Pakistan v South Africa, 2nd Test, Dubai October 22, 2013

Misbah thrives by shutting out noise

If Misbah-ul-Haq had taken his critics seriously, he thinks he would have retired before he made his international debut. At 27, Misbah was a late bloomer whose focus was more on his studies than sport. His quiet demeanour made him an easy target when he didn't perform and there were many who thought he was best dispensed with. He, however, shut them all out.

"I don't bother with what people are saying. If I listened to them, my career would have been over in 2001," he said. "I know what I am doing after playing for 15 or 20 years of cricket and I know what I am doing right or wrong. Most of the legends are appreciating what I do, and guys who don't have any say in Pakistan cricket are the ones saying things."

Misbah has since made a decision to filter the feedback he gets, especially the attacks on his defensive tactics. Those have softened after his century - an uncharacteristically aggressive one at that - during Pakistan's win over South Africa last week. Now, scrutiny has shifted to how he, as captain, will approach the second Test and whether he will be satisfied with preserving Pakistan's 1-0 lead or if he will encourage his charges to show positive intent.

Dav Whatmore said the preservation of a lead would do because winning a series was important irrespective of the margin. Younis Khan was more interested being aggressive, wanting to finish South Africa off 2-0 to prove Pakistan's ruthlessness. Misbah, as is his nature, wasn't giving too much away.

Although he had promised a result-oriented pitch immediately after the first Test and sounded as though he genuinely believed Pakistan were close to ending South Africa's seven year unbeaten streak on the road, he is now taking a step back. He likened this more contemplative mood to the way Pakistan approached the series last year, when they whitewashed England. Misbah said they were able to do that because allowed themselves perspective between games.

"It was a matter of taking every game as it came. That was the key for us," Misbah said. "Even when we got to the third Test match, we were not looking at it from the point of view that we had already won two games. So we are not going to put any pressure on ourselves and say we have to win or draw this."

Although Misbah tried to play down expectations, they are perhaps greater now than they were during the England series. South Africa's long-run of success, when matched against how they folded in Abu Dhabi and how significantly weakened they will be going into this match, will increase the pressure on Pakistan to beat them.

Without Hashim Amla, South Africa's only centurion from the first Test and one of their best players of spin, their batting looks much thinner. Dale Steyn's tight hamstring could rule him out as well, leaving them short in both departments. The replacements, likely to be Dean Elgar and Rory Kleinveldt, do not pose the same threat and Pakistan will consider themselves in with a real chance should South Africa find themselves needing to field both.

Misbah does not want his men to prepare with that in mind, though. "We don't want to think about that. We are just assuming both [Amla and Steyn] are playing. We don't want to be complacent and think the top bowler and batsman are not playing," he said. "And even if they are not playing, they are still the top side in the world and they are still dangerous."

Misbah suspects a wounded South Africa will demand the best from Pakistan and wants to see his men raise the bar to meet that. "They will know what mistakes they made in the first game and they will have fixed some of them," he said. "We have to improve our game as well, in all three departments, that's the only way we could beat them. This Test could be really tough for us and that's what we are ready for."

The ability to step up when asked to will also be an important step for the development of the Pakistan team. As Misbah discovered in his four years out of the Test team, one-off successes, while memorable, are less important than regular impressive showings.

He believes the win in Abu Dhabi will mean so much more if it is followed by a similar result or a fighting draw to ensure Pakistan win the series. "Winning a game is not going to help any team to improve. Performance on consistent basis makes you a better team and better players," Misbah said. "We really want to win this. Especially in the context of the way we are playing cricket. We want to prove we are a good enough side to beat top sides."

And what about the criticism from people that could easily work its way into the players' minds? Misbah has learnt to shut it out and he will encourage his team to do the same.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent