Masterful Misbah

In the build up to their tour of England, Pakistan’s cricketers were put through the toughest training routines of their lives by the Pakistan Army. As they punched above their weight to improve their fitness levels, the go-to exercise at the camp was a set of 10 push-ups. Perhaps fittingly, then, as Pakistan’s most successful Test captain brought up his hundred on the opening day of the Lord’s Test, he proceeded to do another set of 10 push-ups. At 42, he got through the push-ups with great ease. 

Almost six years ago, Misbah ul Haq was so frustrated with how he was being treated by the Pakistani selectors that he wanted to burn his kit. His career would have ended having played 19 Tests with a batting average of 33.60 – low enough for him to fade into obscurity and have no legacy. Fast forward six years and a 42-year old resilient Misbah has, to his credit, 4,462 Test runs in 61 matches. Age, they say, is only a number. Misbah is perhaps a living example of this.

Pakistan’s tour of England is extremely significant for Misbah, both as a player and as a captain. This is, afterall, his first Test tour of England in a career spanning 14 years now (he has only played consistently since October 2010). In fact, out of his career tally of 61 Tests, he has only played 11 matches in England, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Assessments of Misbah’s batting talent have always taken this fact into account. He has plenty of runs in conditions that favour batsmen but what about testing conditions? A 100 at the Home of Cricket is not a bad way to prove one’s ability.

The tour also holds great significance for Misbah as captain because his legend as captain is built around victories in the UAE. Since 2010, his team has guarded the UAE fortress remarkably well. They have not lost a series at their home away from home in these six years. However, during the same time, Misbah’s side has not played a single Test in England and Australia. In South Africa, they were blanked 3-0. So, how can Misbah be ranked as Pakistan’s most successful Test captain if he has not been tested where others have succeeded? 

So, as he walked out of the Long Room for the toss this morning, Misbah knew he had to deliver as both, player and captain.

Opting to bat first after winning the toss was a no-brainer. With the sun out, Pakistan just needed to get through the new ball on a harmless Lord’s pitch. But that would make life simple, uncomplicated, and non-Pakistani. Post lunch, Pakistan found themselves in a tangle at 77/3 and in walked Misbah.

Misbah has reduced his body fat and looks leaner and fitter. But doing all this at the ripe old age of 42 runs the risk of also losing balance as a batter. Misbah had adjusted his technique accordingly. For one, his knees are more bent than they used to be before this tour. This braced position has helped him to maintain his balance while at the crease. He also took guard closer to the off-stump, an attempt to gain better off-stump awareness. There seemed to be a conscious effort to bring down a straight bat barring a few extremely tempting freebies from Moeen Ali.

Most importantly, there was positive intent after a familiar start to his innings during which he blocked nearly everything. During Pakistan’s last tour of England in 2010, Pakistani batsmen regularly made the mistake of trying to block everything. As a result, the scorecard did not move and wickets were lost. It is no surprise then that Misbah batted with a strike rate of 61, 17 better than his career strike rate. The innings itself was a mixed bag. Against the pacers, he showed caution except when Steven Finn began drifting down the leg side. Against the spin of Moeen Ali, he became brutal hitting him for 32 runs off 23 balls.

Even though Pakistan will rue the soft dismissals from Day 1, they could probably not have asked for a better start to a tough tour. Sitting at a healthy 282/6, they now have their last recognised batting pair on the crease and getting through the first session tomorrow will be key. Misbah has passed his first test as a player with flying colours – in his first Test innings in England, he is unbeaten on 110. His name will now make its way to the famous Lord’s honour board.

As captain, he knows fully well that the game has only just started.

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