The art of being effective - The making of a Misbah-ul-Haq
In times when we are obsessed with things superfluous and our choices are blighted by frivolous eye- candy, we rarely admit to appreciate expression that doesn’t fall in those categories. We over-celebrate panache, elevate the importance of oomph and thoroughly enjoy being boisterous in whatever we do and follow. Be it in life or in sport.
Every now and then comes a player that seems to be playing in the wrong generation. There is nothing of the qualities said of above and certainly a lot of sanity in the play and the conduct. In the anachronous redundancy that such a sportsperson stands for, flashy success is often downplayed and ruthless effectiveness overpowers grace and artistic brilliance. As audiences, we seem to suffer while such a player is at work- aching away towards targets and victories- while hoping to see an act more in sync with the era.
Misbah-ul-Haq in most ways speaks for such a rare breed. The breed of batsmen who have their techniques wired in weirdly indigenous ways and who bat like they do it for a living. A step across to cover the stumps and half a step forward, it doesn’t make for great viewing actually, but it certainly puts him on the right co-ordinates most times.
It is from this precise “no man's land” that he either flays a delivery to the fence or dabs it to die at his feet. He resorts to reverse- sweeping a spinner at the first available opportunity- something the purists would frown upon and takes a precious while to fire his innings up- a quality that smashers and specialists of the short format don’t appreciate.
Yet as ironical as it may sound he remains the captain of the test team and for a number of years in the recent past, was consistently an important cog of the One-day and T20 squads.
There is a sort of a diligence in his game that one would expect more from people at desk jobs than from a Pakistani star cricketer. While in the build up to big games where oppositions would be more concerned about the Afridis and the Maliks, Misbah most frequently emerges as the last man standing between them and victory, often delaying the eventuality and certainly denying it at every possible instance. It’s almost as if he prefers not being talked about while surely and surreptitiously dragging his team to victory or at least lowering its chances of defeat.
The closest comparison to his dogged resistance and solidity is Shiv Chanderpaul. While Shiv was infinitely more grotesque at the crease, his innings for a weak West Indies team and those of Misbah’s for a highly erratic Pakistani team have almost the same worth- they are priceless!
Both players have had their best years when their teams have been at their lowest and after a lot of their stars hung their boots up. Another striking similarity is the pace at which they scored usually and that when they beckoned damnation. In such cases, they would be unstoppable like Chanderpaul, in his blitz against England in an ODI and Misbah’s murderous innings against Australia in a test match in the Gulf.
While both these greats might not be mentioned in epoch-making speeches on cricket or batsmen, their value to their teams will be known to none better than their colleagues, compatriots and opponents.
A calming influence in a stormy sea
In the royal rumble that one can make of the Pakistani cricket establishment, Misbah seems to be a priestly figure- steering clear of all controversy and incoherence. There’s barely anything that he has spoken in the public domain outside the realms of cricket and he has taken all the criticism flung at him with uncommon grace.
Whether in the team or not, he remains a cricketer committed to the game alone and brings in no unwanted affiliations other than the two most essential- to the star- the emblem of Pakistan cricket and to his nation that takes its cricket to heart and follows from it.
It wasn’t a surprise that he emerged as one of the fittest players in the squad while it was preparing for its tour of England. It just showed the younger, less fit and pugnacious ones that physical fitness and mental strength went a long way in helping one maximize one’s potential and convert it to useful performances. Age seemed to be just a number when one saw him do push-ups after scoring a beautiful century at Lord’s, but it wouldn’t seem so if one then looked at his demeanour through his career.
A late starter like the great Michael Hussey, Misbah has made the most of every chance that has come his way while not losing his shape or character. He has carried the game’s baton with great dignity- true to the reputation of being a gentleman.
Certainly in the last leg of his career, it would be delightful to see him lead his team to victory over England. We in India will never forget Misbah as he stood between us and victory in 2007. He brought us perilously close to defeat until he scooped one to fine leg and then went one better to lift the cup two years later. He has been unstoppable ever since.
The weight of failure or the joy of victory will slowly fade away and the brouhaha will mellow down and yield to silence- nothing demonstrates this better than a Misbah innings- whether in full spate or while searching for some runs.
In times when we are obsessed with things superfluous and our choices are blighted by frivolous eye- candy we rarely admit to appreciate expression that doesn’t fall in those categories. We over-celebrate panache, elevate the importance of oomph and thoroughly enjoy being boisterous in whatever we do and follow. Be it in life or in sport.
But then, Misbah happens!