COMMENT: Misbah made Pakistan believe in their team again

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Misbah-ul-Haq

In the end the announcement didn’t really fit the occasion. The answer to the question that the Pakistani press corps had consistently been asking for two years – and intermittently asked for far more – was delivered in the most mundane of places.

Just another press conference during a training camp was all that Misbah-ul-Haq needed to proclaim that the tour to the West Indies would be his last in the Pakistan shirt. And although the phrase is greatly overused, in this case it truly is the end of an era in Pakistan cricket.

To remember what Pakistan were when he took over is to peek into a different world. Pakistan hadn’t won a Test series for nearly four years when he stepped in.

He had himself been dropped from all formats prior to his appointment, and at 36, his career seemed close to its end. Pakistan, meanwhile, were still a team renowned for their pace bowling, and little else.

They had neither a home nor home advantage, and their perceived identity was to slowly descend the path that the West Indies had been on for years prior. Six years later his team returned from Australia with a 3-0 loss, a result he describes as patently unfair.

“This wasn’t like the South Africa series [in 2013] where we were outplayed on the way to a clean sweep,” he says a day before flying off to the West Indies.

“Here we could’ve won the first Test and were in control of the second Test for more than half of it. Even if we had drawn either of those Tests, then in Sydney, on that pitch, we would’ve had the best chance to win.

“That tour remains my greatest regret in my career. We should have got at least a draw there. No way was it a 3-0 series.”

The failures of the last few months might dominate the memory for now, but as the years fade away as much as the 3-0 scoreline it will be something else that he said which will define him.

It’s not every decade that a Pakistani captain can proclaim, with a straight face, that his side deserved at least a drawn series Down Under.

Not that they could have done it, but rather that they should have done it. And that really is his greatest achievement. From the team that he picked up in 2010, to the one that lost its way and its bowlers in 2013 and 2014, it would be fair to say that they reached their ceiling and then smashed through it.

Even as his critics croaked incessantly for six years, like crickets in a hotel near the wild, it would be difficult to argue that Pakistan did not exceed their potential.

Thus he leaves behind a legacy – of the ICC mace, of famous Test and series wins, of an identity redefined.

Pakistan are no longer in crisis, they are no longer accused as cricket’s black sheep whose banning from the international game is called for in major publications; they have a template to play, a template to win, and a fortress to protect.

And that, more than how he polarised his country’s experts and ex-players, or how he won the hearts and minds of experts from beyond Pakistan’s borders, is what his legacy will be. And it’s not something that he ever focused on.

“Legacy and records are things that you guys talk about,” he says when I ask him about it. “For me it’s just my performance, day by day, series by series, that mattered.

“If I had started thinking about my or the team’s legacy we would have taken our eyes off the ball. Everything: the legacy, the record, the achievements are all a byproduct of our hard work, dedication and drive.

“All we did was keep our heads down, put in everything that we had, and after that if we had a legacy or didn’t wasn’t up to us.”

For all that he did, and for all that his team achieved, and what they had to traverse through he’ll leave as part of the Mount Rushmore at the very least.

In all likelihood we’ll remember his part of Pakistan’s holy trinity – the greatest Test captain the country has had alongside AH Kardar and Imran Khan. Not bad for someone who was on the edge of retirement before ever having captained Pakistan.

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West Indies series to be Misbah's last

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Misbah is Pakistan's most successful captain.

Pakistan’s most successful ever Test captain will hang up his boots after the third and final Test against West Indies beginning May 10 after Misbah-ul-Haq confirmed the end of his international career on Thursday.

Speaking to media at a press conference in Lahore, Misbah spoke of a regret at not having captained Pakistan in cricket, his entire tenure serving during their international exile.

“One regret is that I never captained the Test team in Pakistan and also not captaining against India,” said Misbah before stating that he will continue to play domestic cricket for “as long as I’m enjoying it”.

“I’ll play domestic cricket as long as I’m enjoying it. I haven’t made up my mind on my immediate future after cricket,” he added.

“[My] favourite moment was winning the Lord’s and Oval Tests, including the hundred I made at Lord’s.”

The 42-year-old, named as one of Widen’s Five Cricketers of the Year for 2016 on Wednesday, has been contemplating retirement since last summer.

Then, Misbah had led Pakistan to world number one in the ICC Test Rankings for the first time in their history with a drawn series in England.

It was seen as the perfect moment for Misbah to bow out from the game but he remained at the helm during chastening defeats in New Zealand and then Australia over the winter.

Many called for Misbah to end his tenure then before he announced at the end of this year’s Pakistan Super League tournament that he would take charge of the side in the Caribbean.

Now, Misbah has confirmed the tour of the West Indies will be his last, just hours after Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Shahryar Khan let the cat out of the bag to press.

Regardless of the outcome in the West Indies, Misbah will leave the role as Pakistan’s most successful ever Test captain.

He took over the captaincy in 2010, reshaping the country’s reputation and squad after the spot fixing scandal in England that threatened to tear Pakistan cricket apart.

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Hassan Cheema: Pakistan and West Indies reflect their boards

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The pair face off in an ongoing T20I series.

More than a decade since its inception, international T20 cricket finds itself in an odd place. For all the hype and successes of domestic franchise leagues the status of the international game continues to fluctuate. In a sense, T20Is has had the accelerated journey that ODI cricket took four decades to traverse: from not being taken seriously to being celebrated and thus over-done to questioning whether it was even needed outside of ICC events. Of course it doesn’t help that the standout team over the course of this decade so rarely turns up outside of these world tournaments.

The series between West Indies and Pakistan is instructive on the state of the international T20 game. Pakistan will leap frog West Indies in the ICC rankings if they manage to win this series, and considering that they clean swept the same opposition at the start of this season in the UAE, it doesn’t seem that outlandish. But considering the recent overall fortunes of the two teams, this outcome appears counter intuitive.

Over the first few years of T20I cricket Pakistan could reasonably claim to be the best side in the format, as they reached the final of the first two Word T20s and were one Hussey miracle away from making it three in a row. Since then, though, the world has first caught up and then passed Pakistan by. And this has happened despite Pakistan’s best efforts. Seven of the other nine Test playing nations [excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe] have played between 56 and 64 T20Is. Pakistan, by comparison, has played 74. Yet despite this extra experience at the international level the Pakistani absence from the IPL, and how much later the PSL started compared to other domestic leagues, has meant that Pakistani cricketers still remain less in-tune with the demands of this ever evolving format.

Of course if you were to be reductive regarding these two teams you could do that by just pointing fingers at the captains. Pakistan’s record, for instance, since that 2010 heartbreak would provide evidence for those who consider Pakistan’s failures as borne out of personnel problems rather than institutional malaise.

Pakistan since 2010 World T20

  • Under Afridi
  • Matches: 34 Wins: 14 Losses: 19 N/R or Tie: 1
  • Under others
  • M: 41 W: 27 L: 13 N/R or Tie: 1

But for all of Afridi’s captaincy issues, Pakistan’s record in limited overs cricket in general – let alone the obvious evidence for anyone who cares to watch Pakistan bat – shows that blaming him alone would be a false solution to a deeper problem. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that if his and Hafeez’s tenures were interchanged, the same would be true of their records. And for all that Sarfraz has done [five wins in a row – all with dominating performances], the health of the opposition also considers bearing.

Four of those five wins have come against the West Indies, who have their own captaincy stats which are far more revealing than Pakistan’s.

West Indies overall T20I record

  • Under Sammy
  • M: 47 W: 27 L: 17 N/R or Tie: 3
  • Under others
  • M: 36 W: 12 L: 21 N/R or Tie: 3

Here the questions are of a different nature. While the WICB continues to compete for the hotly contested crown of international cricket’s worst run board, many of the problems they face do not trickle down to the players. A generation of freelancers have honed their skills in leagues across the world. Time and again, they rise above the mediocrity that the WICB promotes, and have become the best T20 side in the world over the course of this decade. But as the above stats show, this only happens when the big stars turn up and nearly always under Darren Sammy. Without Sammy and others like him they too become as representative of their board as Pakistan is.

And in the current series – much like the one in the Emirates last year – it’s the less threatening West Indies that Pakistan have had to put up with. The result is a team who were one rain affected match away from doing a World T20 three-peat – with all three tournaments in Asia – unable to deal with anything close to quality spin. Imad Wasim’s slow straight ones were their undoing in the desert, much as the higher quality of Shadab Khan was in the first T20. If West Indies continue to play spin as they have, and there is little evidence to suggest otherwise, the series becomes an opportunity for Pakistan to work on things they never have the chance to work on. Dominating matches allows you that luxury.

And yet, however straightforward it may seem, this series – or rather this tour – is a chance for Pakistan to get back on the horse they fell off of in the Antipodes. Here’s a chance for them to regain their momentum from the England tour last year while inducting a new generation and captain in their ways. A series win here and Pakistan will leapfrog the West Indies in the T20I rankings, which considering the performances of both sides over the past five years would be quite the turnaround. Of course, fans of both teams would credit any positive result to playing personnel, as their boards go along their merry ways.

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