There is a widely held perception that Pakistan is a team of mercurial match-winners who are hot when they’re on and terrible when they’re off, but their captain Misbah-ul-Haq could not be more removed from the stereotypical Pakistani cricketer.
Pakistan cricket was still reeling from the spot-fixing scandal when Misbah was appointed full-time captain in 2010, the sixth man to hold the post in the three years since Inzamam-ul-Haq’s retirement.
It says a lot about Misbah’s leadership skills that he has hung around long enough to build a record worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as predecessors such as Imran Khan, Wasim Akram or even Inzamam. This is a country where, according to former coach Geoff Lawson, cricket is closely tied in with politics.
“When governments change, selectors change, everything changes because they want to put their buddies in,” said Lawson, the former Australian paceman who coached Pakistan in 2007-08.
Friday’s World Cup quarter-final with Australia will be Misbah’s final one-day international appearance for Pakistan unless his team can defy the odds and pull off what would arguably be the tournament’s biggest upset. Misbah may not have the talent or charisma of Imran, or the tiger T-shirt the legend made famous in 1992, but few can fault his captaincy record.
He has won more Tests as captain than any other Pakistan skipper, passing the mark of 14 set by Imran and Javed Miandad, and appears impervious to the internal politics which have held back Pakistan cricket over the years. Remarkably, the bulk of Misbah’s achievements in the game have come in his 30s – an age when cricketers are winding down.
Lawson met Misbah when he started his reign as Pakistan coach in 2007, the same time that Misbah was recalled after five years in the international wilderness. Lawson was stunned Misbah, who has a business degree, had been out for so long, especially as he had dominated domestic cricket in Pakistan.
And after getting to know his player at a training camp in Kenya before the 2007 World Twenty20, he was equally impressed with Misbah the man. “I was incredibly impressed with the conversation, what he was doing and I thought ‘this guy’s a gem, where have they been hiding him?’ It was obvious from the start,” Lawson said.
Any temptation to install him as captain immediately, replacing Shoaib Malik, was tempered by diplomacy. “I was playing it low-key when I got there, you don’t start interfering when you get there,” Lawson said. “I was working very hard with Shoaib Malik to make sure he would be the best captain he could be. Misbah was making lots of contributions, his counsel was considered very highly but Malik was the captain. Misbah was a leader without being the captain or vice-captain, you could see that. He was having a significant influence and a positive one.”
Now, Lawson is impressed by Misbah’s level-headedness, his ability not to get carried away in victory or defeat.
“He’s got an education and high intellect, so that’s a start. He also has a great understanding of the game. He knows the nuances, can manage people and he understands all forms of the game,” Lawson said.
“He’s got a fairly healthy appetite for making runs, he’s understated. He’s phlegmatic when they lose, he’s phlegmatic when they win, what Pakistan normally doesn’t have. Misbah is very happy in his own skin. He likes to play well and he wants Pakistan to do well and get the best out of his players. If they make the semis that would be enormous.”