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There's nothing flash about Misbah-ul-Haq's captaincy but his calm response to adversity helped set a winning platform for his bowlers
George Dobell in Dubai
February 23, 2012
It is one of the enduring ironies that a man's greatest strength can also be his greatest weakness. As Pakistan slipped to a 4-0 ODI whitewash, there were those that criticised Misbah-ul-Haq's inflexible approach, his lack of aggression and his inability to lift and inspire a jaded team.
Here, however, as Pakistan claimed a 1-0 lead in the three-match T20I series, we saw all those same qualities transferred into virtues. We saw Misbah's calm in adversity, his measured approach to a crisis and his faith in his team. He is not the greatest tactician or the most talented player Pakistan have ever had, but he is experienced, sensible and unflappable. While Shahid Afridi, still the populist captain of choice for Pakistan, might offer more excitement, Misbah provides reliability. He is the captaincy version of "You miss and I'll hit".
There were several occasions in this game when it appeared that Pakistan would squander their chance. At one point they lost four wickets for eight runs and allowed Graeme Swann to bowl a double-wicket maiden. Umar Akmal and Afridi both hit the ball to fielders in such an obliging fashion that, had they turned down the beds of the England team and left mints on their pillows, they could hardly have seemed better hosts.
There were similar moments in the field. Junaid Khan, with just one man back on the leg side, started with a series of leg-stump long-hops that could scarcely have been more to Kevin Pietersen's liking had they been gift wrapped. Most of all, Pakistan continue to leak runs and chances in the field with remarkable profligacy. The weak throwing of several members of the side and the manner that one or two declined to even attempt half-chances costs the side at least 15 runs a game. To win despite such self-inflicted injury is remarkable.
England, however, will reflect that they should have won. With five overs remaining, they required only 35 runs with seven wickets in hand. True, they have a few inexperienced players in this side, but world champions really should be able to take such opportunities.
The key was, not for the first time, Pakistan's excellent bowling attack. Their experienced trio of spinners was able to exploit the naivety of England's middle order, but the key was a masterful spell from Umar Gul. Gul, back to his best after an oddly off-colour ODI series, gained reverse swing and demonstrated excellent control. It was fitting that the dismissal of Ravi Bopara - perhaps the turning point of the match - came from a perfect yorker. Samit Patel can also consider himself somewhat unfortunate to receive a wicked inswinging yorker first ball.
But Gul's bowling would have been of little relevance had it not been for the contribution of Misbah and Shoaib Malik with the bat. The pair, coming together with their team in some trouble, added 71 in 9.2 overs to provide Pakistan with a defendable total. It was not the swiftest or most exhilarating stand and it was not a daunting target. It was, in its way, classic Misbah: it was sensible, measured batting that gave his bowling attack a chance.
There was some encouragement for England. Pietersen and Bopara timed the ball sweetly, while Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann bowled impressively. Their fielding, while not absolutely at its best, was far superior to Pakistan's as was their running between the wickets. But the recurring problem of their discomfort against spin came back to haunt them once more.
Edited by Alan Gardner
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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