It is difficult to imagine how Pakistan cricket would have fared in the aftermath of the 2010 spot-fixing scandal without two men – Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan. It was already gasping for air after Pakistan became a pariah of world cricket following a terrorist attack on Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore. No international team was willing to play in the country. After the trio of Salman Butt, Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif were caught red-handed in a sting carried out by a British tabloid in the summer of 2010, there were even calls from quarters to put sanctions on Pakistan. Ian Botham, one of England’s all-time greats, called for Pakistan to be banned from all forms of cricket following the corruption scandal.
It was at that time when Misbah was given charge of the national team. A lesser man would have crumbled under pressure. But as we all know now, Misbah is no such man. Rejected by some as a batsman, who was somehow not good enough for international cricket, Misbah overcame the setbacks of his early career with steely determination. He proved his critics wrong with a series of memorable performances with the bat not just in Tests but also in limited-overs cricket. In fact it was the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 championship in South Africa which marked the start of the second phase of his international career. It is a pity that most people remember Misbah’s ill-fated shot in the final against India when they talk about that tournament. Many forget that he was one of the chief reasons why Pakistan managed to get that far in the first place. Misbah provided spine to an otherwise brittle Pakistani batting line-up. He didn’t give two hoots about what they said behind his back. He didn’t care if they called him ‘Tuk-Tuk’. Most cricketers would have changed their batting style. They would have started playing to the gallery. In other words they would have started pleasing the fans by trying to play the big shots. It would have been the easy way to take especially for a batsman like Misbah, who, as we all know, has the ability to hit towering sixes almost at will. Remember, the Abu Dhabi Test against Australia back in November 2014. Misbah hit a 56-ball hundred, the fastest ton in Test history. Nobody should have called him ‘Tuk-Tuk’ after that knock. The captain didn’t succumb to criticism primarily because he knew that the batting line-up needed a dependable Misbah rather a big-hitting Misbah.
But more than his batting exploits its Misbah’s role as team leader that sets him apart. He was the sort of captain Pakistan needed after the turbulent summer of 2010. His calmness, his self-belief, his sincerity and determination enabled Pakistan to gel together as a team and rise to become one of the best in the Test format.
But all of that wouldn’t have been possible for Misbah without Younis Khan. This man could have easily derailed Misbah, both as a middle-order batsman and captain. When Misbah was given charge of the team, it was Younis who was the star batsman. He had served as captain and could have easily pressed claim to get that honour back. But that’s not how Younis is made. If he is your friend then he is your friend. He is no back-stabber either. Aristotle famously said that friendship is essentially a partnership. The Misbah-Younis partnership stems from their friendship and the mutual respect they have for one another. The history of Pakistan cricket is filled with stories of how friends turned on one another over power tussle. But Younis ensured that no such thing transpired in Misbah’s team. That’s because he saw it as his team. The mantra that the senior duo devised was: Everything is possible if we do it together. And it really helped.
Now that Younis and Misbah are leaving, there’s a sense of great loss. It’s natural because their departure will leave two gaping holes in the national team. Optimists will suggest that we have the Asad Shafiqs and Babar Azams to fill those holes. Well, only time will tell.
However, retirement shouldn’t be complete goodbye from Misbah and Younis. From where I see it, both of them have only finished their first innings. Their second innings could be even more important for Pakistan cricket. Pakistan’s cricket chiefs should make sure that both of them continue to serve the game in one way or the other. They can work as coaches, mentors, selectors or advisors. Misbah and Younis are not just two great cricketers, they are role models who helped save Pakistan cricket post-2010. They can continue the rescue act even after retirement.