Pakistan v South Africa in UAE 2010 October 11, 2010

Misbah the best cricket brain in Pakistan - Lawson

Former Pakistan coach Geoff Lawson believes Misbah-ul-Haq has the "best cricket brain" in Pakistan and is well-placed to handle the Test captaincy, surprisingly handed to the 36-year-old last week.

Misbah was thought to be out of national reckoning when he wasn't picked for the Asia Cup or the tour to England earlier this year. But a disastrous sequence of captaincy appointments left the board, in their own words, with little choice.

Lawson is well-placed having been coach during Misbah's return to international cricket three years ago during the 2007 World T20, a tournament which he nearly won for Pakistan. That sparked the most productive phase of his career and it was in Lawson's time, between 2007 and 2008, that he established himself in the middle order; in five Tests under Lawson, he averaged 78 with two hundreds and a fifty; he averaged 41 in 28 ODIs, and over 67 in the ten Twenty20s Pakistan played with Lawson in charge.

Misbah was vice-captain to Shoaib Malik during that time and took over on one occasion, leading Pakistan to an ODI win over India in the 2008 Asia Cup in Karachi. "He definitely has the best cricket brain and intellect in Pakistan cricket," Lawson told ESPNcricinfo. "He has a statesman-like demeanour which so many Pakistan captains have lacked and he handles adversity analytically not emotionally. He knows how to get the best out of players and he is a winner, note his outstanding domestic record as a leader."

Several former players, including Wasim Akram have expressed their surprise at the appointment. Mostly it stems from Misbah's age - even though he is, for now, captain for only two Tests against South Africa - but also from his batting form.

His comeback ended initially in September 2009, when he was dropped for poor form. He returned, however, during the subsequent tour of New Zealand and Australia at the insistence of Mohammad Yousuf, who was captain at the time.

More disappointing returns on that tour formed part of a broader decline since Lawson's departure. He averages 24 in nine Tests since Lawson left in October 2008, and 21 in 19 T20Is. An average of nearly 40 in 16 ODIs since then is not enough to assuage the concerns of some that he doesn't command an automatic place in the XI.

"He works very hard on his fitness and his cricket skills so physically he will be in good shape," Lawson said. "The question is simply one of age and reactions. Has he got the sharpness to be productive at international level at 36? The captain leading or failing by example can have a significant effect on any team but especially Pakistan. He deserves this but Ideally he should have been captain six years ago."

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo