In praise of Pakistan's punching bag
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