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The Accidental Hero

In Some Cricketers.. by Bill Ricquier

Misbah ul Haq is surely one of the most remarkable cricketers of the current era.

I was going to say ” of his generation” but that is problematical. Misbah turned 40 in May and most of his generation had shuffled off into retirement a while ago. Of current Test players , only Shivnarine Chanderpaul, three months Misbah’s junior, has passed 40. Sachin Tendulkar was well into his forty first year when he retired in 2013.

But that brings one to the first remarkable thing about Misbah. By the end of the last millennium Tendulkar and Chanderpaul were , to put it mildly, well established international players. But hardly anyone outside Pakistan had heard of Misbah when , in 2007 at the age of 33, he made a memorable contribution to Pakistan’s triumph in the inaugural World Twenty20 tournament, masterminding their victory over India with an explosive innings in the final.

That certainly gave a hint of what was to come : the calm under pressure is something that has always shone through. But little else in his international career before that , and little after it, suggested Misbah’s destiny – until he was appointed to lead the national side in the aftermath of the dismal tour of England and the spot-fixing scandal in 2010. . Starting with a hard-fought drawn series against South Africa in the UAE in November 2010, pride has been restored to Pakistan cricket; and its leader has steadily become an understated giant of the game.

When Pakistan won the first Test against New Zealand at Abu Dhabi in November 2014 Misbah became Pakistan’s most successful Test captain in terms of games won (15, out of 33 in which he has led) overtaking Imran Khan and Javed Miandad. . Results have sometimes been uneven – such is the nature of the beast – but there have been resounding series victories over England and Australia in the UAE. Misbah has attained a Test batting average of 50 – an unquestionable indicator of the highest class – and against Australia in Abu Dhabi, also in November 2014, he performed the astounding feat of equalling a world record held by Vivian Richards, no less, by making a Test match hundred ( his second in the match) off 56 balls.

There are a few gaps in the CV. Not surprisingly, perhaps, he has only played three Tests against India – in India in 2007, when he made his first and highest Test century , 161 at Eden Gardens..He has also played only three Tests against England, all in the UAE in 2012. So he has never played a Test in England – well , he has only played five in Pakistan. But he does have an MBA from the Lahore University of Management and Technology: there is more of a sense of hinterland than with many professional sportsmen.

As a captain, he does not have the aggressive, almost bullying ruthlessness of Graeme Smith or the tactical flair of Michael Clarke. Nor does he have the Roy of the Rovers leading- from – the – front charisma of Angelo Matthews. He just has a certain something . There is not a lot of shouting or waving or frantic pointing in all directions: just an air of calm authority. More than any other captain he reminds one of Andrew Strauss; a natural leader who has gained the respect of his players without having appeared to have needed to work to earn it.

The current spell in the UAE is a clear indication of this. The omens were far from good for Pakistan when the series against Australia started. Pakistan had lost two-nil to Sri Lanka, Misbah himself was out of form, Australia had a clean sweep in the one- day series and, most crucially of all, , Pakistan’s Test attack had been decimated by a combination of ICC bans , injury and loss of form. Their four principal bowlers in that first Test had played a total of eight Tests; Imran Khan and Yasir Shah were both Test debutants, but they had played a total of 260 matches in Pakistan’s oft-derided domestic competition , and more importantly, they clearly had the confidence of their captain. These four and the wily and experienced off-spinner Mohammed Hafeez consistently out bowled their distinguishe counterparts. Shah and Zulfiqar Babar bamboozled the Australians just as Saeed Ajmal had flummoxed the Englishmen three years earlier. Meanwhile Ashes heroes Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon were made to look like net bowlers for Younis Khan, Misbah and the rest. It was said that you could not expect pace bowlers to perform in the UAE: then, as Trent Boult and Tim Southee went wicketless at Abu Dhabi, Rahat Ali took four for 22 in 17 overs in New Zealand’s first innings. Despite having a moderate wicketkeeper Pakistan generally fielded much better than their Austalasian opponents. These things don’t just happen: leadership matters.. The result: two nil against Australia and the likelihood of three-nil against New Zealand.

As a batsman, Misbah also does not stand out. He is not the best batsman in his own side: that accolade must go to the great Younis. He does not have Younis’s grace and elegance. He does not have the inventiveness of Miandad or the flamboyance of Shahid Afridi. He does not have an instantly recognizable presence at the crease , like Inzaman ul Haq. He looks , well, rather ordinary really. What he has, in great quantities, is solidity, than which there are few more valuable attributes in Test cricket. And, of course , he loves to “go big”. There were five sixes in his great innings at Abu Dhabi, three in an over of deliciously inviting leg spin from Steve Smith, two straight drives and a front foot mow over mid wicket. In his 51 Tests he has hit 45 sixes, that puts him37 th on a list headed by Adam Gilchrist with 100 in 96 games. That does not sound much, but of those ahead of him only two – Afridi and( slightly improbably) Southee , have played fewer games.

What next? Well , although he has an exemplary first-class record , which started in 1998 -99 and has an average of 51 , we can probably predict with some certainty that Misbah will not follow the example of Jack Hobbs and score a hundred centuries after his fortieth birthday. Pakistan’s one day form is even less predictable than their Test form. But they are one of only five countries to have won the World Cup; it is hard to imagine a more popular choice as captain on the winner’s podium in Melbourne in March 2015.

This post was featured in The Island News, Image Credit: http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=114493

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