Will the new regime in Pakistan cricket culminate in Misbah-ul-Haq's swansong?
There are some walls that are quite famous all over the world; the most popular of them all is the Great Wall of China. If you take the word metaphorically, India’s Rahul Dravid immediately comes to mind.
Similarly, in the past five years or so every opposition believed that if you demolish ‘the Pakistani wall’ – Misbah-ul-Haq, you’re almost through the Pakistani batting lineup and how true this notion has been proved right, time and time again.
Misbah and T20 cricket
Misbah made his Test debut in March 2001 against New Zealand, but he was unable to retain his place in the team for long. It was the inaugural Word T20 played in South Africa which proved a comeback tournament for him six years later.
He was the ‘find’ of the tournament for Pakistan. That said, he got a lot of flak for playing the scoop shot against India in the final, but not many people remember that he was the one who took that match to a close finish. Otherwise, Pakistan team was done and dusted in the initial stage of the run chase.
Though he retired from the T20 format in 2012, but he is still the most watched batsman in the local T20 tournaments. Yes, Shahid Afridi has more star following, but ask knowledgeable cricket fans and they will say that Misbah’s batting give them more viewing pleasure.
His batting average in the shortest form of the game is 37.50, which is outstanding if you compare it with the T20 specialist: Shahid Afridi who averages 18.01. Of course, Afridi’s performance is often judged on his strike rate, which is fair enough.
The ‘conspiracy’ and his retirement from ODIs
A few years back, ‘TV channel’ in Pakistan, which was not in favor of Misbah playing ODI cricket, launched a campaign against him.
A captain with an ODI batting average of 43.40; a batsman who has the all time best ODI batting average of 48.06 among Pakistani batsmen in away games (the great Javaid Miandad is behind him with 39.0); a player who tops the list as the best Asian batsman in ODI matches played outside Asia with an average of 59 was made to retire from ODI cricket; when players in the team with batting averages of mere late 20’s and early 30’s were given the status of superstars.
No wonder, just after his retirement the plight of the One Day team was there to be seen. In April 2015, a 3-0 drubbing from Bangladesh in One Day series showed the importance of the elegant right hander’s role in bringing ‘sanity’ to the middle order in limited overs format.
Since then Pakistan ODI rankings have been declining with consistency, currently languishing at an embarrassing 9th position.
Cool as a cucumber
Misbah-ul-Haq is a model of self-determination par excellence. He became the joint record holder (along with Sir Vivian Richards) for the fastest hundred made in Test Cricket when he smashed it off 56 balls in an innings in 2014 when to silence his distractors. The 42-year-old stood his ground and let his record do all the talking.
He is the only Pakistani cricketer to have a good batting average in all three formats: Test, ODI, and T20. A rare distinction indeed, in Pakistan cricket. He was in fact also ranked as the world’s best Test captain by the British newspaper Daily Telegraph in 2015.
Misbah & Waqar ‘chemistry’
It is important for Pakistan cricket that Misbah remains fit and be part of the Test team which tours England. Perhaps, after that series, he will be in a better position to decide whether to visit Australia or not, which will be a far tougher assignment than England.
Already, Waqar Younis has stepped down as the coach, which is a big blow for the Test team just before the two major full tours to England and Australia.
The ‘chemistry’ between Waqar and Misbah was delivering desired results in Test matches. It is a pity that on the basis of limited over (ODI & T20) performances, Waqar was literally forced to quit.
It is remarkable that in spite of all the troubles in Pakistan cricket, the Test team is still consistently in the top 4 of the world Test rankings. The credit must be given to the two gentlemen: Misbah ul Haq and the former coach Waqar Younis.
They both must have done something right to earn this rare stability, at least in one of the formats; not to mention Misbah’s demeanor and captaincy which played a significant role in achieving the goal.
Some might suggest that the Pakistan team played most of the Test matches in the UAE and the sub-continent. But the question is: Why did the team produce different results, in spite of playing numerous limited over matches in the same region?