Misbah, Pakistan's magnificent nearly man

Misbah ul-Haq is despondent after being stranded on an unbeaten 96 Getty Images

As West Indies closed in on Pakistan's total at The Oval, Misbah-ul-Haq conceded a captain's no-ball: too few fielders inside the circle. It was another act to typify the dramatic career of Misbah, Pakistan's greatest ever nearly man. Misbah is by no means a perfect captain, but his impressive leadership deserves a better support cast.

Pakistan bowled like world champions and fielded competently; two-thirds of their game is progressing grandly under the current regime of Dav Whatmore and his support coaches. But the batting remains ever Pakistani, unreliable in execution and unfathomable in selection.

It should have been Misbah's day. Ninety-six not out from a total of 170 all out tells its own story. As Misbah eked the final runs towards a thoroughly deserved century, including missing out on a juicy long-hop outside off stump, a familiar aura of heroic tragedy engulfed Pakistan's captain.

Misbah and Nasir Jamshed aside, Pakistan's batsmen were pitiful in this match. As well as West Indies bowled, especially Kemar Roach, and took advantage of some low cloud at The Oval, Pakistan's top order produced a display of static footwork and erratic swipes to gift their opponents a resounding advantage. In these conditions, swishers-in-chief Imran Farhat and Mohammad Hafeez seldom prosper. Asad Shafiq caught the swishing bug. Shoaib Malik merely played to form.

It was the Misbah-Nasir axis that promised to rescue Pakistan, and 200 would probably have sufficed against this West Indies batting line-up. The atmosphere at The Oval was electric, crammed with Pakistan fans and a worthy smattering of West Indians. But the crescendo that greeted Nasir's half-century filled his head with visions of glory and he needlessly holed out at long-off without scoring another run.

Meanwhile, Misbah continued his vigil. He blocked, he drove, he glided, he lofted. He even walked back to the pavilion before Denesh Ramdin's shoddy claims of a grounded catch were rumbled by the umpires. While Irfan was in attendance for a fighting final-wicket partnership, Misbah played last man standing, recalling the many solitary vigils of Imran Khan, Misbah's predecessor in captaincy by heroism.

With Imran, there was only a sense of heroism, a relentless march onwards and upwards. When Imran stood tall, others raised their standard. The tragedy of Misbah is that his heroism, too often, covers for the collapse of his fellow batsmen, a collapse so complete that it is beyond the skills of one of the world's best bowling attacks to rescue.

It is that mood that Misbah needs to change with the support of his fellows. He nearly did it today.