All Misbah's men: Why Pakistan's captain deserves wholehearted applause
During a 2015 World Cup contest, Misbah ul Haq once wanted a close-in fielder to his spinner. When the helmet arrived onto the pitch, no one was willing to step forward due to a fear of waywardness in the bowler’s lengths. After nothing but a smirk, the captain himself grabbed the equipment and proceeded to do the job.
The incident brought out one of his characteristics which is the hallmark of a true leader – “To lead, one must follow” (Tao Te Ching). Yes, Pakistan crashed out of that tournament as their limited-overs team plunged deeper into the abyss.
However, the permanence and fortitude that the 42-year old has brought to their Test outfit cannot be denied. Taking charge at a time when they were still reeling from the infamous spot-fixing scandal, an unrelenting Misbah began to fashion a side in his own image.
In an era when every team bullies opponents into submission on ready-to-order pitches at home, he urged his troops to make do with what they had by harnessing their frustration in the right direction.
And the statistics back his influence. Since adopting UAE as their ‘home’ in November 2010, Pakistan have played eight Test series and are yet to be defeated there. When they lost successive Tests by an innings (including one which yielded totals of 59 and 53) in the same venue to that Australian lineup during 2002, nobody could have predicted such a turnaround.
But, detractors would still not be impressed and instead challenged them to prove themselves on quicker and seam-friendly pitches outside Asia without remembering the fact that they spend almost the entire year away from their actual home.
Misbah would later go on to say, “Sometimes people think it's really easy for us playing in the UAE. They think the wickets suit us and we win there. But, just living every day away from your country without your family and friends and playing every game away from Pakistan is really difficult. It's mentally tough. I can only see my mother once a year. I only see my sister once a year. Some of my friends, I could not see for three or four years because of these commitments.”
Returning to where it all started, Misbah’s men set foot in England wary of the enormity surrounding their task. The buoyant hosts had already laid down the gauntlet and stared at them in fervent anticipation.
Absorbing a poisoned chalice
A familiar sight greeted him on arrival at Lord’s with Pakistan’s batsmen threatening to derail their own work at 77/3. When he was done on the next day, the scorecard registered a 114 to his name and another collapse was averted.
This was a man who did not possess the technical mastery of Rahul Dravid nor the survival instincts of Allan Border. But, his judgment of line and length perfectly summarized what he brought to the table – volumes of commitment.
When many wrote off the reflexes of an aging fighter under trying conditions, Misbah paid no heed to the prevailing mandate and decided to orchestrate his own play. All those years of toiling away unnoticed in the domestic circuit came to his rescue.
After ruffling English feathers with a rousing victory, the visitors were thoroughly outplayed in all departments at Old Trafford and Edgbaston. What began as a promising tour was threatening to end in a whimper.
To put things into perspective, only South Africa had managed to escape defeat (they won 2-0) in a Test series of 3 or more matches in England during the last eight years. The hosts had their tails up and another thrashing seemed to be on the cards.
But this was Misbah’s Pakistan, a single entity who felt they had a point to prove. The end result was an impressive 10-wicket victory to level the series 2-2 as their opponents were denied top billing and a complete set of Test trophies.
The more impressive aspect was that they had come to England after six years and played their first Test away from Asia since September 2013. Unlike most of their previous tours, the absence of controversy also signaled a welcome change.
Plenty has been said about Pakistan’s captaincy being a poisoned chalice with off-field drama often jeopardizing the safest of plans. However, Misbah held his ground and refused to succumb to media pressure or the unwarranted rants of former players.
When their first skipper Abdul Hafeez Kardar hung up his boots, it took them a long time to find another leader. After the Imran Khan era ended, a game of musical chairs and endless squabbles overshadowed progress.
With Misbah under the helm, the focus once again shifted to durability and leadership became a uniting factor rather than a hindrance. His captaincy record of 22 Test victories remains a Pakistani record with Imran and Javed Miandad coming a distant second at 14 wins.
All this has come at a time when they are sending more officials to the Olympics than athletes and their hockey/squash chapters have been restricted to history. Amidst rapidly plummeting fortunes in almost every corner, their Test team keeps the nation’s jazba flowing.
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Coincidentally, both Imran and Misbah ul Haq Khan Niazi share the same last name. However, when the latter bids adieu to the game, he will realize that the similarities do not end there.
When Yasir Shah tore through England at The Oval after rebounding from combined figures of 143-13-500-4 during the previous two matches or when Asad Shafiq followed a pair with a three-figure score, they did not just play for Pakistan. They played for Misbah as well; after all, they are Misbah’s men.