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Misbah Deserves All The Plaudits...And More

Misbah-ul-Haq made the transformation from 'tuk tuk' to 'boom boom' during the Test series win over Australia
©REUTERS / Action Images

First-class cricketer Jibran Khan Niazi pays tribute to Misbah-ul-Haq following Pakistan's recent Test series win over Australia and argues that he now deserves to play an even bigger role in Pakistan cricket.

Pakistan are now ranked as the third best Test team in the world following their splendid victory and clean sweep over Australia under the dynamic leadership of Misbah-ul-Haq.

Pakistan Cricket is used to dealing with crises particularly after the terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan team in 2009 and the suspension of famous Pakistani players involved in spot fixing.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has managed to host matches in the Middle East and somehow or other remained in international cricket despite external as well as internal crises.

Shahid Afridi, a most popular public figure due to his aggressive play, stepped down from captaincy after losing the World Cup semi-final to India in 2011 and the Pakistan team was facing internal threats due to lobbying of various players for the captaincy. The team was divided and Pakistan were way down the rankings.

Undoubtedly, Misbah is a lucky skipper who not only created unity in the team but also got better results from young and senior players alike, proving his worth by switching from ‘tuk tuk’ to ‘boom boom’ - scoring a speedy half-century and levelling the quickest century record held by Sir Viv Richards.

He is now the third most successful Pakitan skipper after Imran Khan and Javed Miandad.

Though the players were disgusted with the situation after a whitewash at the hands of Australia in the one-day and T20 series, Misbah was facing blame from all corners and his personal performance as a middle-order batsman was affected as well and despite the support of the PCB chairman, he replied, "If he failed to deliver he will himself resign from the cricket."

Advancing years and unrealistic criticism ignored his services to Pakistan in making a shattered team a well-knitted unit. He used the abilities of available youngsters and seniors against the world’s best team as the struggling domestic structure did not produce any young talented players while the seniors were also divided and shaky due to their uncertain future.

Take Younus Khan, who set a record of scoring a double century in the second Test having already hit a century in each inning of the first Test. He was ignored five times during the last four years by the selectors and was included in the team after a failure of the middle-order batting.

In such circumstance winning the two-Test series from Australia in convincing fashion proves the capabilities of Misbah ul Haq as captain as well as a batsman.

One can say that Misbah fought bravely, placing aggressive fielding for the first time with weakest squad of bowlers against the world’s strongest team. Pakistan stunned the Australians with spin bowling particularly in the absence of  Saeed Ajmal and even with out of form openers they proved that Pakistan can beat anybody - that is why its worst critics always call them unpredictable.

Zulfiqar Babar and Yasir Shah performed well under pressure in tense situation when Pakistan had inexperienced and mediocre medium pacers .  

Australian skipper Michael Clarke admitted that Australia were just not good enough and Pakistan deserve credit for convincing victories. He praised Younus who is no doubt a role model for youngsters.

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

“Younus showed us how to bat against spin and to stay out in the middle to build an innings in these conditions,” he said.

“We didn’t bat well and most of us did not survive for 25 balls which was a factor for the downfall.”

One should praise the role of Australian cricketers who played positive cricket and contributed to the promotion of cricket in Pakistan and this type of attitude is to be applauded.

Afridi v Misbah - a manufactured controversy

Afridi is most people’s favourite player in Pakistan and no doubt he achieved the impossible and has exhausted the patience of Pakistan and Asian spectators. He builds anticipation until he is at the crease and Pakistani fans particularly want to see his hard hitting around the field and some time he makes mistakes while fulfilling the demands of public but despite that he is loved by his fans and he is in the team despite some opposition.

He is no doubt a great player and Geoff Boycott, a legend himself, loved to see him playing saying: “Fantastic, great for the game.”

His captaincy, particularly when Misbah voluntarily decided to withdraw from third ODI due to his poor performance was talk of the town all over Pakistan but PCB Chairman Shaharyar Khan felicitated Misbah and clarified that Misbah will remain captain until next year’s World Cup.

Afridi has numerous followers in the country and deserves praise as he has become the third all-rounder to have scored 10,000 runs and taken 400 wickets in international cricket but despite all his following, capabilities and international fame he lacks the temperament which Misbah has.

However, his presence in the team is always encouraging for his fellows as he can often achieve the seemingly impossible. He has himself retired from Test cricket in view of his temperament but he is a key player in ODIs and T20s.

He is considered to always be a threat with the ball and the bat for any opposing team, if he is allowed to play his natural game. Whenever I met Afridi, he always advised two things: fitness and patience.

He may seem shrewd and moody on television but he is a very kind and loving person. He is very kind to youngsters and is always happy to give tips to newcomers.

I believe some people prefer not to promote cricket but enjoy benefits from PCB, seemingly operating with a ‘divide and rule’ motto creating divisions among the players - witness the ‘controversies’ over Afridi’s statement about women cricketers, the fan at Karachi airport.

The result was that people pitting Afridi against Misbah but soon enough this problem was resolved and indeed he praised Misbah’s efforts and leadership; Misbah is broadminded by nature, always remaining humble and silent even about the worst critics.

“Let me state at the very outset, Misbah is the best choice as Pakistan captain for the ICC World Cup 2015,” Afridi said in a statement.

“I have always backed him to the optimum whenever I have played under him, just as he had when I had the honour to captain the Pakistan team.

“I have said this before, and I reiterate, that I shall continue to serve Pakistan Cricket and fully support Misbah to the best of my ability.”

Despite this statement, some people continuously attempted to keep this issue alive but now after Misbah’s transformation from ‘tuk tuk’ to ‘boom boom’ this issue has been met its end.

What is the real story behind this manufactured controversy?

For me, it comes from PCB officials who are not happy with Misbah. First, they tried to highlight his age only for him to prove his fitness more than youngsters. Similarly, Younus was criticised about his age though he replied with his performances on the field.

Then we had the Afridi-Misbah comments outlined earlier. I believe they twisted the facts and put some words in the mouth of Afridi.

As I have already mentioned he is soft spoken, neither a moody nor a sycophant. He utters what is in his mind and soul. Perhaps he has now realised that some people want to exploit the situation.

The future

At present, though the batting side of Pakistan is looking good in all formats despite the problem of opening with Ahmed Shehzad, the bowling attack a problem as the pacers are facing injuries and the spin attack was damaged by the suspension of Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman’s fitness problems

It is in fact an inherent fault in the domestic set up as no talented youngster or experienced cricketer is given a chance except those who are close to or even related to PCB officials.

Yasir Shah has been honoured with a Test cap and he proved his worth but he cannot be relied upon on other wickets and I have the same apprehension about Zulfiqar.

Mohammad Hafeez is an all-rounder and proved his worth to the team by providing breakthroughs at critical moments but his batting is affected badly and he doesn’t seem in form.

Sarfraz Ahmed is showing his potential in batting but behind the wickets he missed crucial stumping chances, so Pakistan has to search for a competent wicket-keeper who can also bat. Umar Akmal is in fact a batsman but he is being spoiled by being handed the gloves.

Younus, Azhar Ali, Misbah, Akmal, Fawad Alam, Asad Shafiq and Afridi are the backbone of Pakistan’s middle-order batting. Hafeez may perform better if he is dropped down the order, while an experiment of promoting Afridi to open could be worth a try.

Spin may improve despite suspension of Saeed Ajmal but pacers need special attention as we have to keep some reliable pacers as standby because Mohammad Irfan should not be overburdened and we cannot afford him to get injured as he has the main role in our pace battery and he needs support.

The PCB have clarified that Misbah is set to stay on as captain but that is not enough.

Now he needs to be given a leading role in team selection as well.

© Cricket World 2014