Farewell Misbah, the pleasure has been all ours

Barnaby Read 21/04/2017
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Misbah hangs up his bat at the end of the West Indies series.

The swansong has begun. The fat lady is well fed and primed to let out a lung bursting final ode. The farewell tour is in full swing and the metaphorical streets are being lined as we wave off a legend and resign him to the annuls of history.

It’s time to face facts – Misbah-ul-Haq is just three Tests and potentially fifteen days, but probably less, away from leaving his post as Pakistan captain.

And just as it freezes me to think about the inevitability of death and the dark empty void that awaits our expiry date, so too does the thought of cricket without Misbah.

Perhaps that’s a little excessive, but when Misbah bids adieu to Test cricket there will be a sense of loss and bereavement at levels few players are capable of emoting.

Misbah has been everything to Pakistan cricket over the past seven years and just as he is exiting the stage, the wider world has finally taken note of his remarkable achievements and the immense impact he has gracefully exerted on the sport.

The mace for taking Pakistan to world number one in Tests was a crowning achievement and a mark on the calendar that many thought should have coincided with his retirement but Misbah, as always, had grander ambitions.

Misbah in numbers

  • Tests: 72
  • Runs: 4951, Average: 45.84
  • 100s: 10, 50s: 36
  • Highest Score: 161*

An elusive series win in Australia was the real tempter and Misbah wore the weary winter losses in Australasia like he did so many others; with resolve and dignity while being torn at from all angles.

The naysayers and hate mongers have been as constant to Misbah’s reign as the trademark beard, dry wit, authoritative tone and calmness that has faced up, responded and then proven others wrong time and time again.

It is this that makes Misbah both so likeable as a human being and so highly respected in cricketing circles outside of the clique that has seemed so desperate for him to fail along the way of one of cricket’s most remarkable journeys, laden with obstacles.

For some, Misbah will never be forgiven for his inaugural World T20 heroics that ended up falling short. Others bemoan Misbah playing into his forties and say he’s stifled young players’ development. And could you name another player the Taliban have labelled a “pathetic player” in a bizarre call to patriotism in the most back-handed compliment a terrorist organisation has likely made?

Of course not and, of course, these people are each truly moronic to varying degrees.

For Misbah is not only the country’s most successful ever Test captain, he has also served as ambassador in chief, united Pakistan cricket, briefly returned it to the top of the world and, among other things, rebuilt it from the rubbles that he was dumped in when the team returned from England back in 2010.

His solidity, composure and defiance haven’t just been synonymous with Misbah the batsmen but also hallmarks of Misbah the man; the man who has led like no other – in exile and without the home comforts that so often decide Test outcomes, while under relentless scrutiny by a public and media with soaring, often unrealistic expectancy.

The time is right for Misbah to move on, he has already achieved so much and over the past few months he has looked both out of form with the bat and as though the game is beginning to pass him by.

But history will always remind us of what Misbah has achieved and the manner in which he has done so.

Cricket, quite simply, will be worse off without Misbah orchestrating Pakistan’s moves but, for the time being, we have three more Tests to revel in his presence and pay fitting tribute to the man, the myth, the legend; Misbah-ul-Haq.

Misbah, the pleasure has been all ours.

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Giving every ounce of himself to the team: Younis Khan

When Younis Khan hangs up his bat at the end of Pakistan’s tour of the West Indies, it will likely be with a final Test milestone against his name.

Younis is just 23 runs away from becoming the first Pakistan player to score 10,000 Test runs.

With the first of three Tests against the West Indies beginning on Friday in Kingston, Jamaica, few would bet against him marking his swansong with a final foray into the record books.

Since his debut in 2000 against Sri Lanka, he proved his ability to adapt to different conditions by scoring centuries in every Test playing nation, including double hundreds in India and England.

His batting average of 53.06 is the highest by any Pakistani who has played 10 Tests or more.

But for all Younis’s record-breaking individual achievements, former team-mate and fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar said his former captain should be remembered for his selfless personality and team ethic.

“To me Younis should be renamed ‘Unique’ Khan for his selflessness and honesty towards Pakistan cricket and the team,” said Shoaib, who retired in 2011.

Renowned as a fighter at the crease, Younis often produced his greatest performances with his back against the wall.

Of his 34 tons, an all-time Test record five have been scored in the fourth innings.

His 2005 match-winning 267 and 84 not out against India in Bangalore came after a string of low scores saw him battling to avoid being dropped.

Younis’s greatest achievement as captain was winning the 2009 world Twenty20 championship in England.

And yet that came just weeks after Pakistan cricket had been thrown into disarray by the gun attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore, an incident which means the national side still plays their home matches in the UAE.

Younis said he wanted to be remembered as a team player.

“When I am retired and when I am not in the dressing room, I want youngsters to remember me as a role model,” he said.

“I want them to remember me as a player and batsman who always played for his country.”

Hailing from Mardan in the north-west Khybe Pakhtunkhwa, Younis’s career was moulded in Karachi.

Younis scored a hundred in his first Test against Sri Lanka at Rawalpindi in 2000 and went on to record 33 more, with a triple ton and three double hundreds.

His most recent was a typical unbeaten 175 ground out over more than seven hours as Pakistan crawled to 315 against Australia in Sydney in January.

His Test best 313 against Sri Lanka in Karachi in 2009 is the third highest individual score for Pakistan behind Hanif Mohammad’s 337 and Inzamam-ul-Haq’s 329.

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Getting ready for a final hurrah: Misbah-ul-Haq

Misbah-ul-Haq defied critics and his advancing age to take Pakistan from the depths of a major spot-fixing scandal to the world’s number one Test team, becoming their most successful captain along the way.

The 42-year-old, who will retire at the end of the West Indies Test series starting Friday, completed Pakistan’s climb to the top of the rankings with a hard-fought draw in England in 2016, exorcising the ghosts of the tainted visit six years earlier.

Derided for his cautious batting in the semi-final loss to India in the 2011 World Cup, and forced to retire early from the Twenty20 format, a more sensitive soul may have retreated into early retirement.

Not so for Misbah, who started out in street cricket, weathered early trials and disappointments and has survived to become the oldest current Test player.

Born in the city of Mianwali in the central province of Punjab, he was advised by his father, a disgruntled ex-hockey star, to put aside thoughts of being a sportsman and pursue his studies.

His father’s untimely death briefly changed young Misbah’s priorities, and he reluctantly agreed to a job at a textiles company — but never showed up for work.

“It was a tough decision,” Misbah recalled to AFP. “I had to fight with circumstances and finally made my mark in cricket grounds.”

In order to overcome a lack of opportunities in his hometown, he regularly commuted by train to bigger cities where he laid the foundations of his career, first in street tournaments featuring tennis balls bound in electric tape, and later at domestic level.

His international career started with the tour of New Zealand in 2001, but he failed to make an impression and was duly dropped in an era dominated by middle-order heavyweights Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mohmammed Yousuf and Younis Khan.

Misbah-ul-Haq holds his head after falling just short of taking Pakistan to T20 World Cup win.

Misbah-ul-Haq holds his head after falling just short of taking Pakistan to T20 World Cup win.

But he forced himself back into contention with strong domestic performances and was a surprise pick for the inaugural World Twenty20 in 2007, where at the age of 33 he was Pakistan’s find of the tournament, bringing them tantalisingly close to victory over arch-rivals India with a knock of 43 in the final.

He got out to an infamous scoop shot that was seared into fans’ collective memory, as Pakistan fell short by five runs.

“It was very disappointing to lose that final,” he said. “I brought Pakistan back from a losing position but couldn’t cross the finish line and that’s the most disappointing moment of my career.”

Misbah followed up with two brilliant Test hundreds on the 2007 tour of India, but his career dived again following a poor showing on the Australia tour in 2010.

“They were desperate times,” he told AFP at the time. “You are in the eleven and suddenly you are out, it prompts you to burn all your cricket equipment in anger.”

That summer, Pakistan found itself led by a young and well-regarded captain in the shape of Salman Butt, backed by two of the best fast bowlers in world cricket, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir.

But after some encouraging performances, the team and its fans were left reeling when a British tabloid spot-fixing sting led to lengthy bans and jail terms for the disgraced trio.

Much-maligned Misbah was handed the daunting task of rebuilding, and never looked back.

Aided by unreadable off-spinner Saeed Ajmal, his canny captaincy and calming presence helped unite a fractious team which he led to nine undefeated series (five won, four drawn) in the UAE, where Pakistan’s home matches are played for security reasons.

In 2016, he was handed the International Cricket Council’s Spirit of Cricket award, and his current win-loss ratio stands at 24-14 — spoilt somewhat by the consecutive whitewashes to New Zealand and Australia which prompted calls for him to finally retire.

A last hurrah against an unfancied West Indies side may give him a fitting send-off, and Misbah believes posterity will view him kindly.

“My legacy will be in my numbers and the respect earned by the team,” he said.

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