Indian and Pakistani openers announce retirements
Two stalwarts of cricket in the subcontinent have announced their retirements, with India’s Gautham Gambhir stepping away from all forms of international cricket, and Pakistan’s Mohammed Hafeez to quit the test arena at the end of his team’s current match against New Zealand. The two have put together long careers as openers for their respective sides, and wrap up their stints as test openers with very similar numbers.
Gambhir, for all intents and purposes, was already finished on the international stage, having not appeared in a test match in over two years, and not playing an international limited overs match since early in 2013. Over the course of his career, his best form was displayed in the 50-over format of the game, in which he he played 147 matches for 5,238 runs at the very healthy average of 39.68 and a strike rate of 85.25.
His performance in this format of the game was good enough to earn him the captaincy in 2010 and 2011, albeit relatively briefly. He was initially appointed for a 2010 series against New Zealand, and seemingly relished the role - highlighted by an unbeaten 150 in the fourth match to give India an unassailable 3-1 lead, he was awarded the Man of the Series award.
In the test arena, however, he was seemingly equally capable, even if he wasn’t able to show it consistently throughout his career. His career will end after 58 matches and 4,154 runs, which he accumulated at the very solid average of 41.95. That number, though, doesn’t properly reflect the swings and roundabouts of what was a unique career.
His debut came in 2004, but with the exception of a lone century against Bangladesh laters that year, he struggled to make an initial impact, and at the end of 2005 was dropped for what would be an almost two year hiatus from international test cricket. After being recalled, dropped, and recalled again, he became a different player. Between Pakistan’s 2008 tour of Sri Lanka and their 2010/11 tour of South Africa he was dominant, averaging 60.52 and accumulating a huge eight centuries in just 24 matches. These numbers include a down period in early 2010 too, further demonstrating the dominance he displayed when at the top of his game.
In fact, all eight of the centuries he accumulated within this period came within just 18 innings between late 2008 and early 2010. These innings’ came in just ten matches, meaning he failed to score a century in just two out of ten matches over the course of more than a year. After the tour of South Africa in 2010/11 though - a series in which he failed to pass 100 but made a half-century in three of four innings - he dropped off again, failing to score another century and ultimately finding himself regularly on the verge of losing his spot in the side.
Whether this period of dominance was an extended anomaly or a true representation of his talent is difficult to say, but regardless, his ability to put numbers on the board in both long and short forms of the game mean he will be remembered as one of India’s finest players.
Mohammed Hafeez will continue to play the shorter forms of the game, but what has been a very good test career will come to a close. As mentioned, he ends with similar numbers to Gambhir, having played in 55 matches for 3,644 runs at an average of 37.95 - and at the time of writing, he still has one innings to go.
Like Gambhir, Hafeez had a somewhat inauspicious start to his career - despite scoring a century in his second match, he played just three games after his debut in 2003 before being dropped for close to three years. He had an extended run at it in 2006 and 2007, but again failed to establish himself, and after failing to pass 50 once in four matches against South Africa in late 2007, was again dropped for three years. Upon being recalled in 2010, however, he was a new player, and began to forge what would ultimately be the career of one of Pakistan’s best openers.
The best period of his career came in late 2014, when in a two match series against New Zealand he scored 96, 101*, 197 and 24 for a series average of 105. In Pakistan’s next test match a few months later, he managed 224 in the first innings against Bangladesh.
From then, however, his form dropped off, and despite sporadically returning to his prior self, he generally struggled at the top of the order and failed to provide the kind of solidity that he once did. Pakistan headed to England for a three test series in the middle of 2016, and in six innings Hafeez could manage just 102 runs at an average of 17. He was subsequently dropped.
Ultimately, he managed to fight his way back into the team just a couple of months ago, and appeared to have more to give when he made 126 in his return innings against Australia in Dubai. The innings provided more false hope than anything though, and he followed it up with scores of 17, 4 and 6. With New Zealand currently touring he had the chance to turn it around, however in the first two matches he failed to pass 20 and scored just 39 runs across three innings. A duck in the first innings of the third test in Abu Dhabi sealed his fate, and the announcement of his retirement soon followed.
It’s worth noting that Hafeez was also a handy off-spin bowler, even if he has at times come under scrutiny, both publicly and from the ICC, for his bowling action. He ends his test career having picked up 53 wickets at an average of 34.05, a rate of just under one wicket per game.
A talented shorter form player, Hafeez won’t disappear completely off the international circuit. He is still a valued member of Pakistan’s ODI and T20I teams, and has been displaying some good form in particular in the latter of these two formats. Retiring from test cricket, Hafeez said, will provide him with more opportunity to focus on these forms of the game, and will hopefully have the ultimate effect of furthering his career. At 38 years of age, just how long for this will be is unclear, but regardless he has already forged a long and successful career.
Both of these players go out having, at one time or another, been one of the best, if not the best, player in their country. They each went through dominant periods as opening batsmen, and retire with numbers that rival some of the very best openers in the history of cricket. Though their best form is a thing of the past, particularly for Gambhir, whose career was essentially finished prior to this announcement regardless, they will nonetheless be missed by their respective national sides.