When they chanted "Go Misbah Go!"
There came a moment during the 40th over of the Australian innings when, taking cue from a now popular political slogan, the handful of Pakistani crowd left in the Dubai International Cricket Stadium started chanting “Go Misbah go!”
The Pakistan captain, much like the country’s prime minister, continued to go through the motions seemingly unflustered and carried out his on-field duties in the dying moments of another match whose fate had been decided much earlier.
Prior to the second game, Pakistan had lost an ODI and a Twenty20 on the back of trademark batting collapses and every time Misbah faced the press, he was probed about his team’s inability to form big partnerships. Without fail, Misbah insisted it was down to the lack of confidence and that one big partnership was all it would take to get the team back to scoring ways and “turn things around.”
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A hundred-plus partnership, the first in 45 ODIs and more than 18 months, did come but it failed produce the magic that the captain had been hoping for. The next ten wickets fell for 89 runs.
“It was all going according to plan but then we lost wickets due to poor shot selection and silly running between the wickets,” Misbah said during the post-match press conference.
The “silly” running between the wickets, on this occasion, came from the captain himself and the much experienced middle-order batsman, Asad Shafiq. On the third ball of his innings, Misbah trudged down the pitch for a single and decided to turn back, only to later complete the run after causing much confusion. Seven overs later, he eventually lost his wicket to a runout on a misfield.
After his side’s dramatic collapse in the first ODI, Misbah was asked if they were missing the services of an experienced batsman like Younis Khan. Half-smiling, half-shaking his head, the 40-year-old turned the joke on himself: “Even if there is someone (experienced), it does not provide surety against such collapses. I am also experienced but not getting any runs so obviously it’s about the entire team. If you are not confident and collapsing, it just goes on and on and on.”
Obviously, Misbah was being magnanimous in taking the blame on his own lack of form but his thinly-veiled responses to questions about Glenn Maxwell’s dropped catch when the batsman was on two, the powerplay wicket procession and inability to consolidate on a good start all but reflected the captain’s sense of helplessness and despondency.
The usual deadpan expression and stern show of will to fight on also seemed amiss though Pakistan’s man-for-a-crisis vowed to “take things on”. When asked by a veteran sports journalist about his chances of staying on as captain despite calls for his dismissal ahead of the World Cup, Misbah conceded: “Let’s see. Everyone faces such difficult times in life but one is always trying to fight on.”
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With the final ODI in Abu Dhabi, a dead rubber, Misbah’s one last push to revive his team will come in the five-match ODI series against New Zealand in the next two months.
The Pakistan Cricket Board chairman and selectors may not tell him to “go” yet, but thanks to the trend set by a former captain’s followers, the crowd is expected to give him a piece of their minds come November.
Hafsa Adil tweets @hafsa_adil