Misbah-ul-Haq: Farewell to Pakistan's silent guardian
It was 24th September 2007, the first ever ICC T20 World Cup final on an unusual day – Monday. India and Pakistan squared up against each other and it could not have been any bigger than that. As if this wasn’t enough, the game went till the very last over where Pakistan needed 13 to win.
Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s leading run scorer in the tournament, had brought his team close to victory. He had just smashed Joginder Sharma for a six and Pakistan needed 6 runs from 4 balls with a wicket in hand.
The next few seconds are etched permanently in the memories of Indian and Pakistani fans. Misbah played a scoop shot which was caught by Sreesanth at short fine-leg, and India won by 5 runs to be crowned the first ever ICC World T20 Champions. Misbah hunched down distraught with head bowed probably knowing this shot was going to haunt him in future.
Extra Cover: Top 5 test knocks from Misbah-ul-Haq
Almost a decade later, Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s most successful captain, announced his retirement from international cricket. When he plays his last Test match against the West Indies, he can draw the curtain on his career with his head held high with pride of what he has achieved.
Perhaps, if that scoop shot landed five feet further, it would have been a certain boundary and the end result could have been a lot different. Then you realise that Misbah wasn’t meant to be a celebrated cricketer; destiny had already decided that he would remain to be one of the dark knights of cricket.
Misbah made his debut in a Test against New Zealand at Auckland in March 2001. He could not quite match the exploits by another famous “ul-Haq”, Inzamam, and remained in the shadows, playing only in a handful of Tests and ODIs till 2003-04 before completely vanishing for the next three years.
Tryst with fame, or was it really?
Misbah remained prolific in domestic cricket in Pakistan and the selectors included him in the inaugural ICC T20 World Cup in 2007, and he ended that tournament as the leading run scorer for Pakistan and third overall. For almost all cricketers who have gone on to become the game’s greats, their journey had started in their teenage years, but for Misbah, the watershed moment effectively came at the ripe age of 33.
Unfortunately, he could not take Pakistan all the way through and he will be more remembered for the scoop he played in the final than his overall exceptional performance. After the World T20, Misbah became a regular in Pakistan XI.
His quiet ascendancy began with series against arch-rivals India after the T20 World Cup. In a three-match Test series in India, Misbah scored back-to-back hundreds ending the series with 464 runs at an average of 116! The pinnacle of his early career was when he was even appointed vice-captain of Pakistan team in 2008.
After that, it went downhill for him, as it so often does in Pakistan cricket. From 2007 to 2010 Misbah played a total of 14 Tests, made 888 runs with an average of 42. He also featured in 44 ODIs, made 1218 runs at an average of 40. He was eventually dropped from the squad altogether after the Test series against Australia in January 2010.
Captaincy and success
Both Imran Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq belong to the ‘Khan Niazi’ tribe in Pakistan but the similarity between the two Pakistani legends ends there. Imran was charismatic, outspoken and inspirational, while Misbah is quiet and unassuming.
Unlike Imran Khan, who always had talented players like Zaheer Abbas, Javed Miandad, Abdul Qadir, Wasim Akram, and Waqar Younis, Misbah had to lead a comparatively less talented bunch with an unstable Pakistan Cricket Board and selectors.
He became the captain after Pakistan’s calamitous tour of England where their previous captain, Salman Butt, and bowlers Mohammad Asif and teenage sensation Mohammad Amir, were banned for spot-fixing. It was left to Misbah to lift Pakistan cricket from this turmoil.
Misbah’s first Test series in charge was against South Africa in Pakistan’s new ‘home’, UAE. Pakistan drew the two-Test series 0-0 against the Proteas, and followed it up with a 1-0 series win when Pakistan travelled to New Zealand.
Misbah was again thoroughly criticised for his painfully slow innings against India in 2011 World Cup semi-final, but was shortly made the captain of the ODI side after Shahid Afridi was sacked. The peak of Misbah’s ODI captaincy was when Pakistan beat arch-rivals India in India. The right-handed batsman remained captain of the side until his retirement after Pakistan’s exit in the 2015 World Cup.
The 42-year-old’s ODI captaincy record was patchy at best even with series wins against India in India and notably becoming the first sub-continent team to beat South Africa in their own backyard in 2013. His tenure as captain will be more remembered for Pakistan’s winless streak in the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy, a loss in the 2014 Asia Cup final and exit from the 2015 World Cup. An ICC title eluded Misbah.
The Pakistani captain was much more comfortable and adept as a Test player, and achieved a lot of success; Pakistan whitewashed England and Australia in the UAE. Their march to becoming the No. 1 Test team began by beating Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in their dens in 2015, beating England in the UAE and then drawing the four-Test series 2-2 in 2016.
When Pakistan beat England at the Oval in 2016, they became the No. 1 Test side for the first time in their history – a commendable achievement by Misbah. However, dismal tours Down Under meant their stay at the top was short-lived.
His MBA in HRM might have helped him lead a mercurial Pakistan side for such a long time, and he brought much-needed stability in the leadership for Pakistan cricket for close to six years.
Misbah has captained Pakistan in 55 Tests (including the currently ongoing 2nd Test against WI). Pakistan had six captains in the previous six years before he took over in 2010. The great Imran Khan managed to win only 29% of the Tests he captained while Misbah’s winning percentage stands at 45%.
So undoubtedly, Misbah will retire as the most successful Test captain in the history of Pakistan cricket. When the third Test against the West Indies ends on 14th May, Misbah will have bid farewell to cricket in a low-key atmosphere, just like how his career has panned out.
Maybe the only thing he deserved was an ODI hundred, which he never got.
His cricket career might be one of those perfectly imperfect ones in cricket; his career won’t be called ‘illustrious’ but his contribution to Pakistan cricket will be respected for years to come.
His numbers as Pakistan captain
55 – Misbah’s Tests as a Pakistan captain – the most for Pakistan. He will finish with 56 Tests when he retires after the third Test against the West Indies. Imran Khan led Pakistan in 48 Tests between 1982 and ‘92. Among Asian Test captains, only MS Dhoni and Arjuna Ranatunga have led in more Tests than Misbah.
52.56 – Misbah’s batting average as a captain is the best among all 11 Pakistan Test captains who have batted in at least 20 innings. The next best is Salim Malik at 52.35. Misbah has made the most runs and centuries among Pakistan captains. Of the 20 captains to have played 75 or more innings, only Brian Lara (57.83) and Greg Chappell (55.38) average more than Misbah.
18.96 – The difference between Misbah's average as captain and not captain. He averaged 33.60 before becoming the captain in November 2010 – scoring 1008 runs in 33 innings with two centuries and four fifties. He began his captaincy career in terrific form, scoring six consecutive fifties in his first seven innings.
10 – Number of series wins for Misbah as a captain – the most by an Asian captain. MS Dhoni and Sourav Ganguly come in next with 9 series wins (in which they captained in all matches of the series). Graeme Smith leads with 22 series wins for South Africa.
3906 – Runs scored by Misbah at No. 5 as a captain – the most by any Test captain. Steve Waugh in second is the only one with more than 3000 runs. Coincidently, both of their averages are 54.25 at the moment.