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Double departure hands Pakistan a testing transition

By Sudipto Ganguly

(Reuters) - As Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq head off into the sunset after long and illustrious careers, Pakistan begins a tricky period of transition looking for a new wave of players ready to fill a huge void left by the retired batting greats.

In a fitting finale, Younis, Pakistan's most prolific test run-scorer, and Misbah, the country's most successful captain, bowed out together in a blaze of glory on Sunday with the team celebrating a first-ever series triumph in the Caribbean.

The thrilling 101-run victory in Dominica sealed a 2-1 win over West Indies and was Pakistan's 26th under the 42-year-old Misbah, who also led the side to the top of the International Cricket Council (ICC) world test rankings last year.

Since his 2001 test debut in New Zealand, Misbah accumulated 5,222 runs in 75 matches at an average higher than 46.

Admired for his unflappable temperament in a dressing room replete with mercurial talent, Misbah was handed the test captaincy after a 2010 spot-fixing scandal in England led to the expulsion of his predecessor Salman Butt.

ICC chief executive David Richardson was among those to pay a glowing tribute to the consistent right-hander.

"Misbah has been the bedrock of many a Pakistan innings, time and time again extricating his team from difficult situations with a terrific temperament," the former South Africa wicketkeeper said.

"He knew how to graft for his runs but could also be inventive and score at a brisk pace, as was evident during his impressive 56-ball century against Australia in 2014 in Abu Dhabi, which equalled Viv Richards's world record.

"He was a leader who took charge at a difficult time... He was a true sportsman and role model."

If Misbah represented the voice of reason in both the dressing room and out on the field, Younis let his bat do the talking and is currently the only Pakistani to have joined the coveted 10,000 test-run club.

GREAT SERVANTS

The former captain, who led Pakistan to the World Twenty20 title in 2009, tallied 10,099 runs in 118 tests, embellishing his legacy with 34 hundreds at an average of more than 52.

Together they were the pillars of Pakistan's batting lineup for over a decade and it could take many years for the country to find anyone capable of matching their feats.

Pakistan's situation mirrors the dilemma South Asian rivals Sri Lanka faced when batting mainstays Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene ended their international careers two years ago.

"I was really sad when Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene left the Sri Lankan team together. Look at their team now, they are in such disarray," former Pakistan leg-spinner Abdul Qadir told the Express Tribune.

"Likewise, both of these batsmen leaving together could cause problems for Pakistan's test team. However, they have been great servants to the country."

Pakistan have coped with their absence in the shorter formats since 2015 but the challenge of white-ball cricket is completely different to the patience and technique required in the red-ball arena.

"The onus is now on the likes of Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed to step up and fill the void," Misbah told Cricket Australia's website in an interview last month.

"When two Pakistan greats Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mohammad Yousuf left the scene, Younis and I tried to fill that gap. Azhar and Asad have developed in the meantime and now they are at a stage to replace us.

"We need Azhar and Asad to take ownership of the test side... Every team goes though transition periods and Pakistan is no different."

(Editing by John O'Brien)

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