Pakistan v SA, Champions Trophy, Group A, Edgbaston June 9, 2013

Cool Misbah keeps Pakistan on course

He may not be the flashing, daring captain that some Pakistani fans crave but Misbah-ul-Haq is an essential, steady hand negotiating his country through difficult times

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.

For all the bowling talent, Pakistan's batting resources are arguably at an all-time low.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on June 10, 2013, 12:00 GMT

    Totally Agree with Misbah selection and his competence as a captain and a cool minded Middle order expertise. Just two things if brought to notice the team will be like a complete. You cannot exclude any of the bowler but one Right Handed Fast/medium is always a need of any attacking team. 2ndly Farhat has no reason to be in the team & pakistan must make a dedicated academy to arrange a professional and competent Wicket Keeper. Just get rid of Kamran Akmal.

  • Mohammed Irfan on June 10, 2013, 11:56 GMT

    Umar Akmal is similar to Rohit Sharma.Period.Loads of talent but hits the marquee seldomly.

  • Raihan on June 10, 2013, 11:30 GMT

    I wonder how do people still support younis Khan who hasn't perform in ODIs at all.He was the only No.3 batsman who has played more than 250 ODIs and scored only 6 centuries with an average of 30 runs per match.He isn't a match winner nor he can hit the bowl hard so he along with AFRIDI and now Farhat are liabilities in our team.We are missing Razzaq/Hmmad Azam and Ahmed Shahzad.Shoaib malik has justified his position by playing winning knocks against SA & India.While umer akmal needs to go to academy and learn how to stay at wicket and score runs.We keep on calling him talented player but what is the use of such talent who cannot deliver when required. Pakistan is depending on the bowling and what they really need is just a little bit support from batting.

  • Imran on June 10, 2013, 10:54 GMT

    Misbah is doing great job. I only wonder if he had any influence in team, why on earth he didnt take Umar Akmal, Haris Sohail, Mohammad Rizwan and Ahmad Shahzad in side? Pakistan Best Odi side to my opinion could be:

    (1) Nasir Jamshed (2) Ahmad Shahzad (3) Hafeez (4) Misbah (5) Haris Sohail (6) Umar Akmal (7) Muhammad Rizwan (8) Wahab/anwar ali/asad ali/ehsan adil (9) Ajmal (10) Junaid (11) Irfan...............(12) Asad Shafeeq

  • Jason on June 10, 2013, 9:29 GMT

    A country to have produced legends like Zaheer Abbs, Mushtaq Muhammad, inzi, Yousaf; to have this mediocre batting line up now. They dropped Y. Khan and more surprisingly Umar Akmal just to make fun of this British tour. I don't know if they have any batting talent in the bag, they have loads of bowlers, you take out the current bowlers from this team and I am damn sure they will be replaced by better bowlers than them, whether fast or spin. Where is Fawad Alam ? saw him in the 2009 T20 and where is Azhar Ali ?

  • Dummy4 on June 10, 2013, 9:08 GMT

    I think except Misbah,, everyone else is misfit to be skipper for Pak. Hafeez hypes himself but never shines. He always gets aggressive when he is leading side in 20/20,, I have never seen him supporting or discussing anything with misbah in tests or ODIs

  • Ning-nong on June 10, 2013, 9:07 GMT

    @cricket_live - although I'm in agreement with poor team selection of Shoaib Malik, and Imran Farhat, I'm not convinced with having both Ahmed Shezad & Umar Akmal as worthy replacements, you forget that this is 50 over cricket and those 2 players and 20/20 style of batsmen. Therefore I would recommend Azhar Ali, and have had Umar Akmal as he is a better fielder than Shezad. Also your analysis on Misbah is so wrong, and he can not be compared to Dhoni, these are two different style of players. The difference between Indian talented batsmen i.e Kholi & Dhoni v U. Akmal & Afridi is that the former have brains. If Pak had talented batsmen with brains then we would not require a grinder like Misbah in the limited overs team - so don't blame Misbah, blame the rest of the line-up that consistently, unlike India (whom you compare), leave Pakistan 5+ wkts down before even putting hundred on the board, thank god for Misbah, just watch Pakistan fold for less than 100 runs after he retires!

  • Taahir on June 10, 2013, 8:43 GMT

    Misbah did the right thing to try and bat out the 50 overs and get a decent score. It is unfair to criticize him when 9 other batsmen failed to reach double figures. Without Misbah Pakistan batting is nothing.

  • Dummy4 on June 10, 2013, 8:26 GMT

    Pakistan's batting is struggling big time. Weather will be a big factor for the outcome of the games. But they are missing a 'X FACTOR' player down at number 6 or 7. Imran Farhat shouldn't be playing at all in ODI's for Pakistan. They need some one to partner with Dashing Nasir Jamshed at the top and look to have a BIG HITTER ALL ROUNDER like HAMAD AZAM OR ABDUR RAZZAQ at number 6 or 7. It will allow Misbah to have a extra medium pace bowling option as the english conditions will surely suite the style of bowling of ABDUR RAZZAQ. More so, ABDUR RAZZAQ has vast experience playing for counties so that can be pivotal for PAKISTAN. The selectors shouldnt see the issues too far ahead. ABDUR RAZZAQ is the best replacement they have which SHAHID AFRIDI left in the lower middle order of the fragile batting line up of Current Pakistan Team. I urge Pakistani Selectors look in to this matter seriously.

  • Vinod on June 10, 2013, 7:51 GMT

    well said misbah. wish them to be at their best against SA & Ind. as an Indian, I will be glad to meet them in the finals. along with misbah, the guy who can make a big difference for them is hafeez, hope he will pick up soon.

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