I talked to Pakistan’s recently retired Test captain, Misbah-ul-Haq ahead of the Pakistan versus India match in the Champions Trophy. Misbah has experienced every emotion possible in his time playing against India. He almost single-handedly won Pakistan the 2007 World T20 final, but was vilified for the shot he played against Joginder Sharma. He then went on to score loads of runs in Tests against India and led Pakistan to an Asia Cup win over the arch-rivals back in 2008 before the World Cup semi-final in Mohali in 2011 and again Misbah had to face the wrath of the Pakistan fans. He followed that up by leading Pakistan to a 2-1 away series win versus India. Misbah has experienced all the highs of lows of this rivalry and perhaps there is no one better to talk about it. Here is an excerpt of his chat with Firstpost:
FP: What is it like playing against India?
Misbah: It is a game with pressure like no other but still as professionals you must approach this game like any other match. If you think too much about the hype surrounding this match, you will be in trouble. It is very important to clear your head and focus on the game plans you make. There obviously are emotions involved, but you need to think logically and play according to the situation and requirements.
People think it is India versus Pakistan and get carried away. The on-field rivalry is huge but we all get along as players and have a huge amount of mutual respect for each other. They have players like Kohli, Dhoni etc. I admire and respect them. But when it's game time, all that goes out of the window. They are your opponents and you must treat them as such.
FP: How important do you think Virat Kohli is for India?
Misbah: He is obviously very important. In my opinion he has been their key player since 2011. We beat India in India back in 2012 because we had a plan against Virat that succeeded. He hardly scored any runs thanks to Junaid Khan. The key in the 2012 series was the seaming conditions, plus our bowlers got the ball to swing. In England, Pakistan can try to do the same thing and if they can get the ball to swing early on, especially against Virat, Pakistan will have a chance. He is a marvellous player, once he gets in, he always makes you pay. Hence you have to get rid of him early on. Especially in ODI cricket, he is one of the very best players. Kohli is the player he is today not just because of his skills but because he has worked tirelessly on his fitness and is as focused as you can get. He is an example for young players. Talent alone isn’t good enough now, you have to be extremely professional and work really hard on your fitness and diet.
FP: You have suffered some heartbreaking defeats against India. How difficult is that to handle?
Misbah: It’s an India versus Pakistan match. Anyone who tells you defeat doesn’t hurt isn’t telling you the truth. The pressure that surrounds this particular match is unreal, everyone is watching and obviously there is backlash if you lose. Personally I have handled it because I don’t get stuck in the past, I focus on my mistakes and try to eradicate them in the next game and move forward. If you stay stuck in the past and keep thinking about the loss, you are only harming yourself and your team. The only way ahead is by moving on and focusing on the next game.
FP: Which current Indian player to do you respect the most?
Misbah: I think Dhoni's role in Indian cricket is huge. The thing with cricket is that sometimes people overcomplicate things. Dhoni just keeps it simple. That’s the key to his success. He knows his strengths and weaknesses. He knows his limitations, you see him finishing off matches because he keeps it very, very simple and that is why he appears so calm. Often people associate Dhoni with hitting but he is clever enough to give more strike to his partner and let him do the hitting when needed. He isn’t as prolific now as he used to be, but come a big game, a crunch run chase, expect him to step up because he will just keep it simple.
FP: If you had to pick one Pakistani player to make the difference against India, who would it be?
Misbah: In my opinion, Shoaib Malik. Since his comeback to the team, Malik has been in prime form with the bat. He enjoys playing against India. I think the way he has batted since his comeback, and added a couple of new tricks in his batting, means he will have a huge role to play. He is particularly good in the middle overs and that is what is needed to beat a team like India. Plus Malik is one of the leaders in this team, he has experienced both victory and defeat against India, so he will have an effect on this very new team.