Monday 23 June 2014 

Comment - In Praise Of The Much-Criticised Misbah

Misbah-ul-Haq plays a shot
Misbah-ul-Haq - much-criticised, but is there anybody out there who could do a better job? This author thinks not
© REUTERS / Action Images
 

Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq is perhaps one of the most criticised figures in the game. Jibran Khan Niazi, a former team-mate of his, puts forward a staunch defence.

Off-spinner Jibran Khan Niazi has played first-class and one-day cricket for Sargodha, also playing for Pakistan University Grants Commission and Faisalabad.

Misbah faces criticism from many sources about his advancing years but is he wasting time in replying to his critics by proving his worth with consistent performances?

Though Pakistan is an unpredictable side, it has the capability to defeat any team in the world, and despite that no one can say with conviction that many players can dig in and resist opposing bowling attacks.

In these circumstances, and the prevalent situation, Misbah is the only player who boldly faces all crises and pressure, knows how to stay at the wicket and put the ball into the hands of spectators.

When I played with him I said to him: "The bowler is bowling wide balls and you are smashing sixes." He just said to me, "I keep in mind their plan and patiently watched what they are doing and I plan how to wriggle out from this situation."

In my opinion he has the command to read the mind and planning of everyone and deals with the situation with patience by concentrating on his game.

Recently when Mohammad Hafeez arranged a training camp in Sargodha, at which were all National Academy coaches were there, one of the batting coaches, while talking with me about Misbah, said:

"He is such a brave person, when he was practicing for South Africa’s tour, he was facing fast bowling with the new ball and even though sometimes the ball hit him, he stressed 'faster because I am going to play against Morkel and Steyn'".

I remember the days of this legendary batsman when he first joined the first-class team camp - also my first camp as well. Misbah was not wearing proper cricketing shoes, instead wearing simple athletic sport shoes.

I know he is strong, hard and well built, because of his background and upbringing in Mianwali District (a remote, poor area of Punjab). It is worthwhile to mention here that legendary captain Imran Khan also hails from Mianwali - coincidentally, so do I!

In fact Pathans are hard workers by nature and have the capability to resist all situations. I still remember the words of  Misbah when I left cricket - at that time he said, "Do not leave because you are more hard working than me." 

I mad a mistake in leaving cricket at that time when there was an opportunity for me to become part of the national team, however I returned to the game with zeal and determined to play cricket whatever circumstances I have to face.

I sometimes wonder about the policy of cricket bosses and critics who push for youngsters to play, ignoring the experience and fitness of others.

I always quote the hard labour and fitness of Misbah as I have never seen consistency in batting and fielding like his: he has the potential and patience, he always performs well, even in critical moments.

I am of the view that talent hunt programmes for youngsters must be continued but we cannot afford to spoil our cricket for 'experiments'.

I believe when players, particularly off-spinners and batsmen, get older they have a lot of experience under their belt - just look at the policy of England and Australia who preferred and rely on experienced players but in Pakistan, at the lower level there are many people that think about age ignoring skill and experience.

If we go through the achievement of Pakistan’s success in important events it shows we achieved all that success with experienced players.Undoubtedly fast bowlers generally have a short time at the top but batsmen and spinners can perform well even at the age of 45.

Thanks to Misbah, who set an example to the Pakistan team and forced the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) to change their view about age, now they focus on experience and fitness.

I recall two matches which we played together in the scorching heat of Pakistan (46 degrees centigrade) where scored centuries in both matches and I saw no sign of tiredness on his face.

      I challenge all critics to point out any player like Misbah, with the potential, patience and capability to lead the team in all categories.

I am of the firm opinion that there is no such player at this moment in our team.

I played five years of first-class cricket alongside Misbah and never saw him losing his temper, he always stayed cool and I still remember an innings against Lahore, when he scored a hundred only to be condemned by our manager for batting slowly.

Later, former Pakistan selector Azhar Khan, match referee for the game, said, "I have never seen a brilliant innings like that in my whole life - very well played," much to the embarrasment of our manager.

I also picked up five wickets in both of matches. It is another happy coincidence that whenever I performed well, so too did Misbah back then.

I am now maintaining my fitness and focussing on my performance introducing different varieties in my bowling and batting as well. I am inspired by Misbah to hit lofty sixes. I learnt a lot from Misbah, particularly paying deaf ears to critics and focussing on performance, facing the situation with patience and a cool head.

In fact these characteristics led Misbah to perfection. He has strong moral values and I will never forget the sacrifices he has made for cricket and for his country.

I still remember the day we were playing a match in Faisalabad, which finished late. Instead of taking rest or gossiping, we started training then he padded up and asked me to bowl.

He said he was practicing to judge the trend of the wicket. He me to bowl on the outfield of ground. I expressed my apprehension, fearing that the ball may hit him but he told me to bowl properly and not worry about it.

I bowled to him for almost an hour and thereafter I perceived that he was practicing ready to face  a magician like Saeed Ajmal. If Misbah had not supported Saeed Ajmal he might still be working with an insurance company.

Misbah knows Ajmal very well, he knows cricket and I challenge all critics to point out any player like Misbah, with the potential, patience and capability to lead the team in all categories.

I am of the firm opinion that there is no such player at this moment in our team.

I played five years of first-class cricket alongside Misbah and never saw him losing his temper, he always stayed cool and I still remember an innings against Lahore, when he scored a hundred only to be condemned by our manager for batting slowly.

Later, former Pakistan selector Azhar Khan, match referee for the game, said, "I have never seen a brilliant innings like that in my whole life - very well played,"  much to the embarrasment of our manager.

In conclusion, cricket is a gentleman's game and I have never seen a gentleman like Misbah who not only improved himself, but improved others such as myself. Whenever I played under his captaincy I performed better due to his guidance and advice.

He never shows any sign of resentment and gave due regard to all those who rebuked him in the past.

No doubt he is great cricketer, a great man and a good friend.

© Cricket World 2014

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