There have been many divisive players to represent Pakistan in recent memory: Shoaib Akhtar, Shahid Afridi, Wasim bhai, even Shoaib Malik and Kamran Akmal. These are players who can boast some combination of bombastic personas, inhuman ability, odious morals, or at least—in the case of Malik—instant hate-ability.
Misbah-ul-Haq, on the other hand, has nothing. The man is dull as ditchwater, his favorite food is probably cabbage with bread sticks. Alone with an erotic nymph on a moonlit summer night, Misbah would probably complain about missing re-runs of General Hospital.
This unfortunate banality permeates not only his personality, but his cricket too. Me, the guy who wrote this, once made the conscious decision of researching primary sources of federal tax law instead of watching Misbah bat. His technique is flat and functional, his approach insipid and obvious. If Misbah were a woman, none of his strokeplay, not even that dirty down-on-one-knee-slog-sweep-over-mid-wicket would encourage an inch of male inspiration. It doesn’t help that his most prominent contemporary in the team is Shahid Khan Afridi, the official granddaddy of Awesome.
And as if being a bore of a Pakistani cricketer wasn’t bad enough, he is also the central, nay, sole enactor of two of Pakistan cricket’s most epic on-field catastrophes.
Circa 2007: in the balmy twilight of Johannesburg, requiring just six runs off four balls to secure the inaugural T20 championship and defeat India in a World Cup final, Misbah comes up with the dumbest idea in recorded history: the lofted-over-the-shoulder-paddle-sweep-scoop… thing. With that pitiful excuse for a shot, Misbah single-handedly shattered the collective dreams of a nation—in fact, his folly precipitated mass-riots across Pakistan resulting in the overthrow of the Musharraf government.
But wait, said Misbah, I’m not sure enough people want to lynch me yet.
Mohali 2011: Misbah, in an act of seemingly calculated, almost vindictive ineptitude, tuk-tuks not only Pakistani cricket to shame, but also sends his poverty stricken nation of 180 million people into terminal socio-economic decline. Since that day, Osama bin Laden has been found lurking in Abbottabad; Karachi has become an orgy of blood lust; and a mosquito-borne virus has claimed the lives of hundreds in Lahore. Privately, in their deepest prayers, every man, woman, and child of Pakistan has asked for Misbah’s slow, untimely death.
But as further evidence of God’s indifference towards the country, Misbah not only was not brutally tortured and left to die with a punctured lung, but was made captain of the national cricket team. In response to queries, Misbah is reported to have said, ‘How’d you like dem apples?’
But despite his apparent awfulness, there are those who hold out for him. He’s not that bad, they cough. With shaky, timid fingers, they point to his statistics. An average of 45 in Tests and 43 in ODIs is not stellar in this age of monster bats and South Asian pitches, they concede.
“But hey, he’s dependable, right?”
“FLAT TRACK BULLY!” yell the detractors. “MINNOW BASHER!” they tease. “When was the last time Misbah won us a game against a real team?”
“But… he often plays a lone hand, saving us from grievous ignominy. Remember Kolkata and Bangalore? How about Abu Dhabi against South Africa? What about Wellington?”
“He gets out like a dunce! A fool! An amateur! Look at that ugly slog! Watch that silly run!”
“Sacrifice for the cause? Trying to make something happen?”
“He can’t make anything happen! In fact, he makes sure that things don’t happen! Adam ‘Easily-the-Most-Useless-Person-to-Play-International-Cricket’ Hollioake has produced more matching-winning performances than this nimrod!”
To be sure, there’s plenty not to like about Misbah, yet somehow the detractors never quite clinch the debate. And amidst the cacophony, Misbah himself trudges on, as if forever searching again for that moment to prove he belongs. At 37, it might be too much to ask for his batting to save the day. But can the captaincy redeem him?
Misbah has now been Test captain for a full year (equivalent to about a decade and half in Pakistan cricket). He’s had time to mold the team in his image, to create systems, strategies, synergies. He’s had time to pick his side, to institute his work-ethic, to instill his (characteristically unambitious) vision in the team. Though, much like Misbah, the side doesn’t boast much personality, a foundation of sorts has been laid.
Some say he even has clear assets as Pakistan captain. Misbah commands the unquestioned allegiance of the players. The management and the board also respect his age and stoic sensibility. His ambitions are limited to the field-of-play, where his decisions have been generally rational, if never inspired. And under him, Pakistan has not lost a series.
But unfortunately, Pakistan’s single scrappy series victory over New Zealand is not much to celebrate either. And there lies the rub: abhi tak maza nahin aya.
Even the patient fans will start asking for more satisfying results from Misbah. In some ways this Sri Lanka series may prove to be his watershed: it is taking place in the Emirates where his captaincy began; it is against a side that straddles the lower and upper echelons of the Test hierarchy; and it comes at time when, with our liberation from the Butt, there is hope for a not-apocalyptically-bad future. In both Johannesburg and Mohali, had not it been for Misbah, Pakistan would not even have been in striking distance of victory. He had taken us to the brink, but failed to push us over. Now, with his captaincy, he stands again at a similar juncture: over the past year, he’s dragged us through the vagaries of the spot-fixing scandal, cricket politics, the talent-drain. Now, he’s gotta make it count. Either his team can strive for new heights, or it can keep muddling around in the bottom half of the international Test rankings. Red pill, Blue pill. The choice is Misbah’s.
Regardless of the result of this series, Misbah is likely to endure—there is no capable replacement, and, in an atmosphere where mere stability is an end in itself, Misbah’s humble virtues will remain attractive to the powers that be. But in the eyes of the Misbah fan, to all the sympathizers and even fence sitters, the next three weeks are to culminate in Misbah’s Judgment Day.
And for the sake of the masses, let’s hope he doesn’t screw it up again. #TeamMisbah
Article by Raza Naqvi