Zimbabwe v Pakistan, 1st Test, Harare, 3rd day September 5, 2013

In praise of Pakistan's punching bag

Misbah-ul-Haq is often criticised by followers of Pakistan cricket but the youngsters in his team would do well to learn some of his skills

The expression on Misbah-ul-Haq's face the day Pakistan were knocked out of the Champions Trophy in England is difficult to forget. It was a hangdog mixture of acceptance and amusement, when it really should have been one of frustration.

Misbah had been booed by the 'Stani Army and co. despite scoring the team's only half-century in a losing cause. Instead of arrogance, however, he was understanding of the supporters' wrath. "This is how it is in cricket. One day it's zindabad, the next it's boo," he said in Birmingham.

Of the members of that Pakistan side who could be blamed for their elimination, Misbah was quite far down the list. He had scored the most runs in both their substandard showings to that point but still there was something about him that Pakistan's fans did not like. They felt he was too conservative, both with bat and captaincy, and it earned him the nickname tuk-tuk.

Having watched Misbah for a significant part of the last year, it's puzzling that he is so disliked among so many of his own. He is often Pakistan's leading batsman and even when he is not, it is never for lack of trying. And in matters of conduct, there is no doubt he is their marquee man. Misbah leads by example in commitment and temperament and without him Pakistan cricket would be poorer, whether they want to admit it or not.

Today provided another example. For the second time in the Test, Misbah came in with Pakistan in trouble. At 23 for 3, still trailing by 55, they faced an uncomfortable situation against an opponent they were expected to beat by doing not much more than just turning up. Zimbabwe's opening seamers were getting good shape, not as much as in the first innings, but enough to demand concentration from the batsmen.

Misbah's ability to apply himself is what has made him a man for crisis and he showed that again in this innings. He began as patiently as ever, unfussed by the inside edges that Hamilton Masakadza induced. Leaving and defending were his first options, and for the first 43 balls he faced, Misbah used them three times more than he did scoring shots.

His plan was sensible: hang around for long enough and the bad ball will come. Shingi Masakadza delivered the first one when he strayed down the leg side and invited Misbah to nudge it fine. When deliveries such as that were offered, the second part of Misbah's strategy could be employed: hang around for longer and you can begin to dictate proceedings by grinding the opposition down.

Misbah's doggedness meant his opposite number had to do the thinking. In the first innings, Hamilton Masakdza had rotated his bowlers to ensure they stayed fresh. It helped that they picked up wickets often because that motivated them. In the second innings he tried to replicate that but conditions were different; with the track having flattened, the strike bowlers were unable to have much impact.

Masakadza placed a man at short cover, where Mohammad Hafeez had been caught, and bowled with the wicketkeeper standing up. His ideas were solid because he tried to limit the amount of movement the batsmen could make and hoped they would miscue to a close-in fielder.

When that didn't work the spinner came on, bowling the round-the-wicket line that was so effective on day one. Prosper Utseya, however, did not get much turn and posed few problems. Misbah and Younis used the sweep effectively and in so doing, continued to wear Zimbabwe down and gave Masakadza more to ponder.

What followed was not a period of desperate bowling riddled with loose deliveries, but a lull that sets into a Test when one side is steadily wresting control from the other. Zimbabwe's seamers continued to bowl a good line, Utseya occasionally had short leg woken up by an edge but the chances of a wicket grew slimmer.

The slow-burn of Misbah coupled with the experience of Younis, whose role in looking for runs while playing to the pace of his captain cannot be underestimated, took Pakistan towards a position from where they could start to feel comfortable, though Misbah began to look the opposite towards the end of the day. He was nearly stumped after reacting slowly against Utseya, who had drawn him forward with flight. No doubt the tuk-tuk jokes started then.

And then the frustration became too much. For the second time in the Test, Misbah played an out-of-character stroke. In the first innings, he had miscued to short midwicket and this time picked out the cover fielder. Vusi Sibanda was the catcher on both occasions.

Misbah will probably expect more boos today. Some will say he was careless, others that his shot selection was poor and that he threw away a golden chance to score a century. He is unlikely to mind any of that. He won't mind at all if Younis becomes the man to reach three figures because he can see the benefit in that.

Younis had been dropped from Pakistan's one-day plans and he did not get much batting time in the first innings because of a silly error. With a series against South Africa in the UAE next on the agenda, to have him find form can only be good for Pakistan. What Misbah now needs is for some of the youngsters, like Asad Shafiq who is batting with Younis, to learn from his approach.

Paksitan's next generation is a cause for concern. Azhar Ali has immense promise and is beginning to fulfill it but finding an opener to partner the struggling Hafeez has proved problematic. Nasir Jamshed's penchant for fishing outside off stump is worrying and Khurram Manzoor was unconvincing on his comeback. Both those men could do far worse than use Misbah as an example.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • A on September 7, 2013, 19:27 GMT

    I know a lot of PAK fans don't like Misbah. They prefer some one who can score a quick fire 50 once every10/15 matches!!! Actually despite few losses, Misbah batting has actually won PAK quite few matches. Also its strange his batting strike rate is not too bad either. Well a lot of international players, present and past think he is a good player and admire him for his services since 2010. I think these experts who have actually played international cricket must have more cricketing brains then so called experts, most of them actually have never played even club cricket!! Any batsman who scores 50 plus runs in every 3 test innings on average is a good test player, despite if someone wants to believe or not!! If he is fit and continue to score, he should play, even if he is 45!!

  • Alyan on September 7, 2013, 19:23 GMT

    If you think about it, Misbah always comes in at a difficult pressure situation which requires him to play slowly and not give away his wicket. And we have all seen that towards the end, when he can afford to lose a wicket, he is trying his best to be aggressive and he is very disappointed when he gets out because he knows he had to accelerate. Now, if you think about it, in the champions trophy, if it wasn't for him Pakistan might have been bowled out for 100. Misbah is the most consistent batsmen is Misbah and that is because he has a good strategy. Pakistan need a good top order which can score about 150-2. If he were to improve, I would say that he should try and rotate the strike a little more. He is a very clever captain and we know that because he keeps Ajmal to the back end of the innings when the batsmen are looking to fire. And when Pakistan need early wickets he brings on Ajmal and Hafeez around the 8th over which I think is clever thinking. So boo to those who boo Misbah!

  • E ZeeShan on September 7, 2013, 7:04 GMT

    I follow this website being a cricket lover since ages but above praising note about Misbah (Mr. Tuktuk) has really pushed me to at-last register & comment. Actually he is a decent batsman (if play positive) nothing more but a bad, sissy, negative Captain. Strange to see comments of "Fineline", showing massive knocks (not a single centaury) by Misbah, in oneday cricket massive is 194, at least above 110+ can also be considered, hence all his selfish knocks are actually mediocre performance of a very capable batsman but with negative approach. His record can be good for him only, not for the team/Pakistan, his blocking (tuktuk) creates lot of pressure & above all he is preaching tuktuk negativity to others (specially Nasir Jamshed) too.

  • Dummy4 on September 7, 2013, 0:19 GMT

    Along with myself, alot of other pakistani (reading forums) cricket fans actually love misbah and understand his importance.

  • Mohammad on September 6, 2013, 20:50 GMT

    Just look at some massive knocks by Misbah in ODIS from the start of 2011

    1.93 not out against New Zealand in 2011 2.83 not out vs Sri lanka in 2011 world cup 3.73 not out against West Indies in 2011 4.63 not out vs West Indies in 2011 5.66 against Sri Lanka in 2011 6.76 not out against Sri lanka in Asia cup 2012 7.56 not out against South African in 2013 8.80 against South Africa in 2013 9.55 against West Indies in 2013 10.53 not out against West Indies in 2013 11.63 against West Indies in 2013 12.83 not out against Zimbabwe in 2013 13.67 against Zimbabwe in 2013

    Absolutely fantastic for me.

  • Dummy4 on September 6, 2013, 11:51 GMT

    Misbah slows down the entire innings and that causes Pakistan to loose. Misbah played till the end in the WC Semi against India but he presence only help India win. Teams need to score from both ends of the crease and Misbah basically stalls one end of the crease piling up unnecessary pressure on the other player.

  • Dummy4 on September 6, 2013, 10:40 GMT

    Lovely personality Firdous ! Liked her

  • Dummy4 on September 6, 2013, 10:12 GMT

    I would put it to wrong selection rather than lack of talent. Umar as min, harris sohail, sohaib, umar akmal are all vastly talented but are not utilized properly. Faisal iqbal, khurram manzoor, hafeez and shan masood have no place in the test side of the selection is UN biased ...

  • siddhartha on September 6, 2013, 9:47 GMT

    Along with Misbah, Younis Khan Khan deserves lots of respect. Younis is around for like 12-13 years now in international cricket which is no mean feat.

  • Muthuvel on September 6, 2013, 8:33 GMT

    Misbah is the best pak cricketer on and off the field atm by a distance, i find it very amusing that pak fans find reasons to dislike him.