'Go Misbah Go'

Published November 18, 2014
Misbah has led Pakistan, led well and led at a time when nobody else could lead. —AFP/file
Misbah has led Pakistan, led well and led at a time when nobody else could lead. —AFP/file

Disgrace from spot-fixing scandal, unavailability of core fast bowlers, conflicts within the team, end of international cricket on the home ground, and round-the-clock chastisement by former stars and the media. These were the issues facing Misbah when he assumed captaincy of team Pakistan.

It was no easy task, and the circumstances were probably the toughest, compared to those of former captains.

The attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009 not only defamed Pakistan but shut the doors of international cricket on it.

As the team was still struggling to regain its balance, the spot-fixing scandal hit another blow, putting the entire cricketing world into shock.

Then, there were conflicts within the team, the captaincy crisis, and the nonstop criticism from former cricketers and the media. To put it shortly, the state of our cricket team was almost as troubled as that of the hockey team today.

Also read: When they chanted "Go Misbah Go!"

It felt as if Pakistan outperforming other teams in cricket was becoming a distant, hazy dream.

The supporters of team Pakistan were angry, disgruntled and depressed due to circumstances. Had any other team been in Pakistan’s place, they would’ve required years to make a comeback.

At a time when no one seemed suitable for leading this team, the Pakistan Cricket Board selected the calm and patient Misbah-ul-Haq for this huge responsibility. And very soon, he was under fire from all directions.

But neither the PCB nor the captain was abased by unwarranted censure. Rather, both concentrated fully on restoring the stature of the national team, and bringing international cricket back to Pakistan.

In the first series, Misbah-ul-Haq mounted three consecutive half-centuries against South Africa, a team as difficult as it can ever be, and shut his critics up with his performance.

Take a look: ‘Misbah’s show should silence critics forever’

In both Test matches against South Africa, Pakistan was almost defeated. But Misbah recklessly drove his team out of the difficulties, and deprived the Proteas of a surefire victory.

With his relatively weak team and a fragile batting lineup, Misbah continued to surprise the cricket pundits, and out of the next six series, managed to bag five ones and one draw.

This includes a historic whitewash against the English cricket team, which was in superb form, and had just defeated world number one Australia in the Ashes series.

With no room for anymore criticism, the self-styled analysts and critics pointed their fingers on captain’s defensive strategy and slow-paced batting.

During Misbah’s tenure, the PCB underwent an incessant stretch of musical chairs, and testing the options for the team’s coach also continued, which served no purpose but to further degrade performance.

Look through: Time to appreciate Misbah-ul-Haq

But Misbah had his rainy day when the team toured South Africa only to face a clean sweep in a three-match series due to fast and bouncy wickets.

Adding more salt to the embarrassing defeat was conceding a Test match to a team as low-profile as Zimbabwe, providing more space to the censurers. But, humble as always, Misbah chose to respond not by tongue, but by performance.

So when Australia and Pakistan had a fixture in UAE, Misbah was facing a situation similar to the one he faced four years ago.

A devastating defeat from Sri Lanka and being out-of-form increased the ever expanding pressure on him.

Add to this Younis Khan’s falling out with the board, and the stress only increases. But he stood firm as always and gave a performance which no one had ever expected.

Not acknowledging the role of the cricket board at this point will be an injustice which, despite all the criticism, relied on Misbah for captaincy.

The victory against world number two Australia in the first Test match, and the stellar individual performances from Misbah and Younis silenced the critics once again.

The 40-year-old captain not only broke the world record of fastest-fiffty, but also equaled the fastest-century record of Vivian Richards.

Read on: Misbah’s stunning performance — from ‘tuk, tuk’ to world record

Not fully recovered from the pain of first Test, the Australian team was taken aback by Pakistan's aggressive play in the very first session, and it subsequently suffered a clean sweep from Pakistan after three decades.

How well Pakistan played against a team as intimidating as Australia can be ascertained from the fact that from the 25 plus sessions of both the matches, Pakistan were the dominating ones in no less than 24.

For a team humiliated after repeated defeats, and deprived of its core spinners and seamers, ‘exemplary’ would be a word too insufficient to describe its performance.

Michael Clarke must be thanking his stars for the fact that it was only a two-match series.

The next contestant, team New Zealand, also faced a similar situation in their first Test against Pakistan.

Surprisingly, even players who had not been doing well in the past came good this time around.

When a high-on-confidence Pakistani team hit the ground, Mohammad Hafeez’s bat proved to be a fountain of runs, whereas Misbah scored another century, playing his third consecutive innings with a three-digit score.

With victory against New Zealand, Misbah-ul-Haq became Pakistan’s most successful captain ever, bringing 15 victories to Pakistan during his captaincy. He has left Imran Khan and Javed Miandad behind in this list.

Also see: Is Misbah Pakistan's greatest Test captain?

The important thing about these victories is that none of these matches were played on the home ground. Pakistan defeated all Test teams save India, while whitewashing three (including giants like Australia and England).

It would not be incorrect to say that our team is fully capable of a clean-sweep against New Zealand. But even if that doesn't happen, it is time to stop censuring Misbah and start supporting him.

Misbah is also Pakistan’s top Test-scorer as captain; he scored the most runs last year, he brought more victories to Pakistan than any captain. But he still gets labelled as ‘slow-paced’, ‘tuk-tuk’, and ‘incapable’.

The World Cup is just around the corner. When all other nations are supporting their teams, Pakistanis, too, should stand behind the green shirts.

Explore: Misbah-ul-Haq — Rewriting Pakistan's story

Don't forget that even the strongest teams cannot survive the match if they have no support and are criticised without reason. So let’s support our team, and our captain.

Who knows, next year, it could well be Pakistan holding the trophy on Australian soil, again, after 23 years.

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