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The problem with Misbah’s appreciation seems to be that his individual “failures” in one format, limited overs cricket, are taken to beat him with in terms of his Test captaincy. -Photo by AFP

In the aftermath of Pakistan’s loss to South Africa, the favourite topic of a certain section of the Pakistani ‘fans’ has been on the cards once again: how to blame Misbah-ul-Haq for all the evils in the world. It is somewhat understandable, considering that we always need an individual scapegoat, regardless of the profession, to soothe our anger. The most frequent, and frankly ridiculous, assertion has been that all his achievements are now nullified since he couldn’t win outside Asia; and winning in Asia is a given for Pakistan.

That mindset assumed that Pakistan had been a juggernaut in its home conditions prior to Misbah’s appointment. From late 1995 –when they lost to Sri Lanka at home – Pakistan lost more series at home than it won (7 to 8). Even if that is increased to include all series in Asia, Pakistan’s record still doesn’t come in the black: 12 wins and 12 losses in 28 series from 1995 to 2010. All this despite this period having Wasim Akram’s team of the late 90s and Inzamam-ul-Haq’s team in mid-2000s; both teams were criticized at the time, and are glorified in hindsight. Winning in familiar conditions is no birthright of Pakistan’s; in fact when Pakistan won in New Zealand in Misbah’s second series, it was the team’s first series win in four years – and the second of seven consecutive unbeaten series for him. Add to that the fact that Pakistan, for the first time, beat – nay, shellacked – the team considered the best in the world at the time in their sixty year history, he deserves to be put on a pedestal and not a burning cross.

The problem with Misbah’s appreciation seems to be that his individual “failures” in one format – limited overs cricket in his case – are taken to beat him with in terms of his Test captaincy. For many in Pakistan, apples and oranges remain identical. His supposed defensiveness as a batsman makes many fair-weather fans assume that he’s a defensive captain. Only five times in the 39 innings that he has captained has he allowed the opposition to score beyond 400. Even a cursory glance at the fields he gives the likes of Junaid Khan and Saeed Ajmal is a rejection of that assertion. He was criticized heavily for playing defensively in the 2nd innings at Newlands – yet as the morning after’s play showed, there was a reason why he needed to protect his wicket; that tail doesn’t offer much confidence. In fact, it is arguable, that if he hadn’t been so attacking in the 2nd Test – especially on the third morning – Pakistan might have come away with a win. He allowed Robin Peterson to score runs by not spreading the field out, and he decided to take the new ball when the soft old ball was far more difficult to score on (but also far more difficult to take a wicket off). But since that goes against the popularly held opinion, there’s no point in discussing that.

As for the third Test, the result was pretty obvious long before. Not only because of Pakistan’s record in dead rubbers– but also just by being in his presence. He was pretty despondent in the press conference immediately after the loss; but more revealing was how little he had moved on from that when I met him the following day – still ruing the mistakes and the lost opportunities, even with almost 24 hours having passed. It was a state that was highly different from other players involved in that defeat.

But all that’s water under the bridge, hopefully. When Misbah was made the captain, he unconsciously had three aims to achieve. The first – the short term goal – was to make Pakistan difficult to beat, overachieve with the talent at his disposal, and make the team stable after a disastrous first half to 2010. He did that, and then some; changing the culture of the underachievement that had plagued the team since Oval 2006. The second – in the medium term – was to evolve the team from the group of journeymen at the start to something bigger. The introductions of Junaid and Nasir Jamshed, in addition to the increasing roles for Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali, have meant that a new generation exists to pass the torch on to. Perhaps this evolution has been a little too slow – the enigma that is Umar Akmal, and the mystery that is the non-selection of Fawad Alam, have contributed to that feeling. But the overall account is still in the black. The third, the long-term aim, would have been to make Pakistan competitive outside Asia for the first time in over a decade. That is something that the team has arguably failed to achieve. But to be fair to his team, their only audition for that was a series against the best side in the world, on the back of 12 matches unbeaten and 7 months of hard cricket, in their home conditions. Misbah’s men went to South Africa undercooked and it was never a recipe for success. The tragedy, of course, is that Pakistan do not play another big non-Asian series till 2016, by which time both Misbah and Younis Khan would likely have gone. You can only be judged on the opportunities at talent you are given; and surely Misbah has done enough not to be considered the Zardari of his profession.

On we go to the limited overs series now though. Here, Misbah and his team have never been as successful. And despite the series win against India, the composition and permutation of the team still remains deeply flawed. Here the criticism for him will actually be deserved and fair. That is, of course, assuming that Pakistan fail to win this. But it doesn’t really matter, the results have never been enough to pacify the doubters. And so it will continue to be.

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Comments (28)

Merchant Iqbal
March 1, 2013 12:48 am
I think the article is very good. We know nobody is perfect.Misbah's main problem is he is not bold enough and stick to his plan irrespective of match situation.Some time in match you have to alter the batting order to upset the opposing team. Even you have to use non regular bowler to break the partnership.Dhoni is innovative.He boldly take the match out of opposing team's hand.We show that against Pakistan and now against Australia.
Oz
March 1, 2013 12:20 am
Mate you can't bash people for having an opinion against him.. its part of being human. We are all born with the same sized brain - but we have differences due to our OWN likes and dislikes. If some people dont like MIsbah, chances are that you may not like the player they do ?? Cricket is a game, not religion. Follow it with passion and dedication but allow room for criticism. Its all constructive.
ABL
March 1, 2013 5:58 am
Well expressed Abdullah. This is Misbah's CV. In short, i call it "Misbah mind-set". He has managed to instill the culture of thinking whiling batting. Some of the good young middle order batsmen are the product of following his TUK TUK mentality. It works!! (Please ignore the SA series. Pass your judgement after their return visit to play Pakistan in Emirates 2 Tests)
Oz
March 1, 2013 12:26 am
Hang on hang on.. You are passing on half of Afridis credits to Misbah here. Specially in the second part. It was Afridi that accepted captiancy after the spot fixing saga and he led us to the Semi final of the world cup. No one was expecting us to get past quarter finals. What 3 coaches ? Dave Whatmore has been with the side for quite a while now, and before that was Mohsin Khan, whom the players wanted but the "pcb" didnt.
Mike Jackson
March 1, 2013 5:54 am
Cheema nice defense of Misbah . Past is past .. present is present . He is done ...over ...now !! Test cricket requires technique in batting and he doesn't have it at all. As a batsman he looks worse than a tail ender .His reflexes are too slow .And he is too slow to react in decision making as a captain Cant live off the past laurels any more ..Its time for Misbah to retire and live happily ever after. Great job Misbah .much success in your future endeavors. Mike
Saqib
March 1, 2013 5:46 am
I don't disapprove as Misbah as a captain but i think he needs to change his perspective and his fielding strategies. At times he is too defensive which works in the sub continent but he has to set more aggressive fields outside. He has some great bowlers at his disposal and must do his utmost to exploit them.
A Subhan
March 1, 2013 1:27 am
Abdullah ... great job .... I hope, Misbah's critics look back at his over all performance and not just what happened in SA.
shuaib
February 28, 2013 11:01 pm
correction: Remember Asim Kamal, in his last 4 test innings he had two 50?s.
ram
February 28, 2013 10:50 pm
Do you have Best in mind when u say good
ram
February 28, 2013 10:51 pm
How about SA excellence?
Hira
February 28, 2013 10:31 pm
I do not blame Misbah for losing, rather the players batting... His captaincy shouldn't be substituted for worthless batters.
Raja Shehzad Zaman
February 28, 2013 9:24 pm
Very good article. People need to realize when Misbah took over and what he has done since then. Ups and downs are part of any game but his over all influence has been very positive
Mustafa
February 28, 2013 3:13 pm
Misbah must be appreciated for guiding Pakistan out of the saga created by the disgraced trio. It is hard to lift a losing side up. It is even harder to lift a disgraced team to 4th Test team in the world or cricket. Apart from his captaincy, he is among the very few who provide stability to our, otherwise, fragile batting order.
Abdullah
February 28, 2013 4:32 pm
Support the captain that: Beat England 3-0 in a test series Beat Sri Lanka in all 3 formats 2011 Won the Asia Cup Beat India in India ODIs Won a test series outside Asia in New Zealand Drew a test series vs number 2 ranked SA side in UAE Has been clinical against associates and minnows Won Presidents Trophy as captain Led a weak Faisalabad side to final of domestic T20 Support Captain Misbah + Had to revive a broken side after spot fixing scandal Had to cope with 3 different coaches Had to cope with 2 different chairman Had to cope with 3 different chief selectors Has not captained in a proper series at home Had to start with a completely fresh team in the test arena Had to take a side forward that hadn't won a test series in 4 years Had to turn the tables after the shambolic year of 2010 Had to cope with many former captains in the one day side Had to re-instate Afridi as a player after months of dispute @PCB
Capt C M Khan
February 28, 2013 3:37 pm
"Not to be considered the Zardari of his profession". Defiantly Misbah has attained his position without PARCHEE unlike Zardari. He brought in Ajmal (another PARCHEELESS Talent), Biggest problem for him was ZAKA and his decision to make Hafeez (World's worst test opener) as Captain of T20. Both came under pressure and Pakistan lost, otherwise Misbah without the likes of Aamir, Asif, Salman did well. THANK YOU MISBAH.
Asif Kahsmiri
February 28, 2013 2:37 pm
Misbah is a good captain.
PakFan
February 28, 2013 5:23 pm
Misbah should continue as captain for the test cricket for sure - he earned this spot. Agian if Shahid Afridi performs I would rather go for him as a limited over captain as he did good in his tenure as captain.
Karachi Wala
February 28, 2013 4:03 pm
A very good analysis of passionate Pakistani mindset!!!
Pakistani
March 1, 2013 8:14 am
Thats indeed a remarkable achievement. He s the best test captain Pak ever had.
Wasim Saqib
March 1, 2013 4:52 pm
We couldn't win outside Asia in a test series with Asif, Aamer and Akhtar in the team and Younis and Yousuf at the peak of their form and some of us feel that Misbah's team should consistently win outside Asia with so many newcomers in the team.
kash
March 1, 2013 12:08 pm
Dead on. It has become a nature of Pakistani to always blame on someone. Doesn't matter it's economy(Blame U.S), terrorism(Blame U.S), religious nutcases(Blame U.S) or cricket (thank God it's not U.S this time). Keep blaming and you'll keep getting the same.
akhter husain
March 1, 2013 2:55 pm
Thank you for calling a spade a spade which is a rare quality generally speaking.For us there is a Hero or Zero.If it is not extremism what else is it?
Shaz
March 1, 2013 7:15 pm
Kash: your comments are absurd and is nothing but anti pakistan jargon
Anwar Khushab
March 1, 2013 7:40 pm
An excellent, thoughtful, and balanced piece of analysis and writing. Let's keep things in perspective. Pakistan last played a Test match six months before the South African tour. On the tour it suffered numerous and critical injuries. In fact, the three Pakistani pace bowlers in the 3rd Test actually had only two Test matches between them! How on earth can anyone with any sense expect such an undercooked team to defeat the Number one Test side in the world? Let the team play a few more series and then see if the same faults keep recurring.
Anwar Khushab
March 1, 2013 7:43 pm
Apart from Ajmal, who barely got a wicket in the Third Test match, who are the "great bowlers at his [Mishbah's] disposal"? Take a look at the bowling averages.
Tahir Ali
March 1, 2013 8:50 pm
You are forgetting Waqar Younis buddy
ahmed2030
March 1, 2013 9:31 pm
Yes he is an okay captain in test format and yes he brings some solidity to the batting order. But Misbah and Azhar Ali together somehow give the opposition bowlers chance to set them up. It was this slow scoring rate in the 3rd innigs of second test that in the end help SA go and win the match. Could he not ask Azhar to be a bit more positive. In the final match as well both these players were far too slow in their scoring rates. So I dont agree the way he is using his batmen.
abdul
March 2, 2013 3:07 am
What can poor Misbah do? He is doing best with the team given to him. Openers can't open (HAFEEZ should be dropped), wicketkeeper can't bat, fast bowlers can't bowl, tailenders can't put up a fight....... Only strength is spin that's negated by the pitch and somewhat middle order batting thanks to Misbah. Either selectors should drop senior players who aren't performing or those players should go of free will. It's not Misbah's job to drop senior players!!!! He want's the team to be harmonious. Please drop Hafeeze from test team. He is neither a batsman nor a bowler just bit and pieces player.
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