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Tuesday May 16, 2017

Misbah - the greatest captain Pakistan ever had

Misbah - the greatest captain Pakistan ever had

Yasir Shah was bowling to Shannon Gabriel, the last West Indian batsman, the last delivery of the final Test. He had so far taken 24 wickets in the series. With a fiver to his name in both Tests, Yasir was a wicket away from his third five-wicket haul of the series. Pakistan had never won a Test series in West Indies, while minnows like Bangladesh had done it eight years back, and India a couple of times.

This would also be the last time Yasir was bowling to a field set by Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s most successful captain. West Indies were over a hundred runs short of the target, but the last wicket pair just had to block seven deliveries. It would have saved the match and with the series tied at 1-1, Pakistan would have returned home, empty-handed.

Roston Chase had defied victory so far in this innings by top-scoring with 102. It was a game of nerves when Yasir Shah delivered a googly to Gabriel, who was batting on four. So far, he had been patient in his 21-ball innings, but with everyone fielding close to the bat, he decided to go for a six. His hit was badly mistimed and the ball ricocheted to the stumps. Pakistan won the match by 101 runs and the series 2-1.

Yasir Shah celebrates the final wicket, 3rd Test/AFP
Yasir Shah celebrates the final wicket, 3rd Test/AFP

The historic win in the Caribbean Islands had eluded even the greatest captains of the past; A.H. Kardar ended his career at Port of Spain, winning the final Test, but the series had already been lost. Mushtaq Muhammad lost a closely fought series 2-1 in 1977, while Imran Khan drew the one played in his captaincy in 1988. Wasim Akram’s boys surrendered meekly 2-0 five years later, while Moin Khan’s men were cheated out of a win at the infamous Antigua Test by the umpires in 2000. Misbah gave Pakistan what no other could: he led the team to the first-ever win in the Caribbean, also his 11th series win – the most by any captain from Asia. India’s Saurav Ganguly and MS Dhoni have won 9 series each.

The trophy that eluded all other Pakistan captains/AFP
The trophy that eluded all other Pakistan captains/AFP

The recently concluded series sums up Misbah’s career very well. In the very first Test at Kingston, Jamaica, he was stranded at 99. This would have been his 11th Test hundred, but debutant Mohammad Abbas fell before the captain could reach the feat. With the tail, Misbah added 81 runs to the score, with his own contribution being 51. This helped in acquiring a lead of over 100 and strengthened Pakistan’s position. In the very next innings at Jamaica, Misbah hit the winning shot. These were consecutive sixes, hit in a tense situation, when visitors had lost three wickets in pursuit of a target as small as 32. Hitting sixes was nothing new for Misbah; he has dispatched the cherry over the boundary for a maximum number of 81 times for Pakistan, in Tests. England’s Kevin Pietersen has also done it 81 times, while ‘Viv’ Richards, the great West Indian batsman, did it 84 times; both played over a hundred Tests, compared to Misbah’s 75.

In the second Test, he was dismissed for 99, missing a century again. The openers played their part but Misbah, once again needed to repair the damages of a middle-order collapse, played a master’s innings. Going back 7 years, Misbah did the same when he was handed captaincy after the infamous spot-fixing scandal of 2010. He brought motivation and discipline to a shattered unit, which white-washed England, the centre of the scandal, just under 2 years.

Before his last innings/AFP
Before his last innings/AFP

However, in the second Test at Bridgetown, Barbados, the effects of ‘always playing away from home’ showed in the fourth innings chase, and the team could only manage 81 in pursuit of 187, giving the hosts a chance to level the series.

In the final Test at Dominica, Misbah came out to bat when the score was 177/3. He scored just one run from the first fifty deliveries, but when the situation demanded, changed gears and notched up his third fifty of the series. Even two weeks shy of 43, Misbah was the top scorer from Pakistan in the series and his innings made a difference in the end.

Misbah walks off to a guard of honour after his last innings/AFP
Misbah walks off to a guard of honour after his last innings/AFP

Since debuting in 2001 to taking Pakistan to the top slot in ICC ranking, Misbah has contributed in every way he could. He captained Pakistan in 56 Tests; won 26, lost 19 and drew 11, at a winning rate of 44.64.

Pakistan cricket has been lucky to find ‘batting’ replacements. When Javed Miandad left in 1993, Inzamam filled his place, ably supported by Salim Malik for the next 5 years. Mohammad Yousuf arrived and with Younis two years later, edged out Malik and Ejaz Ahmed. May be, ‘Misbah-ul-Haq the batsman’ would soon be replaced, but the man who helped re-write history, re-introduced reverse sweep, introduced push-ups as celebration style and took Pakistan to the top, from the dumps, would be hard to replace.

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