COMMENT: Misbah made Pakistan believe in their team again

Hassan Cheema 12:01 08/04/2017
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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.