Pakistan players carried Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan after securing their maiden win at West Indies    AFP
Pakistan players carried Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan after securing their maiden win at West Indies AFP

Ask the West Indians. They are probably still shocked by Shannon Gabriel s agricultural hoick off Yasir Shah. Some may have forgiven him; some may not have. Some of them might have shed a tear for Roston Chase, their newfound hero who will certainly form the backbone of their side unless he decides to take on the board. Some others may be ruing the absence of the likes of Chris Gayle and Darren Bravo.

Ask the Pakistanis. An entire nation had stayed up, waiting with bated breath in Karachi and Lahore and every nook and corner of the country where they have satellite television or broadband internet. They knew there was history in making.

Pakistan had never won a Test series in West Indies. Winston Benjamin and questionable umpiring had denied them a potentially historic victory in 1987-88. Saqlain Mushtaq s inability to collect a ball at the bowler s end saw Jimmy Adams and Courtney add 19 for the last wicket to steal a victory in 1999-00.

This was Pakistan s greatest chance. They had squandered it away at Kensington Oval by getting bowled out for 81. True, Gabriel kept it up and bowled in the channel, but there was no reason for Pakistanis poking at one delivery after another, throwing it away when they could have sealed the series.

Pakistan can only blame themselves for letting West Indies reach within an over of preventing them from creating history. They dropped catches. They took a catch off a no-ball. They gave Chase three lifelines. They could not go past Chase.

But it was finally over. It was also over for Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan. They left field this one final time in Pakistan colours, draped in that green-and-white flag.

It was only fitting that the two giants would bow out on a high.

Decades back, Pakistan had a Hanif Mohammad who batted and batted. And batted some more.

They had a Majid Khan who, if we go by folklore, could do whatever he wanted with the willow in his hand.

There was also Javed Miandad, who would have loved to trade his bat for a rifle, for cricket was nothing short of war for him.

Saeed Anwar took on the best of attacks with enviable calm, slicing them with a blade so sharp that it never seemed he was torturing them.

And there was the universally loved Inzamam-ul-Haq, whose accent they made fun of but whose batting left them enthralled.

And then, there were the stylists Zaheer Abbas, Saleem Malik, and Mohammad Yousuf men whose silken touch would make you nod and smile even when you have had the toughest of days at work.

They flocked to the ground in thousands at Karachi and Lahore and Faisalabad and Gujranwala and Hyderabad and Multan and everywhere else to catch a glimpse of the great batsmen.

Younis and Misbah played substantial chunks of their cricket in front of empty stadia. They had to refer to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah as home . Wordsmiths used the clich d phrase home away from home .

But they were not home. They were a different country. They played a day-night Test at Dubai last year. The Day One crowd was so sparse that the cricketers, support cast, technicians, media, and ground security outnumbered them comfortably.

No, it was not home. That would not have happened in a match under lights at Karachi or Lahore.

Other champions of the era played their cricket home and away. Younis and Misbah had to be content with only away. The last eight years of their international careers were played either in front of crowds who cheered for the other side or empty grounds.

But they stuck to Pakistan and her cricket. They could have taken up county contracts and stayed on as professionals in England, or perhaps Australia or South Africa. Saqlain Mushtaq had done that, as had Mushtaq Ahmed and Azhar Mahmood. Imran Tahir has found home in South Africa before playing county cricket in England. No one would have raised an eyebrow.

There was worse. Test captain Shahid Afridi quit Test cricket suddenly in 2010, midway through a series. Unlike his other announcements, this was a serious one, for he has never threatened a comeback in whites. Perhaps he knew something; or perhaps not.

Salman Butt replaced Afridi at the helm. Then came the Lord s Test, and Butt was swept away from international cricket, taking Mohammad Asif and young Aamer with him, leaving behind a legacy of disgrace most countries would have found impossible to recover from.

They appointed Misbah, the man whose brain-freeze had deprived Pakistan of the inaugural World T20 title.

It was only fitting that his international career would end in another brain-freeze, albeit from the opposition No. 11. This time it ended in triumph and history.

There was no Yousuf anymore, either. Neither was there Danish Kaneria. Shoaib Akhtar was gone next year.

Then, from the shadows of obscurity rose one Saeed Ajmal. Azhar Ali emerged. Shoaib Malik stood tall, his head held high despite the storms. Mohammad Hafeez was reliable. Misbah had a group. They were not the greatest of sides, but he could easily make them one.

But Misbah still needed an icon. Misbah was not a hero yet. He would finish as one of Pakistan s greatest, but he needed that one man whom they would idolise.

Younis was that man. At that stage nobody would have thought that he would go past that magic 8,832-mark, let alone become the first Pakistani to 10,000 Test runs.

But just like Misbah, Younis knew that he had to. Theirs was a role far bigger than it met the eye. They could not afford to have their roles restricted to scoring runs or flipping the coin. They had to lift Pakistan from the dark days of the Lahore attacks and spot-fixing.

And they did precisely that. Misbah scored runs. Younis scored more runs. Misbah marshalled his troops. Younis was ready to help at the drop of a hat.

Younis and Misbah. Misbah and Younis.

They smiled. They stayed off controversies. Families seldom function efficiently with two patriarchs, but this one did, for few men are as amicable as the Misbah and Younis.

These are men who seldom admonished youngsters despite them doing something terrible on the field: how could they clash with each other?

These are men who knew that their battle was not between them. It was not about Misbah versus Younis. It was Team Misbah-and-Younis versus the rest of the world.

It took them six years to emerge from the infamy of Lord s 2010. Paradise was regained in 2016, first with a historic win at Lord s, then with a series-leveller at The Oval.

In his maiden appearance at Lord s (at 42, if I may remind you), Misbah batted in bright, revolting orange boots to score a hundred, and celebrated with push-ups. Yasir spun Pakistan to a victory.

At The Oval, Younis scored a double-hundred. Once again, Yasir spun Pakistan to a victory.

Misbah and Younis. Younis and Misbah.

They were not merely fighting for Pakistan. Throughout these dark days, despite not getting to play as much as India, Australia, or England, shrugging away further instances of spot-fixing, accepting chucking allegations on Ajmal, Misbah and Younis battled on.

Misbah and Younis were not merely playing sport. They were not merely playing for Pakistan.

Misbah and Younis were Pakistan. They did not have the aura of superheroes, for superheroes are distant people. You need them to save your city, but you leave them alone otherwise.

They did not do the same with Misbah and Younis. They were family, after all. They were heroes in the same way parents are heroes for their children. They needed Misbah and Younis to earn bread. They also needed Misbah and Younis to tell them stories.

And when they ran out of stories, Misbah and Younis decided to create stories. And rewrite history. Once, twice, thrice, till those bones could take no more

When Imran Khan was batting in the 1987 World Cup semi-final (at that point it was supposed to be his last match for Pakistan) the Gaddafi Stadium sang kabhi alvida na kehna in unison.

Misbah and Younis could merely hope that Pakistan had stayed up to watch their swansong at well past three in the morning. Even if they did not, they did not probably care: stay up to watch us play for the last was a request you cannot relate to Misbah and Younis; don t stay up late sounds more likely.

The last time cricket witnessed something like this was in the 2006-07 Ashes, when Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne had bowed out together. Justin Langer did form a trio (and Damien Martyn had quit a Test before), but as was expected, it was about McGrath and Warne. Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman also played their last Tests together, but no one knew it was going to be their last.

They were outstanding cricketers, all of them. McGrath, Warne, and Langer were crucial cogs in the wheels of an all-conquering side. Dravid and Laxman were part of the only side that looked at them in the eye in the new millennium. There is no doubting that they played significant roles for their respective sides.

But all of them played in front of full houses cheering for them. None of them had the additional responsibility of raising the morale of an entire nation from the gloom of the turn of the decade.

And they smiled through it. They had their own brands of smiles.

Younis, born with a face that gave the feeling that he has just run ten miles, smiles rarely. Given the tragedies he has encountered, it is a miracle that he can muster one. But when he does, you can see the innocence on his face.

Misbah, on the other hand, manages a cross between a grin and a near-apologetic expression. He looks so shy at presentation ceremonies that it makes you wonder whether the purpose of that beard is to prevent people from realising that he is blushing.

And the smile spreads across teammates, across Pakistan, across cricket.

You conquer cricket with Test mace. You conquer the rest with a smile. And once you achieve both, you rise above sport, and more.

That was why cricket cried for Misbah and Younis when they hugged each other at the crease for that one final time.