Sri Lanka vs. Pakistan: Breaking Down Younis, Ajmal and Misbah's Test Futures

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Sri Lanka vs. Pakistan: Breaking Down Younis, Ajmal and Misbah's Test Futures
Eranga Jayawardena/Associated Press

With Pakistan having taken control of the first Test against Sri Lanka after day two in Galle, we assess their captain Misbah-ul-Haq, star batsman Younis Khan and mystery off-spinner Saeed Ajmal’s futures in the game by asking: How much longer can this trio of veterans go on for, and who will replace them?

Worryingly for the tourists, Younis—who put them in such a commanding position at the Galle International Stadium by scoring the 24th century of his Test career on the first day—is actually the youngest of these three pillars of the Pakistan side, with the former skipper not 37 until November.

Meanwhile, Saeed turns that same age a month earlier and Misbah already reached 40 earlier this summer, all of which means the clock is fast counting down on their respective careers at the highest level.

And yet, as with any international sportsman over the age of 35, it is the two Fs—form and fitness—that will ultimately determine just how long each player can continue for, which may be some time judging by their displays so far in the heat and humidity of Sri Lanka.

However, one must factor in just how much top-level cricket each man has played over the years as well, even more so in the case of a bowler—albeit a spinner—such as Ajmal who has been his captain's chief threat with the ball ever since taking a five-for on his Test debut five years ago.

Interestingly, though, while Younis is currently playing his 90th Test, Misbah—despite making his debut just a year later in 2001—is featuring in his 47th in Galle, with Ajmal the real odd one out having first appeared for his country only six years ago.

In fact, the brilliant off-break bowler did not even make his Test-match bow until 2009— when nearly 32—which explains why Ajmal is currently taking part in just his 34th Test match against Sri Lanka.

And that will most certainly count in the tweaker's favour when it comes to prolonging his career, with Ajmal having only sent down 10,727 deliveries for Pakistan prior to this series in Sri Lanka.

Working against Ajmal's hopes of extending his international career, however, is that he is the only one of the trio who still plays all three forms of the game, and with the 50- and 20-over World Cups scheduled for 2015 and 2016 respectively, there is every chance Pakistan will want their most important bowler to carry on at least until then.

That same thinking is also likely to apply to both Misbah and Younis when it comes to next February's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, with the former his country's one-day international skipper, of course.

Meanwhile, the latter is still in the tourists' ODI squad for their forthcoming series in Sri Lanka, despite having not played limited-overs cricket for Pakistan in more than a year now, meaning that it would be a major surprise were either to call it a day before the conclusion of that massive global tournament in March 2015.

And with equally important Test and ODI series to come against Australia and New Zealand in the United Arab Emirates this winter ahead of the World Cup, it is safe to assume that the backbone of the Pakistan team will remain in place for at least another year.

But whether the trio decide to continue their Test careers beyond the conclusion of New Zealand's tour in December must be in doubt, especially in the case of Misbah, who will more than likely call it a day after next year’s World Cup.

However, Younis—who is four years younger than his captain and still churning out big scores—may just opt to prolong his Test career until he reaches his 100th cap, with the middle-order batsman set to make his 96th appearance for his country in the third Test with New Zealand at the end of November.

And that will also give the star batsman enough time to score the 1,266 more runs he needs to overtake Javed Miandad as Pakistan's all-time leading Test run-scorer.

Replacing the three stars will be a far harder task than trying to extend their careers, though, with each having proved indispensable to Pakistan at various different times since the turn of the century.

Younis' eventual departure will leave a similar-size hole in the batting lineup to the one created when the team's previous rock at No. 4, Inzamam-ul-Haq, decided to call it a day in 2007.

And whether Azhar Ali or Asad Shafiq from the current crop of middle-order batsmen have either the technique or temperament to fill Younis' giant shoes very much remains in question.

As for Misbah—who has proved himself an astute leader since being handed the captaincy in 2011, as well as a more-than-dependable No. 5 who can bat for long periods—perhaps the Pakistan selectors may have to turn to someone like Shahid Afridi or Mohammad Hafeez, with both men having previous experience of leading their country in the shorter form of the game.

But it will be a far harder task finding a successor to the brilliant Ajmal, with both Australia and England recently finding out to their cost that when it comes to replacing the world’s best spinner, it is virtually impossible and certainly beyond the capabilities of Pakistan's current backup tweaker Abdur Rehman.

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