Misbah ul Haq: slow and boring, yet effective

There is a popular saying that people always remember your mistakes more than they do your achievements. The aphorism holds well in the tale of Misbah-ul-Haq, who is depicted and portrayed in Pakistan as the sole guilty of two of Pakistan crickets‘s most epic on-field catastrophes.

Here is this guy, who despite his seemingly simple demeanor and supposedly honest efforts, makes many want to whack his head with his own bat. He is the root of many column inches and hours of airwave debates, where his approach towards batting is questioned. He is too slow, some say, too self-absorbed. He is like a crab at the crease, others suggest, that he holds up the progress of an ODI innings. Some call him selfish and others cross the line, calling him a conspirator.

He is brutally criticized by the staunchest supporters of Pakistan cricket. Even called Mr. Tuk Tuk and Uncle Misbah, he is known to grimly hold onto his wicket at all costs. It is the amount of negative energy he carries into the veins of the entire team that is termed by many as a slow death. From the team’s ever sliding run rate to the miseries of the otherwise talented and free flowing opening batsmen; Misbah is blamed for all.

Mention his innings in 2011 World Cup semi-final against India, and it will draw more mock and jeers. People keep referring to his semi final knock as if they are so emotionally down that nothing else has any relevance. There is no denying that Misbah can be cautious to a fault. Coming in at 103 for 3, with Pakistan needing another 158 at about a run a ball, Misbah did not score his first boundary until he had played out 42 deliveries, including 27 dot balls that drove Pakistan’s enormous television audience up the wall. Yet, holding him solely responsible for the loss is iniquitous.

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Come 2013, still weathering the slings and arrows of these misfortunes, he is slowly establishing himself as the ethical fiber in Pakistan’s line up. Today he is a rock-solid batsman, reliable performer, and a thorough professional. He is the backbone and the workhorse of the batting line up on whom Pakistan has regularly been counting, who normally comes amidst a batting collapse and has no choice but to anchor the ship before it sinks. He is prepared to be crucified for the salvation of his squad.

His batting has improved leaps and bounds over the last 3 years. Since 2011, he has scored 1554 runs in 58 matches, at an average of 50.33. Although, his strike rate has dropped to around 69, it is due to the conditions, and a lack of mettle in Pakistan’s batting line-up.

This year alone, Misbah has scored 745 runs at an average of  58. He has 8 half centuries to his credit, with most coming in difficult circumstances. In the recent ODI series in the West Indies, Misbah hit 4 half centuries, all resulting in Pakistani wins.

His approach towards the game is based on the old fashioned principle of keeping your wickets till the end, and then stepping on the gas. He frustrates the opposition, and more so, his own countrymen, before he launches a sudden attack. But the attack, in some situations, has come after the match was well out of Pakistan’s hands.

Even as captain, he has achieved tremendous success, even when his team was going through turbulent waters. Passed on the captaincy ahead of Pakistan’s series against South Africa in the UAE in 2010, the soft-spoken, almost laid back Misbah has been extremely influential in steering Pakistan from a host of problems. Except for a poor performance in the Champions Trophy, he has been very effective as the leader of an unpredictable team. He has series wins against Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and England to his credit.

His biggest moment came when Pakistan whitewashed the number one side in the world, England, 3-0 in the UAE. It was a win which was termed as taking revenge on the English, who had asked for Pakistan’s removal from international cricket after the spot-fixing scandal – which had 3 Pakistani players involved.

Misbah might not be the dashing hero that the Pakistanis see in Afridi. But they cannot deny that he has given them some stability when it was in dire straits. As Pakistani cricket writer Osman Samiuddin rightly says: “There is no shortage of remarkable stories in Pakistan cricket, but Misbah-ul-Haq’s is something else altogether.”