The legacy created by Misbah-ul-Haq is distinct from that left by his predecessors © Getty Images
The legacy created by Misbah-ul-Haq is distinct from that left by his predecessors © Getty Images

Misbah-ul-Haq has had an eventful five years at the helm of Pakistan’s cricket. What is special about him? Abhishek Mukherjee elaborates.

The exotic journey of Misbah-ul-Haq’s career for Pakistan is explained and represented by simple virtues of dedication, logic and patience. When he faced the media upon his retirement from One-Day Internationals (ODIs) in the World Cup this year, the central message to fans and youngsters was ‘keep working hard’ — a constant refrain wherever appropriate in his replies to scribes or statements in obligatory press meets. ALSO READ: Younis Khan — most prolific Pakistan batsman after 100 Test matches

But such lack of colour, which spells his aura of an unflinching disposition, is out of choice, and masks an intense mesh of experiences of hardened battle. He has faced constant hiccups and avoidable inconveniences due to glitches in the idealism of the circumstances around him that have tested him unceasingly, and he seems to have given it his best to tackle them. This has enabled him to create a legacy quite distinct from his predecessors: of stability, of firmness, of the rewards of the principle suggested by the famous story of tortoise and the hare.

His demeanour highlights the ugliness and misguidance of the magic of grandiosity, prompting observers to build him up as the most un-Pakistani of all Pakistan captains. But what he represents is quite basic: steered by his world view, he has poured substance into his country’s cricket, taken them to an against-the-run phase of solidity that has been exemplary but thankless, as mature acknowledgments of his contribution has arrived only sporadically. ALSO READ: Azhar Ali is integral for Pakistan at present and future

After half the team was dismantled in 2010, they needed a better guardian and it arrived in him. He dealt with circumstances with pragmatism that a chartered accountant, and not the masses, would encourage. The ‘look and feel’ of his presence as the leader wasn’t the strongest point on his resume, and he showed it need not be. He cared for his players and gave them confidence. He fought the arising problems of a lopsided and irregular international fixtures cycle, the lack of comfort of cricket at home, the lack of quality alternatives in case of injuries to Junaid Khan and Mohammad Irfan, the unavailability due to ban of his primary spinner Saeed Ajmal, and the constant scrutiny on his side’s batting woes and his own form.

After a surprising period of dominance that featured five out of seven Test series wins, there was a period of low created by a number of factors, and the Test team highs, it seemed, was only temporary. In the limited-overs leg of Australia’s tour of UAE late last year, Misbah was hemmed in by pressures of a prolonged loss of form and opted out of the side for the third ODI. Shahid Afridi led that match, and Pakistan were at the receiving end of an astonishing one-run loss. It seemed the demoralised unit would buckle further under Australian pressure in the upcoming Tests, a prediction made with conviction by Rameez Raja; but three weeks later Misbah was breaking the record for the fastest century in Tests and demolishing Australia 2-0.

There was tension, too, when Pakistan performed timidly in the early half of the World Cup. Fairytales are special because they are rare: though his team’s campaign ended with the quarter-final loss to eventual champions Australia, one moment on the way came as a breath of fresh air and captured the determination of Misbah.

It was the group match against South Africa, a team touted as one of the favourites to clinch the trophy. They were led by AB de Villiers, a man grabbing headlines with his superhuman batting feats. West Indies — victors against Pakistan — had been humiliated twice in a bilateral series against South Africa ahead of the World Cup, and then in the event itself.

Defending a small total, Pakistan’s bowlers, led by Wahab Riaz and Mohammad Irfan, got the better of South Africa’s batting line-up through pace and bounce to clinch a surprising win that gave them a push to qualify to the knockout stages. The match report on a media company referred to the dazzling show by Pakistan as ‘this was the match the World Cup needed’. When the confidence had been generated, they lost Irfan due to injury. But the promise to ‘never give up’ (Misbah had said this) had showed its class.

In Sharjah last year, Misbah facilitated a similar fight back when their prospects looked bleak. He combined with Azhar Ali to chase 302 in 57 overs (astonishing even in the T20 era) on the final day of the final Test of the series against Sri Lanka to tie the contest 1-1. He considered it among the best wins, just below the 3-0 whitewash of England, then the No.1 ranked Test team, in the UAE in 2012.

Among his highlights are also a narrow Asia Cup win, in 2012, and an ODI series win in India in 2012-13, built on Saeed Ajmal’s spin and Junaid Khan’s pace.

Under him, a core of youngsters has blossomed. Azhar Ali, now ODI captain and currently in good form; Asad Shafiq; Junaid; Irfan; Sarfraz Ahmed; and spinners Zulfiqar Babar and Yasir Shah. They are equipped to take the team ahead after Misbah and Younis Khan retire; their growth and Pakistan’s growth has happened against the odds, and despite the worry of stagnation caused by a financially hurt board.

His homework done, however, wasn’t enough to escape criticism or cynicism. In what appeared to be a counterproductive incident, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chief Najam Sethi had grilled him for an hour live on television on a talk show ‘Apas ki Baat’ in 2014. Misbah, typically, faced fire with resolute defence. He would have been better off not choosing to oblige the board chief and be left alone to handle the affairs of his team.

Has Misbah done well? It is relevant to consider the example of West Indies. They have had similar problems. Their board have had problems, both with ICC and their own players. They have been neglected by the powers of the small cricket world, and have buckled and are visibly struggling to compete.

In stark contrast to the West Indian woes,, Pakistan has dealt with this in a far stronger fashion. Misbah has been central to his country’s efforts in sustaining the quality of their cricket. Such has been his effect that his team members seem to have imbibed similar professionalism and calmness without his outwardly shows of authority or dictatorship. There will be stumbling blocks, as there is now in Sri Lanka following the defeat in the second Test in Colombo, generating a typified response of ‘we need to improve’, but the longer-term attitude change is what is more permanently tangible.

Misbah is 41, and has suggested he may not stick around for long. Revealing his guarded mindset, he had expressed to a journalist that it is with cold statistics of batting and captaincy that people will dig him up after dust settles down on his career. These numbers are respectful. But for rising against the tide in an unprecedented manner, as if devoting all efforts towards enormous tasks of an NGO, he is sure to be revered; it may take a number of years to value his efforts, but the time will come.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a reporter with CricketCountry. His Twitter handle is @bhejafryyy)