He’s made Pakistan cricket boring. They’ve become predictably consistent with their performances under his leadership. The flamboyance that rode on erraticism is somehow missing from the test team now. They have started playing methodically and there seems to be a plan and a strategy being followed in each game and for each situation. Misbah-ul-Haq has changed the way test cricket is played by Pakistan.
The captain of the no.1 test team in the world did not always enjoy running on a smooth terrain though. It has continuously been a steep climb for Misbah with relentless hard work and thankless persistence. The Misbah that we so conceitedly cheer for now was once the most ridiculed sportsman of this country. He is the hero of a story that only unfolded nearing its end revealing its protagonist. He’s that survivor on a sinking ship who not only makes it himself but also rescues hundreds of others only to be recognized after they’ve made it to the shore. His is a tale of someone standing up every single time after being repeatedly knocked down to the floor by the world. Misbah-ul-Haq is the unsung champion of Pakistan cricket. It is about time we look back at this great sportsman’s journey.
After making his first class debut back in 1998-99, Misbah had to wait till 2001 to make his international test debut and till another year after that (2002) to feature in his first ODI match, both against New Zealand. His entry into international cricket wasn’t one that could guarantee him a permanent place in the side though and we kept on getting glimpses of Misbah every now and then in the team after that. He wasn’t a regular in the side until 2010. Interestingly, during that time Misbah was not selected to play a single international match in any format of the game for Pakistan between 2004 and 2007. Even in 2004, he was selected to play only one ODI.
It was the inaugural T20 cricket world cup back in 2007 however that made Misbah-ul-Haq a name known to everyone across the cricketing world. Only that it wasn’t the way Misbah would’ve liked himself to be made famous. That famous paddle scoop in the last over of the final against India ruined everything that had happened before that. Misbah averaged an outstanding 54.50 in the 7 matches that he featured in with 3 not outs and 2 fifties. All these runs came at a strike rate of nearly 140 runs per 100 balls. Even in the final match, Misbah walked in to bat with Pakistan 4 down for 65. It was from there till the 3rd ball of the 19th over that Misbah stood like a rock in front of the Indian bowling line and scored crucial 43 runs off 38 balls hitting 4 massive sixers. Sadly, none of that has frequently been recalled and the only thing Misbah had been made famous for was that last shot.
As far as T20 Internationals are concerned, what many people do not know is that Misbah-ul-Haq till date ranks number 1 as far as batting average is concerned. Misbah averages 37.52 in the 39 T20Is he has played for Pakistan with a strike rate of 110.20. On the domestic front, he captains Islamabad United in the Pakistan Super League which is also incidentally the current champion there.
When it comes to ODIs, Misbah is disreputably remembered for his slow batting in the Semi Final of the World Cup 2011 played against India which Pakistan lost. He was given the title of ‘Tuc Tuc’ following that innings and all blame was put on his shoulders for the team’s loss and exit from the mega event. What critics tend to ignore though is the contribution this prolific batsman made for Pakistan towards reaching the Semi Final of the tournament in the first place. Misbah, with 3 fifties in the 6 innings that he played in the tournament was the highest run scorer for Pakistan averaging a marvelous 49.60 runs per innings.
He has also captained Pakistan in ODIs. His captaincy record in the 50 over format may not be as decorated as other successful captains of the world, but some of the notable accomplishments there include becoming the 1st (and till date only) captain from a South Asian touring side to lead his side to victory in an ODI series against South Africa in South Africa. This happened in 2013 just one year after Misbah lifted the Asia Cup for Pakistan (for the 2nd time after 12 years) at the Sher-e-Bangla Cricket Stadium at Mirpur, Bangladesh.
Coming back to 2010, when Pakistan cricket was arguably at its lowest after the spot fixing scandal, Misbah was given the responsibility to lead Pakistan in tests. Pakistan ranked 6th in the ICC Test rankings at that time. It was from there that Misbah-ul-Haq, in his own cerebral way started his journey as a leader to make Pakistan top the rankings for the first time this year. Misbah so far as led Pakistan in 46 test matches. Pakistan has won 22 out of these 46 test matches with a winning percentage of 47.82 and a losing percentage of only 28.26 making him the most successful test captain for Pakistan till date.
As a batsman he has proved to be a sportsman who blossoms with respect to his individual performances once given the additional responsibility of leading his side. In the 65 test matches that he has played so far for Pakistan, Misbah averages 33.60 as a batsman in games where he has played as a batsman only. The average however rises to an astounding 54.93 in the 46 games in which he has captained Pakistan.
He holds the record for the fastest test fifty (off 21 balls only) and is 2nd in the list for the fastest hundred in test cricket (off 56 balls only) sharing the spot with the great Sir Viv Richards only behind New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum who achieved this record in just 54 balls against the Aussies. Incidentally, Misbah also slaughtered the Aussies for both his fastest century and fifty.
As a captain, he was named as the ‘Best Test Captain of the Year 2015’ by The Daily Telegraph and no eyebrows were raised when this was announced. Misbah was called ‘One of the great captains- ever’ by the renowned British newspaper.
All that with not a single test match in which Misbah could have the opportunity to lead Pakistan on Pakistani soil. Pretty much sums up how increasingly difficult it would have been for him to take over a side that is under the microscope for all the wrong reasons and is not even blessed with the luxury of performing in front of its home crowd.
Misbah-ul-Haq is no Imran Khan, he’s neither Shahid Afridi nor Wasim Akram. He’s probably someone like Inzamam-ul-Haq if you must compare. But even in that comparison he’s not as naturally gifted as Inzamam was. Come to think of it, Misbah-ul-Haq is just Misbah-ul-Haq. His tenacity, strength of will, mental & physical fitness and extraordinary leadership skills make him stand out from the crowd.
This piece is not just my admiration for Misbah-ul-Haq’s prodigious services for this country but is also a humble effort to make amende honorable to the great man for all the disrespect this nation has shown towards him. He’s a legend and I most genuinely hope he gets one of the most respectful farewells this country has ever scene for a sportsman retiring from his game.
-Hammad A. Mateen