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Going against stereotype, Misbah-ul-Haq has brought calmness, and some consistency, to Pakistan's cricket and now they are back in one of their favoured arenas - a global event
Andrew Fidel Fernando at The Oval
June 6, 2013
On the eve of Pakistan's opening match against West Indies, a reporter suggested to Misbah-ul-Haq that his team were not so different to their opponents, because both sides are supposedly ruled by unpredictability. A hint of a smile graced Misbah's lips, before they embarked on a suitably polite response.
"You can associate this with both the teams," he said. "Mostly, these two teams depend on the talent and individual performances on a day. You can say the two teams are similar in this way or area."
The truth is, under Misbah, the age-old Pakistan stereotype has become something of a misnomer. To compare their ODI record with West Indies', borders on insulting. West Indies were defeated in a five-match series in Bangladesh earlier this year. Last time Pakistan went to Bangladesh, they returned with the Asia Cup. Pakistan have one of the best win-loss ratios among top teams, since 2011, having won 36 and lost 21. West Indies have one of the worst.
Add to this their staggering run in major tournaments. Pakistan are on a six semi-final streak as they begin the Champions Trophy, and they've converted one of those into a title and another into a runners-up position. Even Sri Lanka, who have reached four finals in the last six years, will be envious of that record.
They are missing their most experienced ODI bowler in Umar Gul, but Pakistan are already being touted as favourites by some, and in that regard they have almost become the antithesis of South Africa. Though their squad seems short on maturity, they are expected to go far in the tournament, simply because that is what they do.
Misbah knows his steady hand has brought both a deal stability and respectability back to the side, after their last trip to England had finished with the team in possession of neither. His manner with the press is at odds with some of his predecessors, who spoke with emotion, but with little tact. You could perhaps ask Misbah his opinion on conflict in the Middle East, and in his flat monotone, he might deliver a response that seems genuine, thoughtful, and not in the least incendiary.
At The Oval he spoke not of redemption for the events of Lord's 2011, but of the growing confidence of the Pakistan beneath him. Their pre-tournament preparations were first hit by rain in Scotland, before Ireland gave them two mighty scares, but the feeling in the squad is different when they actually arrive for a big tournament, he said. A purring win over South Africa in the warm-up match has conveyed as much.
"The spirit within the team is the same as when we won the World Twenty20 in 2009. Whenever you arrive for these types of tournaments, absolutely every team has a clear goal or a vision to win that tournament. We are feeling the same. You can't control the results, the best thing you can do is play your best, and that's what I've told the team."
Pakistan's campaigns have often been propelled by the strength of their bowling and, although in Saeed Ajmal and Mohammad Hafeez, they possess as daunting a spin pairing as any in ODI cricket, it was their young quicks who delivered victory in the warm-up match. From the three venues, The Oval has shaped as the best for bowlers so far, and Misbah believed his attack capable of arresting a Chris Gayle blitz, or a Kieron Pollard salvo, should the need arise.
"This bowling attack is really proving themselves against top quality sides in the world. At the moment everybody is bowling well, and it's been tough for us to select just three or four - whichever we are just going to do. They bowled really well against South Africa, they bowled well against India. We've got some of the best spinners - the way Hafeez and Saeed Ajmal bowl - everybody knows what difference they can make. And with our pacers, we're confident that they can do it on their day."
Momentum is what Pakistan sides have specialised in at major events, often igniting on the back of a single win or performance, and riding that fire into the knock out stages. In 2009, they began the World Twenty20 poorly with a loss to England, but then took the tournament by the scruff in a match against New Zealand, when Gul delivered a scarcely-believable spell of 5 for 6.
In a tournament as brief as this, Misbah understands the value of avoiding early mistakes, and it would help too if they arrived at their final group match against India without the added pressure of needing a big win to progress.
"In this situation, the first game is very important for any team, because we are going to play three matches in the first round. So a first win will be really important to any team because then you might have a luxury to have two games and only have to win one to get through to the semi-finals."
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets hereFeeds: Andrew Fidel Fernando
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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