Pakistan's Test captain Misbah-ul-Haq has said he is still undecided about his retirement plan and it is a decision he will take on his own, not with the PCB, after deciding his utility as a captain and as a player for the team. He also said he did not have to announce his retirement beforehand and could end his career whenever he wanted, as he was not looking for a farewell.
In April this year, Misbah had marked the upcoming Australia tour as possibly his last, with Pakistan playing series against England, West Indies and New Zealand before that. His fitness helped him play all those series, though he recently missed the Hamilton Test against New Zealand following the death of his father-in-law - he had also been given a one-match suspension by the ICC for his side's slow over rate in Christchurch. He is set to depart from Lahore on Saturday to join the squad in Brisbane ahead of the three Tests against Australia.
Misbah, 42, understands that age is catching up with him but his fitness and passion for the game are intact. "I am at a certain stage of my career where I only think what I can give back to my team," Misbah told ESPNcricinfo. "I am thinking but haven't reached any conclusion, but my whole thought process is all about the team - if they can move on without me or not. And how I can do more as a senior to inspire and make this team stand on its own.
"I do believe these boys have the capability to take responsibility and can deliver. So I am actually thinking if it's a good to leave at this stage. But this is a decision I want to take on my own and I don't think I need to pre-announce it. I don't think that it is necessary for me to mark any series my last but I can take it any time without even having a farewell. I don't have to make my retirement plan a big issue by beating drums all over."
Misbah was reportedly requested by PCB chairman Shaharyar Khan to continue playing beyond the Australia series but he quashed any such propositions and said it's eventually his own decision. The PCB made Azhar Ali, who has been playing under Misbah since 2010, the vice-captain, but he seems to have lost favour among board officials, who now want Misbah to continue until they identify another successor.
"Both Azhar and Sarfraz Ahmed are good choices but the former's batting suffers whenever he leads the side," Khan said recently. "Allrounder Imad Wasim can also be a candidate as he has impressed the PCB with his ability to handle pressure at crucial stages of matches."
Pakistan became the No. 1 ranked Test team earlier this year but soon slipped to No. 4, due to the defeat against West Indies in Sharjah and the 2-0 whitewash in New Zealand. They next tour Australia, where they have never won a Test series in 52 years. In their last three outings to Australia, they lost all three Tests in each of the series, in 1999, 2004 and 2009.
Misbah believed that the set of players selected for the Australia tour formed a "winning" squad. "The alarming situation is that our main batsmen are out of form. Otherwise these boys have beaten England in their own conditions," he said. "In New Zealand, we were not able to get time to adjust and the pitches were all in favour of bowlers. Even the New Zealand batsmen struggled most of the time because conditions were unplayable. But in Australia, you have a lot of opportunities to score runs and you either get out or play your strokes.
"It's not like we are not capable enough to compete against Australia in Australia. We are. Yes, we are low on confidence after losing three straight Tests and it's tough to regather ourselves but we have to and we will. Our batsmen have done it in the past, our bowlers are good but they need to be pushed hard and they have to take responsibility. So, overall this team has everything you need to win a game and I am sure we are very much capable."
Pakistan recently moved Azhar from the No. 3 position, his regular batting slot where he has batted in 45 of his 54 Tests. He averages 44.32 at No. 3 with 10 hundreds. Similarly, Asad Shafiq was displaced from the No. 6 spot, where he played 45 out of 50 Tests. Misbah realised that moving Shafiq cost Pakistan's lower order but with Babar Azam coming in, the No. 3 conundrum could be solved.
"For the sake of team requirement we had to move him [Azhar Ali] up as we needed to have an experienced hand in the opening slot," Misbah explained. "So we moved Asad, but it was never a long-term prospect as we now have Babar Azam building up for No. 3 position and he has shown the promise. We also realised that we were missing out much-needed partnerships between Asad and Sarfraz so now he can go and bat at his regular number."