Later this month — May 28, to be precise — Misbahul Haq Khan Niazi will be 38 years old. In the context of cricket, or, for that matter, any field sport, that is the equivalent of 65, if not more. May he live long… but off the field. And, may he live happily ever after, but, again, off the field. The recent decision by the Pakistan Cricket Board to relieve him of duties in the T20 format is apparently a step in the right direction. But the reason cited by the PCB for its decision is something that the Board itself is not moving in the right direction.
When asked at the press conference, where there were as many officials as media persons — well, almost as many — PCB supremo Zaka Ashraf rationalised the decision on the ground that since most other countries had different teams for different formats, it was, therefore, considered logical to follow the pattern. That has been the case for long in the PCB. Since most of the teams had a foreign coach, we also decided to have one. Since most of the cricketing nations had central contracts, we also had them. Since most of the countries have different teams for various formats, we have now decided to take that route. Come to think of it, if this is what counts for vision and leadership in the PCB headquarters, do we actually need to have a panel of highly-paid officials to run the affairs?
Honestly, an office clerk would be enough to keep track of what most of the countries are doing and, in turn, an office superintendent would be more than enough to implement it locally. We don’t need to have the kind of officialdom and paraphernalia to do that, do we? But, aaah, there is a good reason to have them. Since most of the countries have someone heading the respective cricket board, and the chiefs have a bit of bureaucracy around them, we also need to have a setup along similar lines. The reason, as you can see, is actually quite logical.
Regardless of the reason though, Misbah did need to step out of the T20 format. Ironically, it was this very format that had given a lifeline to his international career which was not going anywhere till the inaugural 2007 World Cup where he got an opportunity as he, at 33, was found to be younger than Inzamamul Haq. Though he did make a name for himself with some heroics, he also set out on a path that was to give him his ultimate reputation of a player who had the ability, was willing to fight hard, would take the team towards success, but would then waste it all with shot selection that was stupid and strange in equal measure.
To be fair to Misbah, his late arrival on the scene had nothing to do with his ability or lack of it. It was just the fact that Inzamam, Mohammad Yousuf and Yunis Khan had barred the entry of one and all into the Pakistani middle order. The list of those who fell by the wayside — or waylaid — is long and doesn’t reflect too well on the politics that is played on and off the field in Pakistan.
Age, lest it be mistaken, is not the sole criterion for making someone pull the shutters down. It cannot be. Sachin Tendulkar is going strong.
Rahul Dravid only recently hung up his boots. And when Steve Waugh played his last Test in January 2004, he was about half-a-year older than what Misbah is today. Having said that, none of the three was particularly fond of the T20 version as it had blossomed in their twilight years. Besides, in whatever format they were playing, they kept up with their excellence level. Waugh, who had been facing pressure from the selectors who were getting a bit anxious to have Rickey Ponting as the captain, had a memorable last Test, scoring 120 for an average of 60 runs per innings. This was way above his career average of 51.06.
Waugh had played his last One Day International in early 2002 when he was a year-and-a-half younger than Misbah’s current age, and had scored 42, which was above his career average of 32.90. Even the strike rate in the last innings was 80.76 against a career strike rate of 75.91. And his last innings in both the versions were meaningful; he saved the Test against India, and won the ODI against South Africa with his contributions at crucial times.
Misbah, on the other hand, is in the team because Pakistan doesn’t have someone to captain the side. As simple as that. Unlike tennis and golf, we don’t have room for a non-playing captain in cricket. Otherwise, Misbah would have been designated captain for life. Pakistan may well explore such a possibility, but probably Zaka Ashraf would not take that route because, as you guessed it, most countries are not doing that!