KARACHI: As Pakistan prepare to recover from the stunning 106-run defeat on a Kensington Oval minefield last week, the focus on the third and final Test in Roseau will obviously be on Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq — two ageing stalwarts who have been through tense situations many times before and who won’t be playing international cricket after the series decider.
Having not won a Test series in the Caribbean, this is the moment to seize for Pakistan against a West Indies side which is now brimming with newfound confidence following the series-levelling victory in Bridgetown. The Windsor Park in Roseau, that would be hosting just its fifth Test, is the venue for the farewell game for both Younis and Misbah.
If Misbah has been the man behind image-building of Pakistan cricket since the dark days of 2010 spot-fixing saga, Younis had been someone on a mission to achieve greatness after Misbah took charge as captain later that year.
While Misbah became the most-capped Pakistan Test skipper, Younis earned further laurels by emerging, thus far, the only individual from this country to reach the dizzy height of 10,000 Test runs.
Together they forged a new chapter with two being inseparable, barring a couple of fixtures when one of them missed out playing.
Under Misbah’s calm leadership Pakistan managed to win 25 and lost 19 in 55 matches over the past six and a half years in a period when the national team was deprived, by circumstances beyond its control, the chance of playing on home soil with United Arab Emirates hosting those fixtures.
Misbah and Younis have seen it all in their 52 Tests together from November 2010 onwards. In this period, Younis had amassed 4,657 at an average of 56.10 out of his overall career tally of 10,046 runs (ave 52.32) from 117 Tests with 18 of his 34 career centuries coming under Misbah’s captaincy.
Statistically, only Misbah himself and Azhar Ali had matched the prolific Younis in this tenure. The captain had accumulated 4,153 runs at 51.91 with eight hundreds, Azhar’s 4,481 runs in 51 Tests at 50.34 with all his 13 tons coming for the Misbah-led outfit.
There is remarkable similarity in the careers of both Younis and Misbah, who has made 5,161 runs in 74 Tests.
Younis tailed off after a second-innings debut century (107) against Sri Lanka at Rawalpindi in early 2000 and didn’t really cement a permanent Test place until he struck a career-defining 124 against Sri Lanka at Karachi in October 2004.
It was the start of a purple patch for the man from Mardan and together with Inzamam-ul-Haq, who was Pakistan captain at the time, and Mohammad Yousuf, Younis formed a middle-order triumvirate that served the country admirably for the best part of the next two years.
Misbah made a quiet entry into international cricket on the tour of New Zealand in early 2001 but never hit the straps until he was recalled for the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 in South Africa in 2007. Ironically, the elder statesman’s first significant innings arrived when Younis took over the reins after an ankle injury to appointed skipper Shoaib Malik forced him out of the remaining two Tests of a three-match series — Pakistan’s last with India to date.
And what a turnaround it was for Misbah. After scores of 82 and 45 in the six-wicket defeat at Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla, Misbah, playing his ninth Test, came to Pakistan’s rescue at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata with a patient 351-ball 161 not out in 542 minutes after the tourists were in the mire at 150-5 while responding to India’s mammoth 616-5 declared.
In the same Test, Younis played a captain’s innings of 107 not out in the send innings as Pakistan batted out time to draw the match.
Misbah was at the forefront of another face-saving mission in the final Test at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore where he compiled an unbeaten 133 off 322 balls in 407 minutes to help Pakistan post 537 after India had piled up 626. After another dip in form, Misbah went out of picture for a while, only to return in a new role.
The captaincy really brought out Misbah to full focus. Tactically, he may have lacked the skills of being daring and innovative like the best in the business. His mild personality largely dictated his leadership, which often invited wrath of the critics and yet seldom has a Pakistan leader commanded the respect that Misbah richly deserves.
Whatever Misbah has achieved, Younis has been one of the key factors behind his success.
Even before the start of today’s Test match in Dominica, Younis and Misbah are proud holders of a partnership record that would be tough for the future generations to surpass. As a pair they have been the most prolific one for Pakistan while adding 3,205 runs in 52 innings together with their average stand being almost 70 (69.67). No less than 15 times, Younis and Misbah have been involved in stands of 100 or more.
Younis enjoyed similar alliance with Yousuf with whom he put on 3,137 runs in 42 innings together at 78.42 — the highest average maintained by a Pakistani pair who aggregated at least 2,000 runs — with nine 100-plus partnerships between 2000 and 2009.
Having served Pakistan with great distinction, there is no doubt that both Misbah and Younis still have a burning desire to be part of first Pakistan side to win a Test series in the Caribbean after so many years of trying as they aim to finish their glittering careers on a high. Moreover, the added incentive for Younis is to become just the fifth player in the game’s history to start and end career with a century.