Cool Misbah keeps Pakistan on course
It's not easy being Misbah-ul-Haq. Charged with leading Pakistan during one of the most challenging periods in their history, Misbah knows that whatever he achieves he will never win over all his critics.
It doesn't matter that he possesses leadership qualities that Pakistan sorely require. It doesn't matter that he provides a rare beacon of batting solidity amid a morass of fragility. And it doesn't matter that he has the calm head and experience to steer his squad through choppy waters. To some, it only matters that he isn't Shahid Afridi.
Misbah captaining Pakistan is like an accountant taking centre stage in the circus. A team renowned for its raw skill and entertainment value is being run by a man who isn't exciting, isn't flamboyant and isn't glamorous. He is a fine player, certainly, but for some that will never be enough. They don't just want to win; they want to win with style. They don't just want a captain who leads them to victory, they want a captain who leads them to victory amid a flurry of boundaries and with thick glossy hair.
So partly for that reason, Misbah's captaincy - in limited-overs cricket, in particular - has been the object of continual criticism. It is true that his ODI strike-rate is not especially high - he scores at a rate of 74.30 runs per 100 balls - but, in a team that sometimes struggles to bat through a 50 over innings (they have been bowled out in six of their last 11 ODIs), that is rarely a problem.
Besides, after everything that Pakistan have been through in recent times, a little bit of stability is no bad thing. Confronted by an array of obstacles that would have driven a weaker man into retirement, Misbah has shepherded his young team to respectable performances, including Asia Cup victory in 2012 and a Test series whitewash against England. There is little need to dredge up matters consigned to the past here, but it should never be forgotten that Misbah inherited an ageing team in transition, devastated by retirements and bans and fated to spend the foreseeable future playing all their games away from home.
The burden on Misbah's shoulders was most graphically illustrated in Pakistan's opening Champions Trophy fixture against West Indies. While most of his colleagues batted with the resilience of a pappadam - the combined efforts of nine Pakistan batsmen amounted to 18 runs - Misbah compiled an unbeaten 96 that almost led his side to something approaching a respectable total.
So perhaps, as 39-year-old Misbah approaches the autumn of his career, he will begin to win greater appreciation. Perhaps, as Pakistan start to consider who will replace his middle-order calm, Misbah's considerable worth will become more apparent. But while there was certain world-weariness in Misbah's description of the fickle nature of celebrity, he did reaffirm his commitment to Pakistan for the foreseeable future.
"I think everybody knows that there is not much time left in my career," Misbah said at Edgbaston ahead of his side's must-win Champions Trophy tie against South Africa. "So, my priority is to play for Pakistan. I just want to play more and more international cricket because I know that I haven't much time left in cricket. But whatever comes, I just want to play. I just want to enjoy it and play well for Pakistan.
"When you do well, it's really something. Everybody praises you and you're a star for a day. But with the high praises, there are also high criticisms when you don't do well.
"In our country it's like that. As a player, you need to just understand this and just try to put on a better show in every game you play and don't let it get on your mind because one day these people are really after you and the next day you could be really out of it."
One of the encouraging aspects of Pakistan's defeat in the opening game was the performance of their bowlers. Despite all the impediments and absences, it seems Pakistan still have an ability to develop fast bowlers that are the envy of many other nations. Misbah's theory is that the lack of help available to bowlers who develop in Pakistan forces them find other skills to compensate.
"Maybe genetically people are a bit stronger in Pakistan," Misbah suggested. "Or maybe it is because the conditions are not conducive for seam bowling. It's really hard work in Pakistan. If you want to be a fast bowler, you really need to be hard working, you need a bit of pace there. So maybe that helps people to just bowl a bit quicker than other parts of the world."
But for all the bowling talent, Pakistan's batting resources are arguably at an all-time low. Misbah's speculated that, with conditions so straightforward for batsmen in Pakistan, young players are ill-prepared for the challenges that wait when they graduate to the international game. For that reason, he accepted the extra burden on senior batsmen in the side, but expressed hope that younger players would also perform with confidence and application against South Africa.
"It really makes it easier for the team if all of the others are contributing, especially at the top of the order. It's really important in these conditions. They believe that they can do it. I believe they can do it. It's just a matter of applying yourself. They should not be worried."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo