April 26, 2013

The life of Misbah

Early signs suggest that 2013 could see the emergence of a new Misbah, a man more open to change
17

Misbah-ul-Haq: time for a final re-emergence?
Misbah-ul-Haq: time for a final re-emergence? © Associated Press

Two Pakistan veterans have been on trial over the last few weeks. Shahid Afridi and Misbah-ul-Haq may be about the same age but their career paths have little in common.

Afridi, whose tete-a-tete with Ijaz Butt recently made the headlines, is an unusual case. He was celebrated at the start of his career as the epitome of all that is Pakistani. His crests and troughs have mirrored those of the national team. But for perhaps the first time in a decade, his place is up for question. Excluding matches against Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and the Associate nations, he only has six double-figure scores in his last 18 matches. But then, his batting has always been like a cheesy pick-up line - you're always surprised when it succeeds. More worryingly, though, during this period he has a bowling average over 100.

While Afridi has forever been the team's mistress, forgiven his misdemeanours, Misbah is the dutiful wife, whose every failure is frowned upon. He has been stuck with the nickname "tuk tuk", a result of his defensive style, though his career has been far more nuanced than that would suggest. And unlike Afridi's bowling graph - a bell curve - Misbah's career can be separated into four distinct phases.

During the first, from his Test debut in 2000-01 until he was dropped from the ODI squad - for what seemed like the final time - in 2004, he was a domestic bully. A modern-day Shafiq Ahmed, he couldn't translate first-class success to the international stage, and his highest score in 12 matches was 50 not out. He could argue that his career might have been more fruitful had he been given an extended run. But neither would this complaint be new nor would it be the last time a domestic high-achiever would voice it - as Fawad Alam's case indicates.

Misbah's 2007 resurrection, after Mohammad Yousuf was dropped for being "too old" for T20, was controversial, not in the least because Misbah was older than the man he replaced. Perhaps for the first time in his life, all eyes were on Misbah, and he shone under the spotlight.

Many recall his misbegotten scoop at the end of the World T20, but till then he had been a revelation. He was the third-highest scorer in the tournament despite not having batted in the top five once. It was almost as if he was taking a dig at conventional T20 logic. The only two batsmen who scored more were openers (Gautam Gambhir and Matthew Hayden), and Misbah's strike rate of 139.74 was higher than those of MS Dhoni, Virender Sehwag and Brendon McCullum.

Over the next 18 months he was Pakistan's finisher-in-chief. He often batted at No. 6 during this period and averaged 40.6, with a strike rate of 85.7. India - his nemesis in the past - suffered the most: he averaged 47.7 at a strike rate of over 100 against them. Misbah recently implied that all one needed to boost one's international stats is a tour of India - it's likely he doesn't find Indian conditions and their bowlers too challenging.

Misbah's career seemed to be over in the second half of 2009 with the return of Yousuf and the rise of Umar Akmal. But like the proverbial phoenix, he rose from the ashes of the team's spot-fixing saga. Though he wasn't captain, he was a leader of the side's batting. He probably did more than anyone to haul the team from the depths of the 2010 English summer, and led them to what was probably Pakistan's greatest Test series win.

While Afridi has forever been the team's mistress - forgiven for his misdemeanours - Misbah is the dutiful wife, whose every failure is frowned upon

His role, he says, was to stay at one end to give freedom to his partner, and then let loose in the death overs. His desire to protect his wicket would eventually backfire, in terms of how he was viewed, and it was during this phase that he was handed the nickname "tuktuk"; he became a heretic in a land of mavericks.

The numbers show that both parties had a point. While an average of 43.7 is commendable, a strike rate of 67 clearly isn't. Perhaps a better support cast would have made his role easier to stomach - among his team-mates only Nasir Jamshed and Umar Akmal average over 35 in ODIs, and the constant failures of the middle order (Younis Khan, Shoaib Malik, Kamran Akmal and Asad Shafiq, who all average under 30 with strike rates under 80 during his current reign) could have nullified Misbah's desire to be the sheet anchor. The fact that he refused to change his stance or batting strategy meant that he was the first to be targeted for the team's losses.

Misbah says those days are long gone. His detractors had much fun at his expense when he said he would only play his "natural game". This despite him having proved that his natural game is far different from what we have become accustomed to. He indicated - though not explicitly - that the call for his head after the ODI series win against India played a part in him adopting this new viewpoint.

Former and current players, including ex-team-mates, have urged him to be the player he was at domestic level for over a decade. And early signs suggest that 2013 could see the emergence of a new Misbah, a man more open to change. In South Africa he was Pakistan's best batsman by a mile, scoring 227 runs at a strike rate above 80.

He followed that up by being the best batsman in the Super Eight T20 Cup, with an average over a 100 and a strike rate above 140 - numbers straight out of his pre-captaincy era. And he led his team, SNGPL, to the semi-final of the President's Trophy, Pakistan's most prestigious 50-over tournament, averaging 74 with a strike rate above 120 - not numbers you would expect from a man mocked for conservative batting.

This may well be only a phase. Or perhaps it's just good form. But in conversations - both in South Africa and Pakistan - he has repeatedly said that this change has been a conscious decision.

It would seem that he will lead Pakistan to the Champions Trophy - a situation that looked nigh-on impossible through most of his ODI tenure (as was made obvious by the fact that he was in contract talks to play for Worcestershire this English season). And Pakistan, whose semi-inexperienced batting order could struggle in English conditions, will need the new (or is it the old?) Misbah.

To understand how far outside the realm of logic Pakistan cricket operates, consider this: barely two years on from the semi-final defeat in Mohali, Pakistan could start an ICC tournament with Misbah as their only hope.

Hassan Cheema is a sports journalist, writer and commentator, and co-hosts the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on April 27, 2013, 18:10 GMT

    nice article and totally agree to most of it. in 2013 we have seen a new misbah. had a great SA series, after that domestic circuit he is doing great. his captanicy has got t20 domestic, domestic odi title, domestic first class title this time. we should also not forget that other also dont perform well. in SA most of batsmen were faliure.

    Afridi's recent form in domestic and international is very poor. cant be included as bowler nor batsman. Younas has been dropped now from odi & i think should remain so. imran farhat a failed story, Malik is 50-50 but main thing if he isnt bowling then he should not be in as we can fit in full batsman.

    Pakistan need a medium pace batting allrounder after razak. spining allorunder may work in asia but not else where. we havent got any replacement after razak. hammad was tested for short while but dropped without any reason.

  • on April 26, 2013, 15:29 GMT

    Brilliant Article. Just if Misbah changed to a more attacking approach from the start of his innings, he would`nt be criticised as much. Otherwise his career has been a huge success. I feel sorry for the Pakistan team when he will leave, he has been the major backbone of the batting lineup. No one currently can fill his place.

  • amumtaz on April 27, 2013, 14:45 GMT

    Its not that Misbah cant bat. It's that he refuses to rotate the strike and keep fielders and bowlers guessing. By not moving and running between the wickets he gives bowlers confidence and creates pressure on other batsmen. Till he learns the art of rotation, he will always be "Tuk Tuk".

  • noufal123 on April 27, 2013, 9:15 GMT

    a thoughtful article i iike it misbaaaah you beauty we love you

  • on April 27, 2013, 7:53 GMT

    Exellent buddy, i really enjoy it wonderful article who thinks negative about misbah!!! Hope we will get some more from u like that!

  • on April 27, 2013, 6:44 GMT

    great article just briiliant

  • indiancricketfan12 on April 27, 2013, 3:51 GMT

    Younis khan is one player I've great regards for. He seems to have the right sportsman spirit and is very enjoyable to see him bat if he is on song.

    Misbah could play for another 1 or 2 years buut Pakistan need a young skipper for 2015 world cup for sure.

  • on April 27, 2013, 2:37 GMT

    decent write up but you conveniently forget the 2011 world cup and the part he played in ruining the semi final chase. He is a solid test bat and a good test and ODI captain but he has no place in the ODI side as a bat.

    If he retires from ODis - as he has from T20 - and ends his days in tests, he will be remembered as Pakistan's sheet anchor. Otherwise he will be remembered as its deadweight.

  • golgo_85 on April 26, 2013, 23:52 GMT

    Regardless the condition, if a captain is happy to field a team with only 2 genuine seamers even though there is not even a seam bowling allrounder in the team, I'm afraid, that's is fairly mediocre as far as tacticians go at this day and age and that has been mostly the case ever since Misbah took over. His over dependency of spin bowling has been costing Pakistan matches at crucial stages. If Afridi was still the ODI captain, Pakistan would've had Hammad Azam as an established allrounder by now which would've brought them the balance they currently lack as far as team selection is concerned. I have no problem with Misbah as a Test captain and an ODI batsman. But his part in team selection is highly questionable. Why restrain and then criticise Umar Akmal when the team has enough grafters to compensate if he does get out playing his natural game? Why make him over cautious? Umar and Hammad will have this current management to blame for the rest of their lives and rightly so.

  • bored_iam on April 26, 2013, 23:05 GMT

    @Soverberry2- hasnt afridi been 33 for the last 5 years? :P

  • on April 27, 2013, 18:10 GMT

    nice article and totally agree to most of it. in 2013 we have seen a new misbah. had a great SA series, after that domestic circuit he is doing great. his captanicy has got t20 domestic, domestic odi title, domestic first class title this time. we should also not forget that other also dont perform well. in SA most of batsmen were faliure.

    Afridi's recent form in domestic and international is very poor. cant be included as bowler nor batsman. Younas has been dropped now from odi & i think should remain so. imran farhat a failed story, Malik is 50-50 but main thing if he isnt bowling then he should not be in as we can fit in full batsman.

    Pakistan need a medium pace batting allrounder after razak. spining allorunder may work in asia but not else where. we havent got any replacement after razak. hammad was tested for short while but dropped without any reason.

  • on April 26, 2013, 15:29 GMT

    Brilliant Article. Just if Misbah changed to a more attacking approach from the start of his innings, he would`nt be criticised as much. Otherwise his career has been a huge success. I feel sorry for the Pakistan team when he will leave, he has been the major backbone of the batting lineup. No one currently can fill his place.

  • amumtaz on April 27, 2013, 14:45 GMT

    Its not that Misbah cant bat. It's that he refuses to rotate the strike and keep fielders and bowlers guessing. By not moving and running between the wickets he gives bowlers confidence and creates pressure on other batsmen. Till he learns the art of rotation, he will always be "Tuk Tuk".

  • noufal123 on April 27, 2013, 9:15 GMT

    a thoughtful article i iike it misbaaaah you beauty we love you

  • on April 27, 2013, 7:53 GMT

    Exellent buddy, i really enjoy it wonderful article who thinks negative about misbah!!! Hope we will get some more from u like that!

  • on April 27, 2013, 6:44 GMT

    great article just briiliant

  • indiancricketfan12 on April 27, 2013, 3:51 GMT

    Younis khan is one player I've great regards for. He seems to have the right sportsman spirit and is very enjoyable to see him bat if he is on song.

    Misbah could play for another 1 or 2 years buut Pakistan need a young skipper for 2015 world cup for sure.

  • on April 27, 2013, 2:37 GMT

    decent write up but you conveniently forget the 2011 world cup and the part he played in ruining the semi final chase. He is a solid test bat and a good test and ODI captain but he has no place in the ODI side as a bat.

    If he retires from ODis - as he has from T20 - and ends his days in tests, he will be remembered as Pakistan's sheet anchor. Otherwise he will be remembered as its deadweight.

  • golgo_85 on April 26, 2013, 23:52 GMT

    Regardless the condition, if a captain is happy to field a team with only 2 genuine seamers even though there is not even a seam bowling allrounder in the team, I'm afraid, that's is fairly mediocre as far as tacticians go at this day and age and that has been mostly the case ever since Misbah took over. His over dependency of spin bowling has been costing Pakistan matches at crucial stages. If Afridi was still the ODI captain, Pakistan would've had Hammad Azam as an established allrounder by now which would've brought them the balance they currently lack as far as team selection is concerned. I have no problem with Misbah as a Test captain and an ODI batsman. But his part in team selection is highly questionable. Why restrain and then criticise Umar Akmal when the team has enough grafters to compensate if he does get out playing his natural game? Why make him over cautious? Umar and Hammad will have this current management to blame for the rest of their lives and rightly so.

  • bored_iam on April 26, 2013, 23:05 GMT

    @Soverberry2- hasnt afridi been 33 for the last 5 years? :P

  • on April 26, 2013, 22:06 GMT

    great article there is no comprision between fridi and misbah i think mishan 1000 times better than afridi

  • Rubic on April 26, 2013, 13:28 GMT

    The difference is if Afridi fires (agree once in every 15 odd games), Pakistan crushes the opponent and when Misbah is at his best, Pakistan lose the game with 25 runs per over required in last the 5 oversÂ…when he gets out with a phenomenal 100 balls 33 runs

  • on April 26, 2013, 13:09 GMT

    Excellent article! The description of Afridiand Misbah is spot on!

  • SoverBerry2 on April 26, 2013, 12:05 GMT

    Hey, Afridi is only 33 and Misbah is 38.

  • on April 26, 2013, 10:39 GMT

    Great article.......................lovely

  • getsetgopk on April 26, 2013, 10:26 GMT

    This has really been a nice article, opinionated but well informed and backed up well with facts and figures from both domestic and international scenes. My personal view is that yes Misbah has evolved, initially I thought he didn't get many chances at the international scene and probably thats why he missed the trick to up the anti at crucial stages like the one in Mohali. One can argue that its not that difficult to read the game and do as it is needed but he didn't and thats an open question, anybody can have his opinion about it. The weak opening and middle order are always in Misbahs defence.

    One problem I see in this article is that mock Afridi as much as you like but lets look at the facts for a change. We owe Afridi the 2009 WC, taking us to WC semi only to lose when nobody could catch the damn ball, was man of the series in UAE against SL, the WI series and NZ series. He was removed from captaincy in the most disgraceful way possible and maybe lost the will to play anymore.

  • husseybukhari on April 26, 2013, 10:26 GMT

    excellent article, the part where afridi is described as the mistress is just awesome. great job

  • husseybukhari on April 26, 2013, 10:26 GMT

    excellent article, the part where afridi is described as the mistress is just awesome. great job

  • getsetgopk on April 26, 2013, 10:26 GMT

    This has really been a nice article, opinionated but well informed and backed up well with facts and figures from both domestic and international scenes. My personal view is that yes Misbah has evolved, initially I thought he didn't get many chances at the international scene and probably thats why he missed the trick to up the anti at crucial stages like the one in Mohali. One can argue that its not that difficult to read the game and do as it is needed but he didn't and thats an open question, anybody can have his opinion about it. The weak opening and middle order are always in Misbahs defence.

    One problem I see in this article is that mock Afridi as much as you like but lets look at the facts for a change. We owe Afridi the 2009 WC, taking us to WC semi only to lose when nobody could catch the damn ball, was man of the series in UAE against SL, the WI series and NZ series. He was removed from captaincy in the most disgraceful way possible and maybe lost the will to play anymore.

  • on April 26, 2013, 10:39 GMT

    Great article.......................lovely

  • SoverBerry2 on April 26, 2013, 12:05 GMT

    Hey, Afridi is only 33 and Misbah is 38.

  • on April 26, 2013, 13:09 GMT

    Excellent article! The description of Afridiand Misbah is spot on!

  • Rubic on April 26, 2013, 13:28 GMT

    The difference is if Afridi fires (agree once in every 15 odd games), Pakistan crushes the opponent and when Misbah is at his best, Pakistan lose the game with 25 runs per over required in last the 5 oversÂ…when he gets out with a phenomenal 100 balls 33 runs

  • on April 26, 2013, 22:06 GMT

    great article there is no comprision between fridi and misbah i think mishan 1000 times better than afridi

  • bored_iam on April 26, 2013, 23:05 GMT

    @Soverberry2- hasnt afridi been 33 for the last 5 years? :P

  • golgo_85 on April 26, 2013, 23:52 GMT

    Regardless the condition, if a captain is happy to field a team with only 2 genuine seamers even though there is not even a seam bowling allrounder in the team, I'm afraid, that's is fairly mediocre as far as tacticians go at this day and age and that has been mostly the case ever since Misbah took over. His over dependency of spin bowling has been costing Pakistan matches at crucial stages. If Afridi was still the ODI captain, Pakistan would've had Hammad Azam as an established allrounder by now which would've brought them the balance they currently lack as far as team selection is concerned. I have no problem with Misbah as a Test captain and an ODI batsman. But his part in team selection is highly questionable. Why restrain and then criticise Umar Akmal when the team has enough grafters to compensate if he does get out playing his natural game? Why make him over cautious? Umar and Hammad will have this current management to blame for the rest of their lives and rightly so.

  • on April 27, 2013, 2:37 GMT

    decent write up but you conveniently forget the 2011 world cup and the part he played in ruining the semi final chase. He is a solid test bat and a good test and ODI captain but he has no place in the ODI side as a bat.

    If he retires from ODis - as he has from T20 - and ends his days in tests, he will be remembered as Pakistan's sheet anchor. Otherwise he will be remembered as its deadweight.