When Yasir Shah and his team were walking off the field, the leg-spinner stopped for a few seconds to let his captain, Misbahul Haq, go off first. Shah was celebrating his five-wicket haul, waving to supporters, but showed Misbah the respect the 42-year-old has earned over the previous half a decade. This is what Misbah has won after leading Pakistan to a record number of Test victories.
Very few captains become great leaders and chances are even slimmer in Pakistan — where fans’ nationalist pride and passion for cricket take their toll on the mightiest of men. But Misbah is, seemingly, not mighty. He isn’t a warrior with a big, flashy blade, running through the opposition and powering through a storm to ultimately land on riches. Misbah is the epitome of calmness; of resolute defiance that would stand in front of you even when the battle was seemingly lost. It is this very quality — missing from Pakistan over the years — that has catapulted them to almost the top of the Test rankings. It is this very reason why Misbah isn’t the go-to guy in ODIs and T20s, where warriors need to be flashy and arrogant.
Misbah’s strength lays in his consistency, stability and maturity. He is like a father-figure for several players, not swayed by the limelight or the rewards that present themselves during the journey — but by the destination. The end-result matters to him more than the painstaking voyage it takes to get there. Maybe this is why he is the country’s most successful Test captain. In his arduous passage he has been criticised for a defensive technique and a less-than-attacking mindset. A deeper analysis would tell us that this is not quite the case — even though his critics would maintain their stubborn arguments.
His critics also say he has not won or played much overseas. Is that his fault? The fact is that his contributions go way beyond numbers and statistics. He has managed to garner respect from the team full of temperamental, as well as immature players who needed a quality leader to rally around.
In the aftermath of the spot-fixing scandal that shook the cricket team as well as the country, Misbah always faced a tall order. Performance aside, the Pakistan team has remained in the news for reasons other than cricket far too many times. Misbah, and the cricket board, may have made following the team a little duller, but far more respectable than it once was. Followers of cricket tend to heap praise on him when the team does well, and even when it doesn’t, Misbah’s loyalty and commitment to the game are never questioned.
One tends to remember the team of the late 1990s and wishes a Misbah or two had been a part of it. Times have changed and cricket has evolved. The game has become more attacking and left very little breathing space. With social media activists breathing down players’ necks, it is commendable that Pakistan make the news for doing push-ups. When Christian Bale’s Batman hit the cinemas, one was forced to look for the fictional character in real life. Pakistan produced one.
Misbah isn’t one to take credit. He lavishes it on others and moves the spotlight away from himself. He helps the authorities and fights the battles, nurturing and inspiring future generations. He will leave a far, far better team when he does decide to leave. It’s his decision. But his fans will weep tears now. Because we know that day is close.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 16th, 2016.