On the eve of the third day of the last Test match between Pakistan and England, all focus was shifted from a gripping match to a headline which was least expected. Malik, who just made his comeback to the Test side in this very series, after a gap of five years, announced his immediate retirement from the longest format of the game.
Malik, who was originally not included in the squad, made his way in after Bilal Asif was reported for his action while playing against Zimbabwe. He was given a go in the playing eleven after Azhar Ali was ruled out of the first Test due to a foot injury.
In cricket, it is always about taking the opportunity when it arrives and Malik knew it was his time to perform. He played a mammoth innings of 245 in the first Test on a dead Abu Dhabi pitch. His innings gained more significance as he was batting at one-down, which was never his preferable position in Tests, and he was playing the longest format of the game after a break of five long years.
For Malik, it was more about grinding it out in tough soaring conditions than his technique which made thing work for him on his Test return.
After witnessing such a phenomenal comeback to the side, no one would have thought that a man who just expressed his desire to play in all three format, would retire so soon. Yet, his decision makes so much more sense.
The famous phrase ‘all’s well that ends well’ suits the game of cricket as well. Malik, who averages in the early 30’s and has more than 30 wickets to his name, called it quits at the age of just 33. It looks even more bizarre when you see a 41-year-old leading the same side and is yet to make any official announcement to hang his boots.
However, the decision speaks volumes about Malik’s matureness as a professional which he must have learned by playing in different leagues all over the world. He had the opportunity to share dressing rooms with several modern day greats, which surely would have helped him understand that it’s better to leave when people are asking you ‘why now’ than at a time when the question becomes ‘when will you’?
Many greats such as Ricky Ponting and Shivnarayan Chanderpaul, to name a few, could have had a better ending if they left at the right time. The likes of Inzamamul Haq and Muhammad Yousuf in Pakistan fall into that category. They did not retire when the time was right and their good work was somewhat compromised since they failed to receive the farewell they deserved.
Malik raised his bar as a true professional and a team man when he wrote in his blog after retirement that he left the team to make room for youngsters. He also left a silent message for other seniors. His, more than just graceful, exit from the five-day format, even after having such a mediocre career by any standards, sets an example for the likes of Younus Khan. The veteran, even after having a below par ODI career, is adamant to play in the 50-over team at the age of 37, most probably at the expense of a deserving youngster.
The Sialkot Stallions’ captain also set an example for the likes of Saeed Ajmal who has failed to settle with his new bowling action and there is no great hope that he will make it to the national side any time soon.
Malik’s early departure sets an example for everyone that leaving at the right time for the greater good of the team can help you earn respect even with such an average career.