By Shayan Siddiqui
Between 2001 and 2004, Misbah-ul-Haq played 17 matches for Pakistan, five Tests and 12 One-Day Internationals (ODIs). A highest score of 50, once against Kenya and once against Australia weren’t enough to secure a place in the team, and back he went to domestic cricket. In the next three years, the cricket world saw the rise and rise of Twenty20, a form of the game which, surprisingly for some now, provided a new lease of life to Misbah’s fledgling international career.
Pakistan’s squad selection for the inaugural Tweny20 World Cup was perhaps more controversial than usual, with a number of surprising choices. One of these was a 33-year-old Misbah-ul-Haq, selected for what some felt was a young person’s game, in place of Mohammad Yousuf, who at the time was arguably the best batsman in the world. Misbah finished the tournament with an average of 54.5 and a strike-rate of 140. Unfortunately for him, the only lasting memory of that tournament for a number of fans revolves around two moments, both against India.
During the group stages, Pakistan squared off against their arch-rivals and were left with 142 to win from 20 overs. When Misbah came to the crease, India were on top having taken two wickets in an over, with the batting side struggling at 47 for four, still requiring 95 to win from 11 overs. The celebrations began for India when Shahid Afridi was caught, leaving an unlikely 39 to win from 14 balls, and four wickets remaining. Some incredible shots followed. And thanks to some assistance from Yasir Arafat, Misbah brought the equation down to one off two balls. The first was a dot, and Misbah was run out off the second. The match was tied and India won the bowl-out.
Fast forward to the final of the same tournament, once again a high pressure India-Pakistan encounter. This time Pakistan were chasing 158 and were in an even worse position during the chase, 78 for six following Afridi’s golden duck and 80 needed from eight overs. Misbah again set about repairing the damage, trying to bring some respectability to the scores. In the 17th over from Harbhajan Singh, he hit three sixes and even declined taking singles in between, knowing he was the man that had to deliver. He brought the equation down to 13 off the final over with just one wicket remaining, and when he hit the second ball for six, hopes were high among Pakistanis that he might just do the impossible. He then attempted a scoop shot over short fine-leg, a shot that would have come off had it not been for the bowler out-foxing him with a slower delivery, and the catch was taken.
Two high profile matches against India, two defeats, and on both occasions Misbah had brought Pakistan within a whisker of winning. By the reaction of some since, it would have been better had he not tried at all and allowed Pakistan to be thrashed in both those games. An incredible amount of criticism went his way particularly for that shot in the final, with some fans seemingly incapable of processing such a high profile defeat against the arch-rivals.
Misbah’s excellent stats in that World Cup rightfully earned him recalls into the ODI and Test squads, and some excellent results followed. An outstanding Test series against India secured his place, and although he couldn’t quite replicate that success, he became an important part of Pakistan’s middle order for the next few years. However, following Pakistan’s disastrous tour of Australia in 2009-10, and a poor personal performance in the 2010 T20 World Cup he was dropped, with many feeling that at the age of 36, perhaps his international career was over. As we all know, the actions of a certain Salman Butt were to provide another spark in the career of Misbah-ul-Haq.
With Pakistan cricket in absolute turmoil in 2010, Misbah was recalled and asked to take over captaincy of the Test side. His results were fantastic considering the situation of the team. Pakistan drew with South Africa and beat New Zealand prior to the 2011 World Cup, in which a Shahid Afridi-led Pakistan reached the semi-finals against India in Mohali, in what was surely the most anticipated and high-profile match between the two countries.
After India scored 260 batting first, Pakistan will have felt that it was a gettable score considering the strength of India’s batting and the weaknesses in their bowling. And when the openers, Kamran Akmal and Mohammad Hafeez saw off the new ball to take the score to 43 for no loss from eight overs, things were looking good. It was necessary, however, for one of these two to make a big score in order to minimise pressure on any incoming batsmen. That didn’t happen though. Akmal cut the ball straight into the hands of point before Hafeez, having scored an excellent 43, attempted a ridiculous paddle-sweep to a full ball outside off and edged it to Dhoni. When Misbah later arrived at the crease, Pakistan needed a gettable 158 from 26 overs, still with seven wickets remaining.
The next 18 overs will live long in the memory of Pakistan fans, with many unable to let it go, no matter what Misbah’s achievements have been before and since. He scored 26 from 51 balls, during which time Pakistan lost Younis Khan, Umar Akmal, Abdul Razzaq and Shahid Afridi. They made 81 runs and the required rate went from six to almost 10. Despite some lusty blows, the task was too great and India won by 29 runs. The scathing criticism went through the roof with all sorts of allegations being levelled against Misbah. It appeared as though he was solely responsible for Pakistan’s defeat, with people seemingly forgetting the dropped catches, Hafeez’s shot and other batsmen that threw their wickets away.
Misbah certainly got his tactics slightly wrong that day. The game plan seemed to be to keep one end ticking over while the aggressors got going from the other. However with wickets falling around him, a player with Misbah’s hitting ability should have gone on the attack sooner, and the powerplay should have been taken earlier. There’s no doubting he himself would admit he got it wrong that day.
Does he deserve everything he has had to put up with since? His own fans and media calling him “Tuk-Tuk”, some asking for him to be disrespectfully thrown out of all Pakistan squads, even after the whitewash of England, the highlight of his captaincy career. He gets criticism almost every time he bats, even in Test cricket where his style of batting is exactly what is required.
Is it really so hard for us to move on from Mohali and the T20 Final? Can Misbah not be forgiven for making a couple of mistakes under the immense pressure of those contests? Had the opposition been any other team in those two matches, would Misbah get anywhere near the same amount of flak? Why is he ridiculed for that T20 final when he was the one that fought till the end and made a game of it? Why are the other 10 players from Mohali rarely mentioned? How has Mohammad Hafeez’s disgraceful shot gone unnoticed?
The fact is that Misbah-ul-Haq is a cricketer that all of Pakistan should be proud of. He has been an exceptional captain, given his all on the field of play and been an outstanding ambassador for the country. He took charge of the Test team when parts of the English media felt that Pakistan should be booted out of international cricket. Less than 18 months later that very same country under Misbah’s captaincy whitewashed England, the world’s number one team, 3-0. Although Pakistan were recently beaten by a far superior South Africa, Misbah impressed with his determination with the bat in the Tests, and quietened his critics by being the best performer of the ODI series too, including two match-winning aggressive half centuries.
A few days ago, Misbah led Faisalabad Wolves to the Super Eight T20 title, winning the captaincy battle against Shoaib Malik, having beaten Mohammad Hafeez and Lahore Lions the day before. More importantly, he showed that even someone who is almost 39 can deliver the goods, finishing as the best batsman of the tournament with an average of 103 and a strike-rate of 140.
He reignited his career in 2007 with a sparkling performance in the one form of the game in which his critics feel he is the least suited. In 2013, he has outperformed all the other batsmen in the country in that same format, just after being the best Pakistani batsman in an ODI series against the world’s best bowling lineup in alien conditions. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. In Misbah’s case, he still seems to have more tricks than any other Pakistani batsman. There is clearly also something special about his captaincy. Following their victory, Ali Waqas of Faisalabad Wolves told us “The only reason we won was the leadership of Misbah.”
In 1992 an aging captain took Pakistan to World Cup glory in Australia with his inspired leadership. Who’s to say it won’t happen again? The year 2015 isn’t that far away.
(Shayan Siddiqui is a writer and moderator at Pakpassion.net, from where the above interview is sourced with permission)