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Match Analysis

The misery of Misbah's funkless grind

Faced with an England team who love to attack, Misbah-ul-Haq applied the handbrake to their ambitions with two sessions of dour attritional dot-ball cricket

Misbah is jogging. Well, it looks like jogging. He has bent legs, and his arms are pumping in the way of a jog, it is just that he isn't really going anywhere. Jonny Bairstow's cover drive has disappeared into the boundary triangle several seconds earlier. But Misbah's effort to retrieve it is pretty slow. When he finally arrives at the ball, he slowly picks it up and then turns back holding it. Now he is not jogging; he is walking. He will walk all the way back to his position at mid off, there is no bound in his stride, there is no attempt at getting back into place quickly, he just walks until he is in place, and the next ball commences.
Welcome to the Misbah grind.
The last session on day three became party time for England. Alastair Cook was scoring at a Sehwag-ian rate, Alex Hales was as comfortable as he has been at any point in this series, Pakistan lost their lead and mojo. Mickey Arthur was not shy in being disappointed about his bowlers, and he was right. If they had a plan, they didn't stick to it. Only Mohammad Amir bowled well, with Rahat Ali and Sohail Khan struggling to maintain any pressure.
One more session like that and England would be setting a quick total that would give them enough runs and time to lead the series 2-1. But that isn't how the cricket went today. Because Misbah.
Pakistan's bowlers weren't just told to bowl in the channel outside off, they were told to move their entire lives there. And not just to an urban area with quick links back to the stumps, but to go way, way out into the sticks, as far from the stumps as possible. The pitch map of the seamers in the morning session was part of a concerted effort to do as Misbah asked. It worked. Both Hales and Cook were out reaching for the ball. Cook was reaching so much his bat was probably lost being that far from off stump.
Many captains faced with a player such as James Vince, fighting for his place, fighting to not cover-drive to second slip, would have packed the cordon, left cover wide open and encouraged the drive. Misbah packed the offside boundary and kept two slips and no gully. He was backing Vince to play through the off side regardless of the field - and considering the line, it made sense. Misbah's form of attack is a slow mental penetration of the batsman, to beat him, you have to be more patient than he is. If Misbah the batsman ever faced up to Misbah the captain, time would stop.
Yasir Shah and Rahat combined for 28 consecutive dot balls. Rahat was the king of this tactic. He started with a few that were too straight, one was hit to fine leg, another offered a stolen single on the open leg side. When he got his line right, England stopped scoring off him. Completely. Seventeen straight dot balls to Joe Root resulted in an edge to slip, and another Mohammad Hafeez drop. It was a catch that could have changed the entire match. Instead, like much of what Hafeez has touched this tour, it ended in disappointment for Pakistan.
Sohail allowed 14 runs from a six-over spell with the new ball, Amir bowled five overs for six runs at one stage, Yasir bowled around the wicket to defensive fields going for well under three an over for most of the day and Rahat bowled five straight maidens. They did what Misbah asked for, and England went from their happy-hour funzone of 120 runs in 35 overs last night to 142 runs in 55 overs before tea today.
Misbah had his sweepers out. When there are only two, he feels naked. The catchers rarely exceeded two either, no matter how little time had elapsed since each wicket. The commentators and fans showed their frustrations as normal, and Misbah attacked through defence as usual. It was Misbah's funkless grind, it wasn't for impatient armchair captains, it was to improve Pakistan's position in the game.
His problem, however, was that England were prepared to wait, and wait, and then boom. Bairstow and Moeen Ali were the last two who waited, and then all that pressure, all that grind, quickly faded away. It was the lack of the fifth bowler, it was the fielders getting tired, it was Bairstow's strokeplay, it was Yasir's lack of control, it didn't matter, it was a partnership of 132 from 165 balls.
Misbah's funkless grind was beat.
Maybe, had the Root catch been taken, maybe, had Yasir been in better form, maybe, had the ball reversed, maybe. But a whole day of grind from Pakistan had made them slightly more likely to draw, and slightly less likely to lose, or win.
There will be people who see it as right or wrong. This is how Pakistan always play under Misbah. They grind.

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber