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December 28, 2009
In between two vibrant flushes of youth, an older man began to save a career at the MCG. It may be nothing but a late swish against the inevitability of time, but it gave the day a nice touch.
Misbah-ul-Haq's career has been a strange one, even by Pakistan's standards. He was tried and dispensed with early in the decade. He went back content to less-lit fields and did big things for five years, before suddenly, when least expected, he became a celebrated nearly man for Pakistan.
Some success came, a quirky penchant for brain-fades, the vice-captaincy and even talk of leadership, but it always felt like a gift from God to an ailing man late in life. When the form faded and he was dropped from all three formats for the tours to New Zealand and Australia that seemed just about that. Not many complained. But such is the way the wheel turns in Pakistan that a new captain came in and immediately demanded his return to the middle order.
So Misbah returned and though he didn't do much in New Zealand, he played a quiet and entirely unexpected gem today. Only his third half-century this year, it was his most grooved innings in some time. At the time of his dropping, he had become a curious pendulum of a batsman, either blocking everything, or having a bash at everything. But he was fluid today, moving well, taking singles and looking for runs.
It helped him to begin against Nathan Hauritz, for he has always fancied his chances against spin. He slogged the very first ball for a massive six, before sweeping him square straight after. He took more time against the pacemen, but a clutter of wickets and the last man brought out a range of strokes last seen a few years back.
Doug Bollinger, in the middle of a bullying spell, was driven back hard and then pulled away elegantly. A whippy, upright square cut came off Peter Siddle and plenty of gaps were cleverly found to keep the bowlers away from Saeed Ajmal. The fifty was an important personal milestone - for a Pakistani a half-century in Australia is still a big thing. Taking his side past the follow-on with Ajmal was a bigger accomplishment from the team's perspective.
"It was a really important innings for me," Misbah said. "I was under immense pressure before that, not scoring runs and even in New Zealand I was getting starts but not scoring runs. That innings really helps me for the future and I would like to thank the captain [Mohammad Yousuf]. He has given me a lot of confidence and I hope to make this a consistent thing."
Despite his efforts and those of Umar Akmal and Mohammad Aamer, Pakistan will still have to do very well to save this Test, punishment for their inertia in the first two days. The docile surface, Misbah said, might still help them. "The wicket is really good still. It's very good for batting. You can't say anything in cricket but you can make sure that you play well and see what happens. We can't control the result all the time but we can play good cricket.
"The guys bowled well, especially Aamer and [Mohammad] Asif, they started really well. Let's see what they set for us. What we can do is just fight and play well and let's see what the result will be. It's up to them now - let's see how we bowl tomorrow. If we get them out in the first session, let's see how it goes."
Misbah noted that the advent of Aamer and Akmal meant exciting times ahead for his team. "Aamer's a really good prospect for Pakistan. A guy who bowls 150kmph is always an asset for the team and he's batting well as well.
Umar's an exciting player. He just wants to dominate any bowling and it's good to see him dominating an Australian attack. He has a big future ahead of him. He loves to play under pressure and loves the challenge. We just always advise him to play his natural game. That is how you can be successful. We suggest to him to not play rash shots but the way your attacking instinct and cricketing shots are you should go and hit them," Misbah said.
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