August 14, 2016, sales of Independence Day-related items are up by 100 per cent as traders make record business of Rs 50 billion. The country is in high spirits and ready to celebrate its 69th year of freedom from the British Raj and Team Misbah is on the brink of victory against England at The Oval in London.
It is day four of the last Test at The Oval as Pakistan walk out after lunch with England railing at 194 for six, still 20 runs in deficit. Misbah throws the ball to Yasir Shah, who has already taken four wickets in the innings.
At the other end is Mohammad Amir, Misbah’s go-to bowler throughout the series. But, he has been wicket-less in the innings, as the left-arm pacer averaged over 40 in four Test matches and his best bowling figures have been two for 39 in eight innings.
But he is still Misbah’s main man. Amir bowls three overs and gives just one run as per Misbah’s liking. The Pakistan captain has a penchant of keeping the scorecard in control.
Earlier in the morning Ian Botham was surprised that Misbah had not started with Wahab Riaz, for it was Wahab that seemed most likely to take a wicket considering the previous evening. But it was Amir that Misbah had gone to. Amir commenced proceeding with a probing line and length, a maiden to begin with. Just what his skipper had ordered.
Now, after lunch, after three extremely clean overs from Amir, Misbah put in two slips and threw the cherry to Wahab. The left-arm fast-bowler leaked single off the first ball, double off the second, and another single of the third in contrast to Misbah’s desires.
The 42-year-old does not like anyone scoring runs, it makes him feel that he is losing his grip on the situation. He likes choking the batsmen for runs. He takes one slip out and puts a man in the circle to stop the single. Michael Holding is furious; Misbah’s tactics bewilder him.
“Someone needs to interpret the score for Misbah. Misbah, it is minus five for six.” He cries out, and then repeats himself “Minus five for six, Misbah”. Holding is visibly upset at the Pakistani captain.
Wahab is bowling with just one slip. He runs in and fires one outside off. No run! Misbah claps. He likes that. He likes being in charge.
Next ball is short of length; Jonny Bairstow hops back into his crease, defends to the leg side, starts taking a run and then says no. Wahab pounces on the opportunity and gets a brilliant run out. Misbah is happy, he likes his men trying hard, he likes them diving and giving their best shot.
Ball six: Still only one slip, point, cover and extra cover, all saving singles. Gone! Danger man Bairstow lobs one to Azhar Ali at extra cover. Misbah is the first man to hug Wahab. With eight down and Pakistan still with a five run lead, game is all but over for England and an innings defeat also a possibility.
England number 10, Steven Finn gets ready to face his first delivery as Wahab comes steaming in. “Edged, only two slips in place. Why not three? Why not four?” screams Ramiz Raja in anguish as the ball whistled through where third slip should have been.
If it were an Australian captain, there would have been at least four slips and a gully, I say to myself. Maybe Misbah needs Michael Holding to interpret the score again, or someone needs to inform him of Steven Finn’s first class batting average of 9.
Misbah however, knows better. Unlike most people, he knows exactly what he wants. He backs his strengths, plans, and strategies, and nurtures his men in his own mould. He keeps calm, stays patient and lets the game come to him instead of chasing it. It is the Misbah way of doing things.
He also understands the modern game and interprets it in a way that has served him well. With the increase in the shorter formats, the modern batsman will play his strokes and will score runs. And one of the best ways to get him out is to stop him from doing just that; strangle and choke him till he gasps for breath.
For Misbah, endless forward defensive shots (Tuk Tuks) are often not out of despair; instead they are his show of endurance. Wearing the bowler out and testing his opponents resolve. Third man, deep backward point and sweeper cover are not necessarily positions of retreat. These men patrolling the fence often form the core of Misbah’s choke lock.
Misbah has mastered the art of using defence as a form of attack. In an age where patience is a virtue that very few posses Misbah’s fortitude reigns supreme. With 22 Test match wins, he is the most successful captain in Pakistan’s history; next on the list is Imran Khan with 14 wins.
Amir was the only Pakistani fast bowler who was picked for all four Test matches. His economy rate of 3.13 was the lowest among all of Misbah’s men. And he bowled more overs than any fast bowler from either team.
When asked, Misbah said, “He did okay. He was unlucky a lot of chances were dropped off his bowling. But overall his behaviour and attitude and commitment were there. He played a crucial innings with Younis Khan too”
Amir did not bowl a single explosive spell that the entire cricketing world was waiting for. But he ran in and bowled his heart out every time his captain entrusted him. Consistently hitting that probing line outside off stump. Amir is 24 and has played only his first series in five years. But he is already the lead apprentice of the Misbah choke.
Sami Aslam scored 12 runs in 51 balls at a strike rate of 23.52 when Pakistan came out chasing a fourth innings target of 42. He put his head down and concentrated hard. He too is already Misbah’s man it seems.
Independence Day sales must have surged further as Aslam and Azhar walked back to the pavilion after a 10-wicket win. At the Oval in London, the day was celebrated in style as the Pakistani team circled the ground carrying a green flag. Misbah must have liked that.