IT’S accolades all around for Misbah-ul-Haq and his battle-hardened troops. They have earned it all, richly, and against the general expectations of their fans and experts.
Squaring a series with a bang against a pumped-up England in their own backyard, and that too after trailing 1-2 going into the final Test, is an exploit many teams in contemporary cricket can only dream of. Therefore, naturally the ecstasy among Pakistan supporters this time has a different flavour — they are eulogising the superb comeback effort of their team as if they have clinched the rubber.
Not playing at home since 2009 and drawing the series with an inexperienced bowling line-up (a combined experience of 77 Tests possessed by Pakistan’s seven specialist bowlers on the tour prior to the just-ended England series) makes the achievement more commendable.
It is close to winning the show when we glance only at the joint experience of pace bowling stalwarts Stuart Broad (94) and James Anderson (116) before the Pakistan series.
Given all this, Mickey Arthur along with his coaching staff clears his first exam, without a doubt.
But hold your horses, folks. See the bigger picture. Despite the heroic deeds put up by Pakistan during the seesaw series in England where Shane Warne reckoned Misbah’s men won more sessions than Alastair Cook and company, the record books will still read 2-2.
Explicit opening frailties, around a dozen spilled catches (some straight dollies), and last-day slump at Edgbaston thwarted Pakistan’s chances of pulling off what would have been a revolutionary series triumph in the history of our cricket!
Looking at the England series in retrospect, our elegant and stoic captain Misbah had almost all his bases covered, except for one, i.e. his excessively meticulous approach almost whenever Pakistan fielded. Without taking anything away from him and his team’s glorious triumphs at Lord’s and The Oval, one strongly feels Misbah has consistently avoided embracing an aggressive stance in his leadership, even when the situation is screaming for it!
Agreed, Misbah, like any other captain, is in the best spot to judge and set his field in a given scenario but at times it’s very, very obvious that our skipper is waiting for the things to happen rather than make them happen.
With the opposition five wickets down and still 90-odd runs behind to avoid an innings thrashing, if a captain is not giving even a third slip fielder to his frontline bowlers then it starkly signifies a protect-first-in-all-circumstances mode.
Had an in-form Moeen Ali not been allowed to settle for a rearguard cameo — mainly due to Misbah’s wait-and-see sort of field placements in the second innings at The Oval — Pakistan would in all probability have sent England packing for an innings victory.
The laidback approach besides reducing the chances of Pakistan’s innings win also diminished bowlers’ morale, nothing but a usual phenomenon in cricket. How can Misbah expect the likes of Yasir Shah, Mohammad Amir, Sohail Khan or Wahab Riaz — all wicket-taking bowlers — to strike at crucial moments when they are not being provided with an assertive field?
Attack shows go-get-it mentality; it enables you to get on top of the toughest of the opposition even if you are struggling. A badly out-of-form Younis Khan magnificently exhibited this during his 218-run classic as he maintained a strike rate of around 70 throughout the innings.
If treading conventionally regardless of the demand is Misbah’s forte, then he would have to bring some, if not blanket, change in it. A veteran coach like Arthur, a major addition in the support staff, will also need to look into this to enable Misbah and his men to achieve best results on the field.
Under the same set of circumstances that prevailed in England, would the current Pakistan side — with this approach by Misbah — have drawn the series against an opponent belligerently skippered by Steve Waugh or Ricky Ponting in Australia? With all due regard to Misbah: nine out of 10 would bet on ‘no’.
Even a feeble-looking Steve Smith-led Australia, just whitewashed in Sri Lanka on spinning minefields, in all likelihood will test Pakistan to the fullest on their tour Down Under later this year. Australia, it’s to be kept in mind by the Pakistan think-tank, despite their gradual decline in Test format in recent years, have not lost a single Test at home since submitting to a well-oiled South Africa at Perth in November 2012. In fact, since February 2011 till to date, Australia have won as many as 19 Tests out of 27 played at home while losing only two. Pakistan’s last Test win in Australia came back in 1995-96 at Sydney. So, Pakistan must make sure they remain one step ahead as Aussies in their backyard have been much tougher nuts to crack than their English counterparts. Even New Zealand — in their coming home Test series against Pakistan prior to the Australia tour — will be no pushovers.
‘All is well that ends well’ goes the adage but looking ahead, Pakistan should not expect to record wins as they did at Lord’s and The Oval if their captain is not willing to open up and give more space to his bowlers.
There are signs that Misbah is going to continue to lead Pakistan at least for a while. And why not? He and his charges have added to our happiness on the Independence Day. However, one would dearly want our skipper, who has led Pakistan with pride and success since that notorious spot-fixing saga of 2010, to be practically more assertive on the field so that he and his team can raise their chances of conquering Australia in Australia — the most arduous challenge in world cricket.
Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2016