Sympathy for a Pakistani cricketer, especially a batsman, is a novel emotion for those of us coming from the 90s. We hated the guts of Saeed Anwar, Basit Ali and Salim Malik as they thrashed our clueless Srinaths and Prasads with habitual ease. The disdain was a garb for respect, but the garb tore down in the 2000s, when we couldn’t help but laud Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mohammad Yousuf’s classy drives. A good while after that comes the current captain Misbah-ul-Haq.
In Pakistan’s first game of the ongoing Champions Trophy, Misbah top-scored at 96*, only to be stranded while all his partners fell, the total looking a paltry 170 which the West Indies chased down. In the next game versus South Africa, he top scored again, 55 this time, besides affecting two run-outs and taking an outstanding catch to dismiss David Miller. His team folded up near 170 yet again, virtually eliminated.
The over six-foot tall Punjabi who will turn 40 next year is still looking for his maiden one-day hundred. His career numbers otherwise have been fair to him though – he is one of the few players whose batting average rose after taking up captaincy, and quite remarkably in Tests. In a team replete with players such as Afridi whose performances are all hormones - no acumen, Misbah’s classy temperament has proven to be the backbone at more occasions than we can recall.
Looking back at his career of over a decade, we can’t help but point a finger at the wretched hand Misbah’s Lady Luck has dealt him with. First up, the man who scored heaps of runs at the domestic level could not find a permanent place in the team dominated by Inzamam and Yousuf. Misbah’s real debut (he was sidelined after his test and ODI debuts in 2001 and 2002 respectively) only came with the T20 World Cup 2007, a tournament in which he scored 251 runs at an average of 50-plus.
Then, we all know what happened when he attempted a scoop off Joginder Sharma in that memorable game. Not only his damned career, we think the face of cricket would have been in a different shape than it is in now had he timed that shot to a clean boundary.
The various figures of the Pak set-up who want his head after any major loss (such as now) know that he’s been a successful captain who’s never really played with the perfect team despite oodles of talent in the country’s echelons. Take this tournament for instance – the only two match-winners for him were Nasir Jamshed and Saeed Ajmal.
Of course it doesn’t help that many of his pool’s most talented young players are either dropped or banned while he’s marooned with the mediocrity and sloppiness of Kamran Akmal and Shoaib Malik. The only thing the team has been consistent in has been unpredictability… but wait, that’s been a truth about Pakistan since Imran Khan’s days. Unfortunately, just Misbah’s leading by example won’t win him many international tournaments.
For a man who led his team to a series whitewash against the top-ranked England (and an ODI series win against us here, remember?) just last year, a change of fortune isn’t that out of reach. He must bat up the order; ideally at one-down. He must crack the whip and take charge (if at all there’s such a thing in Pak cricket) to re-shape his team with trusted men who can emulate his own performances. And most importantly, he must do all this before a mistimed scoop, a batting collapse or a myopic administrator are back to hound him.