as Test captain? Whether he will be able to command similar respect from his team-mates? Can Babar Azam prove to be the sort of rock-solid presence which Younis proved to be during the best part of his 17-year career?
Maybe men at the helm of Pakistan cricket like coach Mickey Arthur have the answers. Maybe not!
It’s almost been a year since Arthur took over as Pakistan’s head coach but the South African still has more questions than answers. At a time when Pakistan cricket is pondering life after Misbah and Younis, Arthur is wondering why his team doesn’t have power-hitters like AB de Villiers or Chris Gayle. He is asking himself why Pakistan continue to play the brand of cricket that became obsolete 20 years ago. The absence of pinch-hitters isn’t a new dilemma. There was a time when we had players like Abdul Razzaq, who could change the game with their big hits. But that time is long gone. Arthur has diagnosed nothing new. One year into his stint, he should have been coming out with treatment. But all he seems to be doing is ruing the loss of Sharjeel Khan, one of the suspects of the PSL spot-fixing scandal.
Arthur will have to do better than this. Now that he won’t have the experience of Misbah and Younis in the dressing room, he will have to come out with ways and means to keep the team on track in all three formats. He will have to prove to be the sort of master coach that Pakistan’s cricket chiefs thought he would be when they handpicked him for the job. The exit of three senior-most stars Misbah, Younis and Afridi could be a blessing in disguise for the coach who now has an opportunity to mould the team into the sort of side that can fully embrace modern cricket. There are still players who might find that difficult but they are slowly getting outnumbered. Batsmen like Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik are in their twilight years. I’ll give them a year or two. Perhaps even less if they fail to curb their tendency of playing too many dot balls.
They say when one door closes two more open. Pakistan cricket will soon see two doors closing. Whether we are able to turn this into an opportunity to change for the better remains to be seen.