When Younis Khan hangs up his bat at the end of Pakistan’s tour of the West Indies, it will likely be with a final Test milestone against his name.
Younis is just 23 runs away from becoming the first Pakistan player to score 10,000 Test runs.
With the first of three Tests against the West Indies beginning on Friday in Kingston, Jamaica, few would bet against him marking his swansong with a final foray into the record books.
Since his debut in 2000 against Sri Lanka, he proved his ability to adapt to different conditions by scoring centuries in every Test playing nation, including double hundreds in India and England.
His batting average of 53.06 is the highest by any Pakistani who has played 10 Tests or more.
But for all Younis’s record-breaking individual achievements, former team-mate and fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar said his former captain should be remembered for his selfless personality and team ethic.
“To me Younis should be renamed ‘Unique’ Khan for his selflessness and honesty towards Pakistan cricket and the team,” said Shoaib, who retired in 2011.
Renowned as a fighter at the crease, Younis often produced his greatest performances with his back against the wall.
Of his 34 tons, an all-time Test record five have been scored in the fourth innings.
His 2005 match-winning 267 and 84 not out against India in Bangalore came after a string of low scores saw him battling to avoid being dropped.
Younis’s greatest achievement as captain was winning the 2009 world Twenty20 championship in England.
And yet that came just weeks after Pakistan cricket had been thrown into disarray by the gun attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore, an incident which means the national side still plays their home matches in the UAE.
Younis said he wanted to be remembered as a team player.
“When I am retired and when I am not in the dressing room, I want youngsters to remember me as a role model,” he said.
“I want them to remember me as a player and batsman who always played for his country.”
Hailing from Mardan in the north-west Khybe Pakhtunkhwa, Younis’s career was moulded in Karachi.
Younis scored a hundred in his first Test against Sri Lanka at Rawalpindi in 2000 and went on to record 33 more, with a triple ton and three double hundreds.
His most recent was a typical unbeaten 175 ground out over more than seven hours as Pakistan crawled to 315 against Australia in Sydney in January.
His Test best 313 against Sri Lanka in Karachi in 2009 is the third highest individual score for Pakistan behind Hanif Mohammad’s 337 and Inzamam-ul-Haq’s 329.
Misbah-ul-Haq defied critics and his advancing age to take Pakistan from the depths of a major spot-fixing scandal to the world’s number one Test team, becoming their most successful captain along the way.
The 42-year-old, who will retire at the end of the West Indies Test series starting Friday, completed Pakistan’s climb to the top of the rankings with a hard-fought draw in England in 2016, exorcising the ghosts of the tainted visit six years earlier.
Derided for his cautious batting in the semi-final loss to India in the 2011 World Cup, and forced to retire early from the Twenty20 format, a more sensitive soul may have retreated into early retirement.
Not so for Misbah, who started out in street cricket, weathered early trials and disappointments and has survived to become the oldest current Test player.
Born in the city of Mianwali in the central province of Punjab, he was advised by his father, a disgruntled ex-hockey star, to put aside thoughts of being a sportsman and pursue his studies.
His father’s untimely death briefly changed young Misbah’s priorities, and he reluctantly agreed to a job at a textiles company — but never showed up for work.
“It was a tough decision,” Misbah recalled to AFP. “I had to fight with circumstances and finally made my mark in cricket grounds.”
In order to overcome a lack of opportunities in his hometown, he regularly commuted by train to bigger cities where he laid the foundations of his career, first in street tournaments featuring tennis balls bound in electric tape, and later at domestic level.
His international career started with the tour of New Zealand in 2001, but he failed to make an impression and was duly dropped in an era dominated by middle-order heavyweights Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mohmammed Yousuf and Younis Khan.
But he forced himself back into contention with strong domestic performances and was a surprise pick for the inaugural World Twenty20 in 2007, where at the age of 33 he was Pakistan’s find of the tournament, bringing them tantalisingly close to victory over arch-rivals India with a knock of 43 in the final.
He got out to an infamous scoop shot that was seared into fans’ collective memory, as Pakistan fell short by five runs.
“It was very disappointing to lose that final,” he said. “I brought Pakistan back from a losing position but couldn’t cross the finish line and that’s the most disappointing moment of my career.”
Misbah followed up with two brilliant Test hundreds on the 2007 tour of India, but his career dived again following a poor showing on the Australia tour in 2010.
“They were desperate times,” he told AFP at the time. “You are in the eleven and suddenly you are out, it prompts you to burn all your cricket equipment in anger.”
That summer, Pakistan found itself led by a young and well-regarded captain in the shape of Salman Butt, backed by two of the best fast bowlers in world cricket, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir.
But after some encouraging performances, the team and its fans were left reeling when a British tabloid spot-fixing sting led to lengthy bans and jail terms for the disgraced trio.
Much-maligned Misbah was handed the daunting task of rebuilding, and never looked back.
Aided by unreadable off-spinner Saeed Ajmal, his canny captaincy and calming presence helped unite a fractious team which he led to nine undefeated series (five won, four drawn) in the UAE, where Pakistan’s home matches are played for security reasons.
In 2016, he was handed the International Cricket Council’s Spirit of Cricket award, and his current win-loss ratio stands at 24-14 — spoilt somewhat by the consecutive whitewashes to New Zealand and Australia which prompted calls for him to finally retire.
A last hurrah against an unfancied West Indies side may give him a fitting send-off, and Misbah believes posterity will view him kindly.
“My legacy will be in my numbers and the respect earned by the team,” he said.
Former Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi, who retired only a month back from international cricket, was recently made an ambassador of the ICC Champions Trophy 2017.
Afridi, 37, is one of eight ambassadors named by the ICC who will be involved in the ICC Champions Trophy Tour and will also be making appearances in the United Kingdom as part of an initiative aimed at providing school children with an opportunity to meet and play with a legend.
The other ambassadors include England’s Ian Bell, New Zealand’s Shane Bond, Australia’s Mike Hussey, India’s Harbhajan Singh, Sri Lanka’s Kumar Sangakkara, Bangladesh’s Habibul Bashar, and South Africa’s Graeme Smith.
Afridi, on being appointed, said: “I feel humbled to have been appointed as an Ambassador for the ICC Champions Trophy. And to be part of a select group of some of the most respected and accomplished cricketers against whom I enjoyed playing international cricket is an icing on the cake. Three more Ambassadors and we would have made a tournament-winning XI.”
Well, while Afridi was delighted to be a part of the elite group, one thing is certain. Seeing Pakistan (who’ve never won the Champions Trophy) win this edition would send him over the moon!