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Firdose Moonda in Centurion
February 21, 2013
Exactly a month ago, Misbah-ul-Haq addressed the South African media for the first time. There were a few rays of sunshine in his voice. He made eye contact with the home journalists, and appeared genuinely convinced that his side could achieve something special.
Two Tests matches have passed since then. Pakistan have lost both, and the little sense of humour Misbah had, has gone with it. At his pre-match press conference, ahead of the Centurion Test, he spoke in ice blocks. His eyes were fixed on a point in the distance, and his tone defeated.
The reason for the turnaround is obvious, but the seriousness of it is not. This is not his first series loss. He was in charge when they were beaten by Sri Lanka, although he did not play the match they were beaten in because he was suspended for a slow over-rate.
But this is Pakistan's second series loss in succession, and it is the most number of consecutive Test defeats that Misbah has led his side in. There is no shame in losing to the No.1 ranked Test team, and there is even less in going down to them in their own conditions, which are also widely acknowledged as the most difficult to bat in.
That Misbah is so unhappy illustrates the disappointment that comes when expectations aren't met. His team has another chance to live up to those expectations, and he was clear about what they need to do. "We need to improve our batting. We need some consistency," Misbah said. "It's not about one innings in Test cricket. You have to post big totals in every innings."
Pakistan's biggest challenge is facing the new ball, and that may not ease on a seamer's pitch in Centurion. With the quick turnaround between Tests, there has not been much time to work on that skill, and Misbah was resigned in his assessment of how they will front up to it this time. "Everybody is trying and working hard to cope with the new ball, especially in the first 10 overs. We can only hope they will get better."
Perhaps it's something that can be shelved as a real concern because it is unlikely to trouble Pakistan until they tour South Africa again. Misbah noted that it is the only place his team have struggled this much to adapt. "These pitches have more pace and bounce whereas all over the world wickets are getting slower. Even in Australia nowadays. So it's a matter of spending time and playing more cricket here. Lack of experience and lack of playing Test cricket is why we collapsed in the other matches. Once you play on a regular basis, you get better and better."
But the reverse applies as well. Pakistan's bowling attack may not enjoy conditions elsewhere as much as they have in South Africa. With an attack that is as promising as it is potent, Graeme Smith believes Misbah has reason to be a little cheerful. "They are a much better team than what the results showed, especially because their bowling attack is really good," Smith said. "With the seamers and Saeed Ajmal, it can be quite challenging."
For that reason, Smith is looking at the Centurion Test as a way for South Africa's batsman to spend more time sizing up the Pakistan pack, before the return leg of the tour in October. Misbah is not even thinking that far. He only wants a positive result in this match so that he can take something out of the series, something that he can look back on with some satisfaction.
"You have to get teams out twice, not get them out once, take an advantage and then let it slip. Everybody knows the importance of every game, and every team wants to win each game. It's not about [winning] series all the the games." Compartmentalising the Centurion Test is the best way for Pakistan to defrost the chill from Misbah's voice.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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