By Raja Ghulam Rasool
On January 14, 2013, this writer wrote wrote a piece stressing the fact that Misbah-ul-Haq is a necessity for Pakistan’s One Day International (ODI) cricket. The arguement was that Misbah has been far better than his colleagues and should not be dropped, predicting that he will fine tune his game-plan and will improve as a batsman.
Well, as it turns out, Misbah has indeed stepped up his game since then.
Almost a year and 32 ODIs later, we see him still at the helm and still going strong. Since that series in January 2013, Misbah has scored 1332 runs in 32 matches (30 innings) with as many as 15 fifties at a strike rate of 75 and at an astonishing average of 58 runs per innings.
His outstanding run as a batsman earned him the top spot in the list of leading ODI run scorers in 2013 and helped him to enter the top 10 rankings of ICC ODI batsmen. He is currently ranked at number nine in that list, the only Pakistani in the list.
Under his leadership last year, Pakistan have won ODI series against India, West Indies, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Ireland and Scotland – the highlight being a spectacular come-back after taking a pounding from South Africa in UAE.
Misbah, as a leader, remained firm despite stern criticism, led his troops admirably in South Africa and won the three match ODI series against all odds and in alien conditions, a series win which can be labelled as one of the finest achievements of Pakistan cricket as far as bilateral ODI series are concerned.
This should lay to rest any doubts about his utility as an ODI batsman as well as the leader of Pakistan’s ODI team.
Now let us have a look at Test matches, especially his era as the captain of the Pakistan Test team since that spot fixing saga (a period of three years and two months). People often criticise him for being a negative captain and question his tactics, but again, most of the criticism is completely unjust and the statistics reveal a very interesting story.
Pakistan has been a very dismal team over the past few years, especially when it comes to Test cricket. To put things in perspective, let’s have a look at the ‘Pre-Misbah’ era in Test cricket. Let’s take into account three years and two months before Misbah took the reins of the Pakistani Test team.
I have chosen to look at the three years and two months particularly because Misbah has been captain of the Test side for three years and two months, so it is only fair to compare two identical time spans.
Misbah took over in November 2010 as Test captain. So the period under consideration is the time-span from September 2007 to November 2010.
From September 2007 to Nov 2010, Pakistan played 22 Test matches, won only three, lost 12 and drew seven.
No matter how you look at it, it is a pathetic record.
Even if we expand the duration to six years and consider the time span from September 2004 to November 2010, we find that Pakistan played 50 Tests, won 13, lost 23 and drew 14. This record, like the previous example, is hardly anything to be proud of.
Remember this was a time when they had the luxury of playing at home with pitches tailor made for their batting and bowling; they had batting maestros like Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan in full swing, and superb fast bowlers like Mohammad Asif, Shoaib Akhtar, Umer Gul and the likes, at their disposal.
Now, if we compare these two time spans with the post-Misbah era, things look bright. Since November 2010, Pakistan has played 27 matches under Misbah, won 12, lost seven and drawn eight.
A remarkable feat isn’t it?
Given the fact that none of these matches have been played on Pakistani soil. Under the leadership of Misbah, Pakistan has eked out 12 Test wins out of 27 matches, while Pakistan could only manage 13 wins out of 50 Test matches in six years of pre-Misbah era.
This should be an eye-opener for those who label his captaincy defensive, dull and negative.
Seeing this impressive run, it is only fair to say that he has totally transformed the way Pakistan play Test cricket, with concrete results for all to see.
What is most impressive about this era is that Misbah himself has been in terrific form, scoring 2210 runs at an average of 61.38, which is the highest by any Pakistani Test captain.
Bolstered by his own performance, Misbah has quietly stitched together a unit which is resilient and promising. The new players which he has at his disposal may not be as spectacularly talented as their predecessors, but they are efficient, and are being used well.
By virtue of this remarkable run, Misbah now ranks as the second most successful Pakistani Test captain only behind Imran Khan/Javed Miandad (14 Test wins each), but it is notable that Imran captained in 48 Tests and Javed in 34 Tests, while Misbah has achieved this in only 27 Tests – and none of those were played in Pakistan.
When you see people like Marcus Trescothick, Steven Harmison, Jonathan Trott and the likes, revealing mental illnesses due to excessive tours, it only increases respect in your eyes for Misbah and the team, and makes those wins look even more valuable.
Of course, his team still has some weaknesses and areas of concerns. Their fielding, especially catching, needs to improve. There have been numerous costly misses in recent matches, for example dropping AB De Villiers in the second match in Dubai was crucial, and so was that drop by Younis Khan in the fifth ODI against South Africa, in South Africa.
Opening, lower middle order and wicket keeping departments need improvement as well. Asad Shafiq does not click as much as desired. Fast bowlers need to be managed better. People like Aizaz Cheema, Tavir Ahmed, Rahat Ali, Asad Ali, Umar Gul, Wahab Riaz and others have been given chances and have been in and out of the team.
Despite all these limitations, to pick up a team that was in tatters after the spot fixing issue and to instill solidarity in the team, to perform despite limitations and to completely change the complexion of Test cricket for Pakistan is indeed commendable, for which Misbah deserves credit.
The only thing that Misbah now needs to work on, as a captain, is to gamble on the correct players. Great captains are usually good at spotting talent and backing the right players. For example, Misbah tried Amin, Nasir Jamshed, Sohail Tanvir and Riaz against South Africa in the ODI series in the UAE, but they did not perform as he had expected, and so he had to bring in Sohaib Maqsood – but it was too late by then.
This is where Misbah has to develop an eye for spotting the right youngsters at the right time.
As an ardent Pakistani cricket fan, I hope and pray that Misbah continues the good work and leaves behind a well-knit unit which can bring greater glory to Pakistan cricket in coming years.
For now, I can safely say that, yes, we need Misbah – for at least another year.
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