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George Dobell in Dubai
February 24, 2012
News : England can bounce back - Swann
Preview : Momentum swings again
Features : At last, the people come
Report : Gul and Ajmal deny England at the death
Analysis : Misbah gets his measures right
Matches: England v Pakistan at Dubai (DSC)
Series/Tournaments: England tour of United Arab Emirates
Misbah-ul-Haq has led an impassioned defence of his captaincy and urged the media not to destabilise Pakistan cricket by pursuing "their own agendas".
What should have been a moment of celebration for Misbah and his team was soured when Pakistan's captain was asked about his own position in the press conference following victory over England in the first of three Twenty20 internationals.
It is not hard to understand why Misbah might have been irritated. He assumed the captaincy of Pakistan in late 2010 with the team disgraced and defeated. Not only that, but he was denied some of the nation's best players due to their involvement in the spot-fixing controversy.
He responded better than most could have dreamed possible. Not only did Misbah restore the good reputation of Pakistan cricket on the pitch, he has done so off it, too.
He has led Pakistan to five Test series victories out of seven - the other two series were drawn - including the recent 3-0 whitewash of England, the No. 1-ranked Test team. On Thursday he led Pakistan to victory over the No.1-rated T20 team in world cricket and afterwards vented his frustration at the media - and the Pakistan media in particular - who seem to want Shahid Afridi restored as captain.
"Even after when we won the Test matches, I continuously told the media we should be patient and consider the realities," Misbah said. "We go on to discuss things that don't need to be discussed - when we perform badly we should talk about that, we should talk about weak areas in the team. People in the media make comments based on furthering their own agendas, not ground realities. This needs to stop; the media should think positively.
"I won't comment on any specific individuals, but you can hear it yourself when you listen to the reports in the media. I also say even after winning we shouldn't go overboard - we should base such discussions on facts. Appreciate the attributes in the team which are to be admired - even after winning, pinpoint specific mistakes - if a player isn't making centuries, or a bowler is not taking wickets, then discuss those points.
"What we shouldn't do is start speaking ill of individuals. As a team we lost the ODI series: don't blame one player or just the captain. The dramatic changes highlighted are unnecessary. It is these players that have won you six series. If we made mistakes and lost a series against a top team, then we should be backed. If the proposed changes highlighted by the media were implemented, we would have six captains and six different teams up to the World Cup in 2015.
"We cannot improve if we continuously ask for captains and teams to be replaced after losing one series. You have to back your players at a certain level."
Misbah's real problem - and it is a problem without a solution - is that he is not Afridi. The populist adoration for Afridi - for his charisma, his talent and his aura - is boundless. Misbah, with his more prosaic qualities of reliability, calm and consistency, is overshadowed by comparison. While logic might back Misbah, emotions are with Afridi.
|"We cannot improve if we continuously ask for captains and teams to be replaced after losing one series" Misbah-ul-Haq|
When Afridi drops a batting glove a nation stoops to pick it up. When Afridi fails with the bat - and, unpalatable though it will be to Pakistan supporters, he fails with the bat rather too often - a nation mourns his ill fortune. When Misbah scores 50, a nation frowns upon the slow pace at which he scored it. Misbah could invent a cure for cancer and someone will claim that Afridi would have done it with more panache.
Afridi is a cricketer - a man, even - of immense charm. He is a magnificent limited-overs bowler, a courageous fielder and a batsman who has, upon occasions, dazzled. But he was fired as limited-overs skipper in May 2011 after returning early from the tour of the Caribbean and following the disintegration of his relationship with Waqar Younis, the coach at the time.
His record as captain is also modest: Afridi has captained Pakistan in one Test, 34 ODIs and 19 T20Is. The Test was lost, as were 11 of the T20Is, though he led his side to 18 wins in ODI cricket.
Compare that with Misbah's record as captain. He has led in 15 Tests (nine wins, five draws and just that one loss against the West Indies), 19 ODIs (14 wins and five losses) and six T20Is (all of which have been won). In the light of such figures, it is somewhat bewildering that Misbah is obliged to continually defend his position.
Misbah was frank about Pakistan's greatest weakness: the fielding of his side remains poor. He warned there will be no short-term solutions, but suggested with the bowling attack he has at his disposal, Pakistan will always be capable of success. Afridi, Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal are the top three wicket-takers in the history of T20Is and Misbah felt it was Gul's bowling that made the difference on Thursday.
"It's a natural phenomenon," he said. "We don't focus on fitness and fielding at grass roots level. Our fielding is much improved from before, but we have to put in a lot of effort to improve. It's not a problem that can be solved overnight.
"When you have Umar Gul, Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi, three of the top bowlers in T20 cricket, top wicket takers, you always have a chance. They bowled well and kept the pressure on. When a bowler is at his best it's difficult to play him. Gul bowled well. There was no answer to his bowling.
"The win was important considering the situation in which we were in. The senior players had to perform and Umar Gul's return to form was necessary. Shoaib Malik showing form was also important. It was a much-needed win to bring our confidence back."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Plays of the Day from the second ODI between England and India, in Cardiff
Plays of the day from the third ODI between England and India at Trent Bridge