COMMENT: Misbah and Younis one of cricket's greatest partnerships

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The pair retire after the West Indies series.

The target was just 45 runs. Get that and, even in their annus horribilis, Pakistan would walk away unbeaten in the desert.

What they were facing were the number one ranked South African team, by far the best away side of their generation. Or rather they were facing a typical response to a Pakistani fourth innings chase.

The two ‘old men’ arrived at the pitch in quick succession. Pakistan were three down for just seven runs and, in the days before Sarfraz Ahmed, they were just two wickets away from the tail.

A few days later Pakistan would lose their last seven wickets for 39 runs to miss out on a chance to win the series.

Thus Misbah-ul-Haq was justified when he turned to Younis Khan and said, “We’ll have to chase this down, because if we don’t no one else will.” Forty minutes later Pakistan had their first win against South Africa in seven Tests.

That was the duo in a nutshell – it didn’t matter how easy or hard the task, they had to do it, because no one else would.

Until Azhar and Asad took up the mantle, and even during the time they did, it was those two who did the majority of the heavy lifting .

Thus much will be made of their absence – Misbah’s captaincy, particularly of the bowlers will be missed, as will his consistency with the bat.

The hole that Younis leaves behind is equally, if not more, irreplaceable. Not just that he is the greatest run scorer Pakistan has ever had, but everything else that he brought to the team: the safest pair of hands in the slips, the man to call on in any crisis, the best batsman with the tail since Inzamam, and the greatest deputy since Javed.

Younis was the vice captain for the majority of Inzamam’s tenure, and despite not having the title, he was also the chief of Misbah’s staff.

Those two captains account for more than a quarter of Pakistan’s Test wins in  their 65 year Test history, and in times of crisis – in the field or with the bat – it was Younis that they called upon.

Thus to restrict Younis to just his bare numbers – as both his fans and detractors will do in trying to compare him to greats from days past – would be folly.

When former Pakistan players call him the most selfless cricketer they’ve played with, they have evidence to back that up. After all how many other captains would become the pillars of a side led by men who had participated in a mutiny against him?

Yet all of this is secondary to his greatest attribute – which is neither his batting, nor his catching.

In a country where the development of young players is the duty of senior players in the national team rather than the board or the domestic system, Younis’ greatest achievement might be what he got out of others.

In the land of Javed, Imran and Inzamam, Younis might arguably stand the tallest – for he was the great facilitator.

Think of every young batsman that has performed for Pakistan in the past decade: Fawad Alam made his debut hundred batting with Younis; the innings that turned Asad Shafiq’s career around – a century in Cape Town – all he did was match Younis; Azhar Ali, once the holder of a Misbah-esque record of one ton in fourteen 50+ scores, broke that streak and took the leap with 150 batting with Younis; Shan Masood pretty much won a game for Pakistan batting with him; and two of Ahmed Shehzad’s three Test tons came in innings where the great man also brought up a century.

To understand the  successes  of Pakistan batting over the past decade all you have to do is look at Younis Khan. To understand its failures (see: Akmal, Umar), all you have to look for is Younis’ absence.

Even his mentoring pales in comparison to what he did when he was in a duet with someone of his own level.

Of the four highest scoring career partnerships in Pakistan’s history, three have Younis as the dominant half: with Azhar Ali, Mohammad Yousuf and Misbah.

Among great all time partnerships (at least 2500 runs) only England’s Hobbs-Sutcliffe and Australia’s Langer-Ponting had a higher average than what Khan had as part of the “YoYo” duo (with Yousuf, an astonishing 78.42.

His partnership  with Misbah meanwhile, which went past the YoYo duos overall  runs last year, has its own legacy.

Only four duos ever – Dravid-Tendulkar, Mahela-Sanga, Greenidge-Haynes and Hayden-Ponting – have more than the 15 century stands of Misbah and Younis.

None of those four duos, for all their greater reputations, did it as consistently as the two old men.

Younis and Misbah’s ratio of a century stand every 3.47 times they joined each other at the crease, is only surpassed by legends Hobbs-Sutcliffe and Langer-Ponting.

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COMMENT: Misbah made Pakistan believe in their team again

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Misbah-ul-Haq

In the end the announcement didn’t really fit the occasion. The answer to the question that the Pakistani press corps had consistently been asking for two years – and intermittently asked for far more – was delivered in the most mundane of places.

Just another press conference during a training camp was all that Misbah-ul-Haq needed to proclaim that the tour to the West Indies would be his last in the Pakistan shirt. And although the phrase is greatly overused, in this case it truly is the end of an era in Pakistan cricket.

To remember what Pakistan were when he took over is to peek into a different world. Pakistan hadn’t won a Test series for nearly four years when he stepped in.

He had himself been dropped from all formats prior to his appointment, and at 36, his career seemed close to its end. Pakistan, meanwhile, were still a team renowned for their pace bowling, and little else.

They had neither a home nor home advantage, and their perceived identity was to slowly descend the path that the West Indies had been on for years prior. Six years later his team returned from Australia with a 3-0 loss, a result he describes as patently unfair.

“This wasn’t like the South Africa series [in 2013] where we were outplayed on the way to a clean sweep,” he says a day before flying off to the West Indies.

“Here we could’ve won the first Test and were in control of the second Test for more than half of it. Even if we had drawn either of those Tests, then in Sydney, on that pitch, we would’ve had the best chance to win.

“That tour remains my greatest regret in my career. We should have got at least a draw there. No way was it a 3-0 series.”

The failures of the last few months might dominate the memory for now, but as the years fade away as much as the 3-0 scoreline it will be something else that he said which will define him.

It’s not every decade that a Pakistani captain can proclaim, with a straight face, that his side deserved at least a drawn series Down Under.

Not that they could have done it, but rather that they should have done it. And that really is his greatest achievement. From the team that he picked up in 2010, to the one that lost its way and its bowlers in 2013 and 2014, it would be fair to say that they reached their ceiling and then smashed through it.

Even as his critics croaked incessantly for six years, like crickets in a hotel near the wild, it would be difficult to argue that Pakistan did not exceed their potential.

Thus he leaves behind a legacy – of the ICC mace, of famous Test and series wins, of an identity redefined.

Pakistan are no longer in crisis, they are no longer accused as cricket’s black sheep whose banning from the international game is called for in major publications; they have a template to play, a template to win, and a fortress to protect.

And that, more than how he polarised his country’s experts and ex-players, or how he won the hearts and minds of experts from beyond Pakistan’s borders, is what his legacy will be. And it’s not something that he ever focused on.

“Legacy and records are things that you guys talk about,” he says when I ask him about it. “For me it’s just my performance, day by day, series by series, that mattered.

“If I had started thinking about my or the team’s legacy we would have taken our eyes off the ball. Everything: the legacy, the record, the achievements are all a byproduct of our hard work, dedication and drive.

“All we did was keep our heads down, put in everything that we had, and after that if we had a legacy or didn’t wasn’t up to us.”

For all that he did, and for all that his team achieved, and what they had to traverse through he’ll leave as part of the Mount Rushmore at the very least.

In all likelihood we’ll remember his part of Pakistan’s holy trinity – the greatest Test captain the country has had alongside AH Kardar and Imran Khan. Not bad for someone who was on the edge of retirement before ever having captained Pakistan.

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West Indies series to be Misbah's last

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Misbah is Pakistan's most successful captain.

Pakistan’s most successful ever Test captain will hang up his boots after the third and final Test against West Indies beginning May 10 after Misbah-ul-Haq confirmed the end of his international career on Thursday.

Speaking to media at a press conference in Lahore, Misbah spoke of a regret at not having captained Pakistan in cricket, his entire tenure serving during their international exile.

“One regret is that I never captained the Test team in Pakistan and also not captaining against India,” said Misbah before stating that he will continue to play domestic cricket for “as long as I’m enjoying it”.

“I’ll play domestic cricket as long as I’m enjoying it. I haven’t made up my mind on my immediate future after cricket,” he added.

“[My] favourite moment was winning the Lord’s and Oval Tests, including the hundred I made at Lord’s.”

The 42-year-old, named as one of Widen’s Five Cricketers of the Year for 2016 on Wednesday, has been contemplating retirement since last summer.

Then, Misbah had led Pakistan to world number one in the ICC Test Rankings for the first time in their history with a drawn series in England.

It was seen as the perfect moment for Misbah to bow out from the game but he remained at the helm during chastening defeats in New Zealand and then Australia over the winter.

Many called for Misbah to end his tenure then before he announced at the end of this year’s Pakistan Super League tournament that he would take charge of the side in the Caribbean.

Now, Misbah has confirmed the tour of the West Indies will be his last, just hours after Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Shahryar Khan let the cat out of the bag to press.

Regardless of the outcome in the West Indies, Misbah will leave the role as Pakistan’s most successful ever Test captain.

He took over the captaincy in 2010, reshaping the country’s reputation and squad after the spot fixing scandal in England that threatened to tear Pakistan cricket apart.

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