October 2, 2009

The curious case of Misbah-ul-Haq

The World Twenty20 two years ago kickstarted an excellent run for Misbah-ul-Haq, but in 2009 his form has tapered away

At the start of the Champions Trophy, it was widely felt that Pakistan's chances of going deep in the tournament depended mostly on their batting. Three matches into the competition that feeling persists, during which time Pakistan's batting has veered from the utterly sublime (against India) to the utterly iffy (against West Indies and Australia). An important cog in the wheel, who has struggled to stamp his authority in ODIs this year, has been Misbah-ul-Haq, who made 6 against West Indies and a strangely becalmed 41 against Australia.

A couple of years back, also in South Africa, Misbah had emerged as one of the truly remarkable stories of a remarkable tournament. He hadn't been in the Pakistan one-day international side for almost three years prior to the ICC World Twenty20, but that tournament marked an amazing resurrection, as he unfurled a whole new dimension to his batting - he was cheeky, resourceful, calm and consistent all at the same time.

That confidence rubbed off when Misbah returned to the one-day side, and he produced some outstanding cameos lower down the order, despite getting little time to settle in. His position in the batting line-up prevented him from notching up centuries, but he scored five fifties in the 27 ODI innings he played between October 2007 and the end of 2008.

This year, though, has been a strangely muted period for him. The runs aren't coming as fluently, or as consistently, and the clamour to replace the 35-year-old with someone younger is getting louder. His ODI average in 2009 is still reasonable - 33.33 - but the runs aren't coming at the rate or with the consistency that they were earlier. His strike-rate, which was a giddy 95.32 in 2007 and 2008, has slipped to a barely acceptable 65.50, while seven times in 12 innings he has been dismissed for scores of 12 or less. His two innings of note during this period - an unbeaten 76 against Australia in Abu Dhabi and an unbeaten 73 against Sri Lanka in Colombo - while helping the team win, came in the last matches of series that Pakistan had already lost.

Misbah in ODIs over the last two years
Period ODIs Runs Average Strike rate 50+ scores
Oct 2007 to Dec 2008 31 918 43.71 95.32 5
From Jan 2009 13 300 33.33 65.50 2

To make matters worse, the form has slumped in all forms of the game. As the tables below show, the numbers have fallen away in Tests and Twenty20s as well.

Misbah in Tests over the last two years
Period Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Oct 2007 to Dec 2008 5 551 78.71 2/ 1
From Jan 2009 5 200 28.57 0/ 2

Misbah in Twenty20s over the last two years
Period Matches Runs Average Strike rate
Oct 2007 to Dec 2008 14 398 56.85 127.56
From Jan 2009 9 111 27.75 101.83

When in form, one of the most striking aspects about Misbah is his ability to pick gaps and keep the score moving. In ODIs during that 15-month period in 2007-08, the number of singles he took almost equalled the number of dot balls he played. The dot-ball percentage was a low 43.42%, which meant he was doing an excellent job in the middle and end overs.

Since the beginning of this year, though, the dot-ball percentage has ballooned to more than 58, while the singles percentage has come down to 30, which means he has played almost twice the number of dot balls, compared to singles taken.

Break-up of balls played by Misbah in ODIs
Period Total balls Dots (%) Singles (%) 2s, 3s (%) 4s, 6s (%)
Oct 2007 to Dec 2008 965 419 (43.42) 381 (39.48) 78, 3 (8.39) 66, 18 (8.70)
From Jan 2009 458 268 (58.52) 139 (30.35) 20, 5 (5.46) 25, 1 (5.68)

A break-up of runs scored reveals that the biggest difference in his scoring pattern has been the lack of sixes this year. He hit 18 from 965 deliveries before 2009, but this year he has managed to clear the boundary only once.

Break-up of runs scored by Misbah in ODIs
Period Total runs Runs in singles (%) Runs in 2s, 3s (%) Runs in 4s (%) Runs in 6s (%)
Oct 2007 to Dec 2008 918 381 (41.50) 165 (17.97) 264 (28.76) 108 (11.76)
From Jan 2009 300 139 (46.33) 55 (18.33) 100 (33.33) 6 (2.00)

Not all of it is Misbah's fault, though - some of it has to do with the kind of opposition and the conditions Pakistan have played in as well. Several of their games this year have been played on sluggish tracks where run-scoring has been difficult. In the five-match series against Australia in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, only once did the team batting first score more than 210. That was followed by the series in Sri Lanka, where again high totals weren't all that easy to achieve.

That's reflected in the table below, which compares the performances of Pakistan's top order during the same period in the matches that Misbah played. Excluding Misbah, Pakistan's top order had a superior average and strike-rate in 2007 and 2008 compared to 2009. However, what's also noticeable is that the fall in strike-rate is much more significant for Misbah - a drop of more than 31%. For the others, the drop is less than 20%.

How the other Pakistan top-order batsmen have fared in ODIs (top seven, excluding Misbah)
Period ODIs Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Oct 2007 to Dec 2008 31 6210 41.96 87.56 13/ 39
From Jan 2009 13 1893 28.68 70.37 3/ 7

It also needs to be pointed out that Misbah is by no means the only Pakistan batsman to underperform this year - Younis Khan averages 25.53 at a strike-rate of 64.69, while Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Yousuf average less than 35. Shahid Afridi has scored at a run a ball, but has managed fewer than 20 runs per dismissal. (Click here for more details.)

The good news is that Misbah is back in the country where things started going right for him a couple of years back. It's time for an encore.

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo