Misbah steps up for damage control...again
Misbah-ul-Haq did his best to snuff out any chance of an Indian win in this Test with a batting performance that would have made anyone proud. That his first century was composed and perfectly suited to the situation his team was in, and that it coincided with the birthday of his son Afham-ul-Haq, only made it all the more special.
Misbah does not seem the kind to get overly sentimental about these things, or one to waste opportunities. Dropped from the side after making his debut in 2001, he completed a master's degree in business administration before Pakistan's selectors did a double take and spared him a life in the world of marketing. On the day, although the match isn't quite saved just yet, the selectors can pat themselves on the back, for Misbah's unbeaten 161 kept India at bay and the series alive.
Misbah's ability to hit the ball far is already well established. His preferred mode of operation at the recent ICC World Twenty20 was to get his left foot well out of the way, freeing up space to have an unhindered swing at what was delivered at him. A key to his success was the manner in which he waited as long as possible before choosing exactly which shot to execute, and where to try and place it.
There was no big hitting in this innings, and the tactic of playing late was the striking feature. On a pitch where the ball was not coming on to the bat, the odd delivery was behaving abnormally or threatening to do so, or when it pitched in the rough created by the bowlers' foot marks, Misbah got his strategy just right. He put the big drive safely away and used his hands especially well, playing with extreme softness against the fast bowlers, dropping the ball dead to his feet. Against the spinners, with fielders close in, he adjusted, pushing the ball with firmer hands, ensuring that neither forward short-leg nor silly mid-off had a chance.
He put the big drive safely away and used his hands especially well, playing with extreme softness against the fast bowlers, dropping the ball dead to his feet
"The session after tea on day three was important because the Indian team put a lot of pressure on us," Misbah said, at the end of the fourth day. "That was a critical session. After that day the morning session was crucial because anything could have happened if they had got the follow-on. We could have batted again, so those 2-3 hours that we batted was crucial." It's a cricketing cliché, but this was a classic example of playing the game session by session, thereby relieving the pressure that a huge target places on you.
But if yesterday was all about absorbing pressure and building a partnership with Kamran Akmal, whose innings Misbah called "extraordinary", the final day could present a completely different challenge for a middle-order batsman. Misbah explained his mindset when he came in to bat yesterday, with five wickets down and a serious chance of Pakistan folding meekly. "You have to bat according to the match situation. An experienced bowler like Kumble was bowling on a third day's wicket which had broken a lot and it was difficult so I had to apply myself," said Misbah. "So I was only thinking that it's okay if I got out to a good ball, but I was determined not to make a mistake and give my wicket away."
It's only thanks to Misbah's nine-hour-and-twenty-two-minute marathon that Pakistan are alive in this game and actually entertaining thoughts of a chase if it came to that. While his innings has tremendous personal significance, and the bulk of the scoring was done on the third day, it was the 53 runs he added on the fourth that took Pakistan past the follow-on mark, and to relative safety. That done, Misbah is now looking forward to the final day, and didn't appear to be provoked when asked questions about Pakistan's chances.
"In Test cricket you should not have a fixed mindset. As and when the situation comes you must deal with it. If the Indian team sets a target then we will go there and play normal cricket," said Misbah. "If a situation develops where our openers give us a good start, maybe then we can decide whether to chase the target or just play out the day."
If either situation develops - a good start that sets up an unlikely chase or an early collapse that requires repair work - Misbah is your man.
Anand Vasu is an associate editor at Cricinfo