There have been many a test captain in the history of Pakistan cricket. It is a topic of great debate as to who amongst them has been the greatest of them all. Pakistan has been fortunate enough to have some great test captains in their history. Some of the names that come to mind include Wasim Akram, Javed Miandad, Waqar Younis, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Imran Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq. However, I personally feel that it is Misbah-ul-Haq who has been the best test captain that Pakistan has had in its long cricketing history.
If one takes statistics into consideration, this claim (that Misbah is Pakistan’s greatest ever test captain) is indisputable: 24 wins in 51 tests as captain (as of now), the most by any Pakistani test captain. Apart from that, Misbah has 10 series wins as captain- the most by any Asian captain.
Prior to Misbah’s tenure as captain, Pakistan had six test captains in six years. He provided the team with stability and his numbers are indicative of his successful tenure as captain.
Critics may argue that statistics do not always tell the true story. I also firmly believe in this statement. Yet I believe that Misbah is the best test captain that Pakistan has ever had. This belief has stemmed not only from his impressive records as captain but also from several other factors.
Misbah took over the mantle of captaincy in not so favourable conditions. He became captain in the wake of two disasters. The first was the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team bus in Lahore in 2009. This incident subjected Pakistan to international isolation. No test side has visited Pakistan since. Pakistan’s international players have been condemned to a perpetual shuttle between foreign hotel rooms. They have been cut off from extended family and community networks which count for so much in Pakistan. So-called ‘home’ matches are played in the UAE, in echoing deserted stadiums.
The second calamity took place the following year when the Pakistan team was touring England. Three of its players, including the captain, Salman Butt, experienced bowler Mohammed Asif and its brilliant young opening bowler, Mohammad Amir, were embroiled in a spot-fixing controversy. The team was disgraced and the three players involved were later sent to jail.
At that dark hour, Misbah emerged like a Manna from Heaven to Pakistan cricket. Misbah’s appointment as captain back then did raise many eyebrows. He had a mixed test record and was not even selected in that forgettable England tour of 2010. Moreover, he was already 36 – ancient for a modern player. Yet he proved an inspired choice. He had exactly the right qualities to lead Pakistan at that moment of crisis. Misbah’s calm approach was exactly what Pakistan cricket needed after the tumultuous period it had gone through.
He belongs to those rare breeds of cricketers whose performance in test matches were massively enhanced by the duties of captaincy. Misbah has made more runs and centuries among Pakistani test captains. He averages above 50 as captain and below 35 as non-captain.
‘Responsibility,’ Misbah once said in an interview, ‘has always given me a lot of confidence to face the music and perform.’ As a Test captain, Misbah has the priceless gift of looking as though he always has a plan on the field. In fact, more often than not, he usually does. He has gained victories with an inexperienced attack since the loss of his former match-winner, off-spinner Saeed Ajmal, with a suspect action. When he led Pakistan to a 2 – 0 victory over England last winter in the UAE, none of his bowlers had taken 100 Test wickets.
Misbah ul Haq is an inspiring figure who took Pakistan from the absolute bottom (SL attack and spot fixing) to literally the top of the cricketing world(no.1 in tests). Yes there will be naysayers who will try to undermine his achievements by talking about performance in non-Dubai conditions. Given the team he had, any lesser captain like Afridi or Shoaib Malik would have run this team into the ground. Quoting my favourite line from Nolan’s Batman trilogy, ‘He is the captain Pakistan didn’t deserve, but he is the captain that Pakistan needed at that point in time.’ Damn, this would make for a great story. Pakistan losing their captain, main bowler and an upcoming star bowler. And in comes Misbah with meagre international experience but more importantly a calm demeanour which was sorely needed. At that time many did wonder how could this soft-spoken guy lead a stormy team like Pakistan. And boy did he deliver!
Misbah is undoubtedly the best thing to have happened to Pakistan cricket in this decade. No doubt he would make a great coach as well if he ever wished to get into that role. He is already a great man manager with an MBA to boot.
This great man is coming to the end of his career and deserves a farewell to match Don Bradman’s at the Oval 1948. His achievement has been nothing short of legendary. Like Bradman, he has been far more than a simple cricketer. For his six years at the helm of the national team, Misbah has helped to bind Pakistan together as a nation.
Photo by World Cricket