Misbah-ul-Haq's hands are on his knees. I don't remember why, it was obviously a Pakistani mistake, or Pakistan having bad luck or probably Pakistan being Pakistan. But while the simple mechanisms of what happens between a delivery played out, Misbah just stayed with his head down, staring at the MCG turf. No one went up to him; he just took his hands off his knees as the next ball was about to be bowled. Maybe I am wrong, but to me, it looks like Misbah's career might be over.
The question in the press conference is pretty simple, "Are you planning on playing on, or are you starting to think the end is coming for you?"
Misbah at first raises his eyebrows as if he has not heard the question, and then tilts his head like he's trying to hear it clearer. Then he sighs before answering, "Yah. I always believe that if, if, I could not contribute anything for the team, then it's no point staying there."
One of the many, many, many easy boundaries that David Warner scored through the near empty offside field, had Misbah confused. He was looking at deep cover, then at his leg slip, then at Yasir Shah. It was as if he was trying to work out if there was any equation that would stop what was happening. Pakistan had made over 400 runs, and were now allowing Australia to score so easily that their total felt like 200 runs. Misbah didn't believe in any of his bowlers. He didn't believe in Amir's luck, Yasir's belief, Sohail's fitness or Wahab's foot. Leg slip could go into covers, but that wouldn't change anything. There was no field he could set to make him believe in his attack.
"There is a point where I need to think about that."
The 'that' is retiring even before the next Test.
"There is no point hanging around doing nothing." Misbah starts playing with his beard. The genius of Misbah is the ability to do nothing. At times he barely moves, even when a tidal wave of ill-informed patriotic opinions floods down on him. In the field, on those panicky Pakistani days, when every single thing seems to worry them, Misbah just rubs his beard. Misbah is cricket's Zen master warrior, his doing nothing does more than the actions of most.
The PCB was so worried about travelling back to England for the 2016 series that they sent almost every single media person they had and hired a local PR consultant. A cricket board that thinks the word professionalism is ensuring that the team turn up to the game on time was now trying to get out ahead of bad press in a professional way. The media people and the PR consultant was a good idea in theory, but in practice, the minute Misbah sat down with his recently-dyed jet black beard, the entire English press corp were won over. By the time he stood in the middle of Lord's, saluting the men who helped prepare him physically for the series, the rest of the country had as well.
That England series was one he was not planning on playing. The same as the series against West Indies, and New Zealand, and now this one as well.
"I was thinking about my retirement long ago. Even when I was playing against England in UAE."
There is a reason he didn't retire. Duty.
"Then we had difficult tours like England, New Zealand and Australia, so I thought that was not the right time." That means that, so far, he has played in an extra ten Tests, not because he wanted too, but because he thought he needed too. "I have to face these difficult series," was his phrase.
Azhar Ali finished the Test at The Oval by very nearly putting Moeen Ali into the top deck. He then took his helmet off, gave a scream and punched the air. On the balcony were a few players almost as excited. Misbah wasn't to be seen. When the team did their victory lap, it was Younis Khan out the front, clapping excitedly, other players blew on horns, or held the Pakistan flag up high. Misbah is out the back, on the inside, just occasionally lifting his hand to wave. This was the team he had dragged from nowhere to having the number one spot in the rankings, even for a heartbeat, and he showed the least emotion. If anything, he looked proud of his men, more than what he had achieved.
"It might be over." We have all been thinking it, we all know it can't last forever, and we know that even Misbah's science-defying antics must eventually stop. But do any of us want it over? Over. No more Misbah. It took us forever even to know he existed; it took us even longer to love that existence; he spent most of his career winning us over, not by sucking up to the crowd, or through antics, but through resolve, intelligence, will and being himself. And now, it might be over.
Misbah was settled into short cover and Yasir floated up a full one that was slapped to Misbah's left. He dived, which was more of a semi-organised fall, and the ball trickled out behind him. Australia took another easy run. Misbah doesn't react much to Pakistani misfields, perhaps because if he responded to each one he'd be out of energy an hour into play each day. But he reacts to this one; he hits the ground, he clenches his fist and looks over at Yasir apologetically. As he gets up, you see that despite the fitness and the professionalism, this is a 42-year-old man. There will be a time, soon, when he just doesn't want to dive, or can't keep getting up.
As the live feed of Misbah's press conference is shared on Pakistan's Facebook page, the live comments flow, "Misbah you are a legend" and "Misbah love you". But Misbah doesn't look like a legend - he doesn't look loved. He looks tired, beaten, finished.
"It hurts you as a senior player whenever you don't perform, when you don't come up to your own expectations, or of all the fans, and the team. That's disappointing. You don't play the game for these sorts of failures; you want to stand up."
Misbah wants to stand up, but he might not be able to.
Pakistan do not beat India in big tournaments, rain is wet, and Adam West is the best Batman. Some things don't change.
But here is Misbah, smacking sixes, running amok like he doesn't know it is his team's destiny to lose against India. The rest do, nine of them have come and gone, at the other end is Mohammad Asif, and if Pakistan are going to win, it will need to be Misbah pretty much on his own. He flays at two wide ones, missing both, and one is called a wide. Then a full toss, and Misbah smashes it back over the head of long off. Now they just need six off four.
Then Misbah plays a shot that it took a generation of cricket to erase, a loose awkward on-the-move-scoop that instead of ramping he hit straight up and was caught. It's a good 15 seconds before the camera finds Misbah again, and he's on his knees, bat between his legs and looking at the turf. Ravi Shastri on commentary says, "Misbah-ul-Haq doesn't want to leave the field." Adam West is Batman, rain is wet, India beat Pakistan. Not even Misbah can change that.
Misbah's sweep shot today wasn't a one-off.
"Quite a few innings now in which the shot that isn't on, or the wrong shot for the wrong time [has been played]…as a batsman it is hard. When you are not scoring regularly, when you go inside, making the right decisions becomes a bit more difficult. Maybe that is happening now. What I feel I should be playing like, I am unable to play that way."
Misbah wants to be better; he wants to serve his nation, but he's not sure he is, or if he ever can again.
You could make the argument that captaining India at cricket is the toughest on-field job in sport. But in the time of Misbah, captaining Pakistan might have beaten that. Misbah stopped Pakistan's cricket from disappearing into an abyss. He made a country that believes their success at cricket is from divine god-given talent hit the training track and work as a team. He overcame being a homeless side, a former captain and two star bowlers in jail, senators suggesting his team was dirty, his stars being randomly suspended, a fickle media, a troubled nation, an exclusionary cricket world. And if that wasn't enough, he did most of it at an age when most players have been dropped forever, or have retired. Then he played on, not for himself, but for the team he created. The chaos of Pakistan cricket is never ending, as is the calmness of Misbah.
"It might be over."
Maybe it should be, maybe it is time, maybe he should walk away now and enjoy everything he has achieved, has won, has fought for. Maybe he should. But I don't want it to be over. Misbah has done something special for cricket, for Pakistan, and while those things should never be forgotten, I want him to keep having the chance to do them. To fight cricket, to fight politics, to fight corruption, to fight nature. But I look into his eyes; Misbah has always had this stare into the middle distance at press conferences, but now, it has never been more distant. It has never looked more defeated. It has never looked more over.
Misbah created a team when one didn't exist; Misbah believed in a team when no one did. For a short time, they held the Mace, Misbah held it, and Misbah gave it to them. It might be over. Hell, whatever it was, it was wonderful. If it is over, Misbah, zindabad.