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The quiet greatness of Misbah-ul-Haq

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Misbah-ul-Haq_Pakistan_CricketCricket & its fans love a great player. But would it be fair to suggest cricket has been kinder to talented batsmen possessing flair? 

There’s the likes of Lara, Sangakkara, VVS and Ricky Ponting. 

Flair players have, after all, catered to the great game an enticing fragrance, whenever it’s been dulled by an enervating sense of boredom.  

That said, the records of stylists- Lara, Anwar, Gower and Vengsarkar- apart from their great highs also reveal 33, 23, 13 and 22 ducks, in international cricket, respectively. 

So does Cricket reward its practitioners with a higher value and salability just because they’ve enticed audiences through panache? 

If so, what about the lesser mortals whose craft hasn’t afforded them a free ticket into Cricket’s corridors where nuance is weighed over saving Test matches? 

Where exactly would you place a David Gower vis-à-vis- a Mahela Jayawardene?

On whom would you place your faith, your regard, with Cricket’s crossroads intersecting at Sanga’s junction of suave and Andy Flower’s homage to rigor? 

Furthermore, if statistical gathering were the only justifiable means to bring method to this mad discussion, where would you rate a Steve Waugh whilst deciding between Mark Waugh and Younis Khan in the league of modern day greats? 

And if stats too fail to offer reasonable validation to the debate, would you not find answers in a player’s traits; a stemming from personality that contribute to a difference an individual brings to a unit? 

In this regard, where would you place Misbah-ul-Haq, the recent retiree who left the 22 yards post playing 281 international innings? 

The game knows Misbah not for a particular characteristic of stroke or for something fascinating like a fluent technique that he may have modeled through his specifics in stroke-play. 

But it could be argued, when deviating from the greats, like Younis, Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Dravid and Cook closely following Sachin, Lara, Ponting and Kallis, that cricket seeks in men like Misbah an answer to its eternal quest to find a genuine leader of men.

For holding on for an incredibly durable, extremely productive 16 year run- where Pakistan went from being a batting-heavy unit with old guards- Inzamam, Younis, Mohd. Yousuf- to rising to the coveted glory of being a Test number 1 (in England’s backyard)- Misbah has been the only constant in a team that’s been marred by the ghost of match fixing, restructured by nearly untenable leadership and challenged by a rising juggernaut of T20s, where Tests very nearly became a spent force.

It helps then, to note that some outstanding talents of Pakistan’s contemporary era- Wahab Riaz, Ahmed Shehzad, Junaid Khan, Yasir Shah, Azhar Ali- have been nurtured and developed under Misbah’s compassionate leadership, in a region that’s as fertile to producing dependable names as it’s besieged by an endlessly recurring strife amidst a climate of geopolitical volatility.

For any young talent, being awarded the baton of a somewhat implosive unit’s leadership comes with a fair share of duress. So when Misbah took over post- 2009, it was natural that the journey would never be easy, especially with a vital Sri Lankan tour to Pakistan being called off in the wake of unforeseen and surprise violence against players. 

Later, in 2010- when the soft-speaking right-hander expected normalcy to take over Pakistani Cricket, the game, in his part of the world slipped into its gravest despair. The spot-fixing saga involving Pakistan blistered a cannon of instability so loud that, it was feared it would very nearly bleed the innocent and new captain to despair, a man who had only just assumed charge of a unit he absolutely had no idea of leading.

But crisis, it is said, only knocks on the doors of the most dependable. And given how Misbah launched his side into a win after another, going on to secure, by the end of his patient run - 10 series wins for Pakistan, he also became the most-successful Asian captain among all cricketing sides. Ever.

To the spectators, Misbah-ul-Haq was all grit and pure commitment. 

But to the youngsters in his side- he created a sanctum of a team dugout. In extending his arms around frustrated young quickies and rookie batsmen; he was a sheepherder who offered hope to a side that had seen none and stability to a unit that badly needed some. 

At around this time, his batting form went from being sturdy; scoring runs at an average of 78, 27 and, 57 in 2007, 2009 and 2010- to excellent in 2011, 2012 and, 2013- wherein he scored masterly at averages of 69, 42 and, 54. 

Not that during this peak for Misbah- wherein as captain, as he was attempting to mold rapidity of Pakistani cricket’s vulnerabilities into a penchant for improvement, things came easy. It didn’t help that Pakistan were undone and stripped off the greatest favorability and comfort a side could contend with- that of playing at home. 

But as they heralded to a somewhat familiar geopolitical setting, contesting in the UAE, Misbah teamed with long-time friend and wrecker-in-chief- Younis Khan- in raising Pakistan’s newest and perhaps, most cherished fortification here, in the desert heat away from home. 

Teams like Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka dared to raise Misbah’s Pakistan to bite the Middle Eastern desert, but even guys like AB, Faf, Amla, Sanga, Herath and, Mahela failed to pummel a side that under Misbah seemed determined to fight, accepting newer challenges with glee.

But in Misbah’s case, when the leadership cap is rested and individual collections are probed, even harshest naysayers find little to chop, slice and demean. Among any no.5 batsman, Misbah possesses the highest score- a record 3557 runs, even above Steven Waugh. 

Where players eye in world records, magnum opuses of batting, Misbah, who holds an astonishing batting average of 116 in Tests versus India, has batted the pulp out of Pakistan’s opponents, winning the most number of Tests for Pakistan than any leader prior to him- 24. 

As a captain, Misbah’s blazed a trail that few can match, scoring over 4000 Tests runs of his 5222 runs for his side as the team’s ruling elite and king decision-maker. 

It has been a mark of both- his solid consistency to bat opponents out through that characteristic grit as well as a reward of that enormous patience- that doesn’t quite know what it means to wane out, even though that’s been the fate of several listless sides that have waged unsuccessful assaults on Misbah’s Pakistan all these years.

 

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