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Misbah-ul-Haq did not,after his side's crushing defeat of England, sound like a man about to get carried away with his success, and with good reason
January 19, 2012
Misbah-ul-Haq might be extolled as a great Pakistan captain after his side's crushing defeat of England but did not sound like a man about to get carried away with his success. With good reason; only ten months ago, he was condemned as an old man whose time had gone after he was made the scapegoat for Pakistan's defeat against India in the World Cup semi-final in Mohali.
Even allowing for Pakistan's recent improvement, a 10-wicket victory against England in the opening Test in Dubai had to be Misbah's finest moment. "It's a big victory for us against the No. 1 side in the world, a confidence-building win," Misbah said, with no trace of emotion. "But we can expect a tough time from England in the next Test. That is something that makes you No. 1. They have quality cricketers. Their bowling attack are fighters and they will come back hard."
Misbah's World Cup crawl was viewed by some as inexplicable, but many saw it as a failed attempt to bring stability to a subsiding Pakistan innings. There was a reminder of that reputation for slow scoring on the second day, when he edged Pakistan into a position of authority with great deliberation. He made 52 from 154 balls, an innings of old-fashioned virtues, but nobody will be questioning his approach now.
"There were runs to be had if you applied yourself," he said. "At one stage England were bowling very well with the new ball. We were just concentrating on survival and looking for a lead of more than 100."
Not too many cricketers would have had the strength to recover from that World Cup defeat, especially since it was to India. But against all the odds, at 37, he has proved himself what the former Pakistan coach Geoff Lawson always said he was: the sharpest cricket brain in the Pakistan side, something altogether more substantial than his predecessor Salman Butt.
It is because Misbah is a captain of substance that he will recognise more than most that Pakistan's victory, for all the delightful variations of Ajmal, owed much to England's ineptitude. Pakistan were efficient, but England surely cannot bat as badly again.
Extraordinarily, Pakistan have an air of stability when, in fact, they are clearly in transition. Mohsin Khan is a successful yet interim coach and the man identified to replace him, Dav Whatmore, has been in as yet unresolved talks with the PCB - just the sort of thing to tempt a less orderly Pakistan side into endless conjecture at best, divisions at worst.
Misbah, though, seems to have held things together. "I am asked about the coaching situation so many times," he said. "It all depends on what the PCB decide. Waqar Younis worked hard with the team and the performances [under him] were very good, and now Mohsin's team is performing very well. Whoever comes [in], it is for our betterment and we will have to adjust."
Alongside Misbah, the ruler, sat his talented court jester, Saeed Ajmal, bathed in smiles after his match figures of 10 for 97. He is the bowler whom England must conquer if they are to fight back in this three-Test series.
Ajmal provided the banter that his audience wanted to hear. Firstly, there was the little matter of his 'teesra', which had not lived up to his pre-match billing. To come up with a fourth one would require a lot of hard work, he suggested, so he would concentrate on three for now. And he would have got more than 10 wickets, but he was just trying to help Umar Gul get five as he had not managed it for a long time.
Misbah offered some pertinent observations about his action and the whisperings that surrounded it the moment the England roadshow came to town, as if oblivious to the fact that he underwent stringent testing by the ICC in 2009 when he was stripped to the waist, reflective markers were put all over his arm and he was filmed from every angle by high-speed 3D cameras.
"He is cleared by the ICC already," Misbah said. "He's been playing four or five years in international cricket, he has played in county cricket. Nobody said anything. We should just admit that he is a good bowler. He has some great variations."
It is a jolt to recognise that a Test between Pakistan and England has passed off without incident. It might well be the case that Pakistan had reached such a low point in its cricketing history that it demanded a significant reassessment.
"The spirit of the game was wonderful from both teams throughout the match," Misbah said. "Both teams are focussing on cricket and want to build a good relationship. Nothing happened on field. You haven't seen any gestures - like rude gestures. Everyone was just concentrating on giving hard a time to each other with their batting or bowling."
The hard times were entirely England's. The good times remain with Pakistan. Misbah has supervised a crushing Pakistan victory. To do it once is impressive. Whether Pakistan are capable of maintaining their tempo for the final two Tests, though, remains in question.
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