January 21, 2014

Misbah's moment

The Sharjah chase was perhaps Pakistan's best ever, owing much to the collective spirit that the oft-vilified captain has nurtured

Misbah-ul-Haq: got glory this time to go with his guts © AFP

Sometimes sportsmen defy expectations. When that happens, your heart leaps for joy and events on a field transcend the mundane routine of everyday existence. Such cheer is even possible on Blue Monday, the day designated by believers in scientific nonsense to be the most depressing day of the year. If anything, it was the build-up to this Blue Monday, and not the day itself, that killed the spirit. Sri Lanka, a nation of exuberant cricketers, chose a path of demoralisation, run rates below 2.5 an over threatened to suck all life from the final Test.

Perhaps Pakistan didn't like what they saw? Sri Lanka's dull beat was a reflection of the performances that have characterised Pakistan in these gruelling wilderness years. Gritty, pragmatic cricket has brought some measure of stability but frustrated supporters who seek a more daring team to follow, a captain to love. Misbah-ul Haq, Pakistan's admirably unflinching leader, is deemed to be the architect of this humdrum philosophy. Misbah is dismissed as a goat, a donkey, even a jackal, depending on which beast at the moment best represents a spineless creature.

Misbah is none of these. A lion's heart thuds inside his chest. An ice-cool brain governs his decisions. It takes guts to defy a nation pleading for instant thrills. It takes more guts to defy your own instincts, for Misbah is no plodder of a batsman. His T20 record dismisses that charge. His range of shots and intermittent spasms of aggression in Test cricket betray the art of a batsman of high order.

Misbah is no blocker. Rather, he is a man biding his time, waiting for a moment to cut loose. Those opportunities have been too infrequent in recent years, thanks to the consistent failures of Pakistan's top order. Misbah is thus shackled, three years a slave to necessity. He still holds his head high. Critics remain sceptical because critics are as susceptible as any human to jealousy and stubbornness. Misbah makes mistakes, both as captain and as batsman, but the verdict on his achievements can only be one of admiration.

Misbah has had many successes as Pakistan captain, but his record missed a signature victory, a glorious tale to testify to his legend. He has it now - in Sharjah, Pakistan cricket's stadium of legends. It was a remarkable victory for several reasons. Scores of over 300 are rarely achieved in the fourth innings to win a match. In two sessions? Forget it. Pakistan's fourth-innings record is particularly poor. A diabolical top order usually condemns Misbah to a lonely vigil, yet Ahmed Shehzad, Azhar Ali and Sarfraz Ahmed, three young scamps under pressure to establish themselves, shared their captain's burden. All three delivered when they were expected to fail.

But, most impressively, Pakistan dared to chase Sri Lankan's challenging total. It was audacious, a heartfelt desire among supporters, but quite unexpected. Sri Lanka helped. They bowled erratically and set fields that allowed runs to easily accumulate. Still, this victory was one of Pakistan's best ever, perhaps the best-managed run chase by Pakistan in Test cricket, owing much to the collective spirit that Misbah has nurtured.

There is a moment in the career of every great player, a tipping point, when questions about quality seem impertinent and irrelevant. Pakistan won a memorable Test match in Sharjah, but it was also the tipping point in Misbah's career, the moment a vilified captain crossed a threshold to join the greats of Pakistan cricket. Misbah has won many matches as captain, but our minds dwell on heroism, on victories against the odds. This was Misbah's moment. In Sharjah in the twilight, Misbah won the love of his people and banished the blues, not just from Monday but from his career.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on January 24, 2014, 11:39 GMT

    Wow Mr. Abbasi you really nailed it.

  • Irfan on January 23, 2014, 15:14 GMT

    @ a133936 valid points, but I am very sure we can find 1 or more examples where Misbah played a game with a high SR (80/90 if not 100) when most of the team collapsed. Although Morgan, Bailey are anything but 'less known' and they belong to very solid teams. One example should not reflect the norm. Any top team would take Misbah's ODI avg mid 40s and SR in the 70s in a heartbeat.

    It's just that a team needs 11 good players, not 1 and unfortunately that's our problem; not 1 person. And this fact is all I can say about us not winning any "Test" series lately (we have won ODI series). But like you, I am also a fan of the longer format which is really cricket in its purest form. It is sad but here's what I can say… Just like any good captain (with exception of NZ's Stephen Fleming who defied the norms) whether its Imran, Ponting, Waugh, Dhoni etc they all need good performers to succeed. I say bring back Butt, Asif, Amir, trust me Misbah will do magic.

  • SHAHID on January 22, 2014, 20:16 GMT

    Misbah is world class. Negative comments regarding him are silly as these so called supporters wish the Pak team to resemble a one day team with smash bang wollop players. Do these supporters think Afridi would have played an innings such as Misbah, Azhar or Sarfraz? Test cricket is a game of chess, u pounce when theres a opening to do so.

  • Who on January 22, 2014, 19:33 GMT

    Last 1.5 year we have 3 wins (including one vs Zimbabwe) and 7 losses (including one vs Zimbabwe)......in 13 test matches... what are we celebrating? We haven't won a test championship or anything like that... have we?

  • Who on January 22, 2014, 19:03 GMT

    @short_cover: Now let's talk about my comparison between Misbah and ABD and your point about Misbah having to carry the top order failure. Here are some examples. See how these lesser know batsmen maintained a S/R of @100 even in similar situations.

    Team Score: 97/4 while chasing 267. Morgan scores 103 @ S/R of 121.17 without any six. http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/426387.html

    Team Score: 95/5 (56/4). Andy Flower scores 142 @ S/R of 110.93 with only 1 six. http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/64730.html

    Team Score: 21/4. Brendon Taylor scores 128* @ S/R of 106.66. http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/527014.html

    Team Score: 93/5 (56/4). George Baily scores 125* @ S/R of 113.63 with only 1 six. http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/573023.html Team Score: 111/5 while chasing 327. Kevin O'Brian scores 113 @ S/R of 179.36. http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/433572.html

  • Dummy4 on January 22, 2014, 18:28 GMT

    i didnt like Misbah after the 2011 World Cup Semi final loss. But over the past 2 years he has shown great character and has made me a believer out of me.

    Only problem that i have with him is: Since he knew the top order collapses, AND in any case he comes in early on 50/3 or something within the first 20 overs, he should have come in one-down. at number 3. come in at 50/1. then he can steady the ship as per his usual style, even going on to make his first ODI century.

    but Misbah stubbornly clings to his number five spot which is mind-boggling, he is the best batsman in the country, and he needs to take the responsibility of the number 3 slot.

  • Irfan on January 22, 2014, 17:15 GMT

    The captain certainly has a big say in picking the 11, but he is not the only one and he has to justify his choices. If Hafeez was his best friend and he really picks the team single handedly, then he would have kept him for the 3rd test as well. Series/match situation drastically changes the strategy that is utilized by captains. I am not saying he is perfect, but in the current situation, I think he is the best thing Pak could have hoped for. Yes, he can be more aggressive in his batting but comparing him with AB is, again, not sensible. AB has the luxury of playing after one of the best top order in the game which allows him to take an aggressive approach as most of the times, he is not rescuing his side from a batting collapse. On the other hand, most often than not, Misbah is consolidating from a typical Pak top order collapse (of recent times) and MUST minimize the risk element in his approach. This, btw was the situation in most of the ODIs where Pak lost chasing smaller totals

  • Irfan on January 22, 2014, 17:13 GMT

    @ a133936 - My friend you are missing the big picture here. If cricket was a pure science then what you are saying would be true. In the first test, Pak was not faced with a 'win or bust' situation. The series was alive with 2 more game so rather than committing to a possible risk of 0-1 start, it was more sensible to keep it even and it was accomplished successfully. I am not at all a supporter of Hafeez playing Test, but he played his role in accomplishing that. As far as playing Talha vs Rahat; both are pretty new to international cricket. If you look at their first class stats, you'll see why Rahat was given the first chance. In first class Rahat has avg, econ of 23.27, 2.92. Whereas Talha has 27.23 avg with 3.73 econ. Now if selectors are looking at their stats, who would they pick??? Although, I agree now Talha should be picked over Rahat not just bcz of pace/bounce, but bcz I was not able to see Rahat bringing the ball back to RH batsmen regularly.

  • ali on January 22, 2014, 16:37 GMT

    @fogu writer says "3 young guns who shared their captain's burden". i followed the match and 2 of them were the architects of victory and Misbah played a secondary role- yes secondary compared to their knocks. Having said that, comments can be extrapolated vis a vis context of a blog. If someone says IK was best Pk captain, you cant dismiss that assertion because author never mentioned IK. BTW why whatmore is being relieved ? shouldnt coach recieve credit too.. Its simply because he failed to deliver good results overall as a coach and hence never got an extension. Who was captain while he was coach? whats good for goose, is good for gander!