Scene 1, Rawalpindi, April 2004: Less than an hour earlier, India had beaten Pakistan by an innings to win a series on their rivals’ soil for the first time. Rahul Dravid had batted more than 12 hours for 270, and his post-match press conference was as measured as his batsmanship. At the back of the room, Shaharyar Khan, Pakistan Cricket Board chief, looked on in admiration. As Dravid left the room, he said: “What a wonderful role model for younger players.”
Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mohammed Yousuf were Pakistan’s senior batsmen. The implication was clear.
Scene 2, Mohali, March 2005: With India having established a first-innings lead of 204 on a pitch that was expected to deteriorate, Pakistan needed to bat out of their skins on the fourth day to make a contest of the first Test of the return series. Instead, they slipped to 10 for 3. One of those to fall was Younis Khan, bowled by Laxmipathy Balaji. “Useless,” a senior Pakistani journalist muttered as Younis trudged back.
Scene 3, Delhi, November 2007: Two months after the dramatic denouement to the inaugural World Twenty20, the Mis-bah-five-runs jokes were still in vogue. Misbah-ul-Haq was 33 and had aggregated 207 runs at 17 in his previous seven Test appearances. On the opening day of the series – the last to be contested by India and Pakistan – he and Mohammad Sami batted out the final session after the tourists had slumped to 142 for 8. The next morning, Misbah played a ball from Sourav Ganguly in the direction of point, and set off for a sharp single. Dinesh Karthik took a shy at the stumps, and Misbah leapt to avoid the throw. When the bails came off, both his feet were still airborne. Run out for 82, and the butt of still more jokes.
At the end of that Mohali Test, his 33rd, Younis averaged 37.94, with six hundreds. Those weren’t terrible numbers, but they certainly didn’t mark him out as one of the elite. In the next match in Kolkata, he made 147. In Bangalore, where Pakistan squared the series on a thrilling final day, he made 267.
In 82 Tests since that ‘useless’ effort in Mohali, Younis has scored 7,890 runs at 59.32. There have been a mind-boggling 28 hundreds, at least one in every Test-playing nation except New Zealand (he did make 149 not out in Auckland in March 2001). He is certainly no afterthought when people debate the greatest batsmen of the generation.
Misbah followed up that farcical dismissal in Delhi with 161 not out at Eden Gardens and an unbeaten 133 in Bangalore. Saddled with the captaincy at one of the lowest points in Pakistan’s cricket history – after the spot-fixing scandal of 2010 – he has now led his country in 53 Tests, five more than the peerless Imran Khan. Across those matches, Misbah has scored nearly 4000 runs at an average of 50.55.
Along the way, the two men have inspired home wins – if the United Arab Emirates can ever be considered home – over England and Australia, and played fulsome parts in an epic 2-2 draw in England last summer. But more than sheer weight of runs or tactical nous, they have restored izzat (honour) – a word central to the Younis story – to Pakistan cricket.
Misbah also changed Pakistan cricket’s DNA. Under him, the batting tended to be attritional and solid rather than tinged with flair. And the bowling was no longer dependent on express pace or round-the-corner swing. Instead, Misbah won most of his matches by asking his men to bowl dry. The favoured mode of attack was accurate spin, with Saeed Ajmal its chief proponent. Other grizzled veterans like Abdur Rehman and Zulfiqur Babar also played their parts.
The onus will now be on Azhar Ali, 32, and Asad Shafiq, 31, to hold the batting together. The likes of Sami Aslam and Babar Azam will need time to find their feet, the sort of patience that once allowed Younis and Misbah to reach their full potential.
But for now, there is unfinished business for two of cricket’s grand old men. Pakistan have never won a Test series in the Caribbean, and while West Indies may be nothing like the force of old, it’s a notch in the belt that both will crave. Having done so much to prevent Pakistan cricket from coming apart at the seams, they will hope to exit in a blaze of glory.