Of the numerous astounding victories of Misbah-ul-Haq, possibly the most remarkable is him winning the Pakistani fan. It has been a feat more impossible than almost doubling Imran Khan’s win tally as Pakistan’s most successful Test captain without playing any of those matches at home, equaling Sir Viv Richards’ then world record for the fastest century, or even winning the ICC Test mace for the very first time in the country’s history.
For, the Pakistani fan is more demanding than the temperatures in the UAE desert, more daunting than history books, and often a bigger adversary than the opposition team. And just like the entire gamut of accolades that he’s mustered, Misbah’s toughest win has come without him hankering after it.
Scapegoating Misbah was always an inexplicable phenomenon. He was neither the superstar on whom almost the entire team’s hopes would be pinned (like LeBron James before his first NBA title in 2012), nor was he guilty of letting his teammates down with an act of stupidity (David Beckham, 1998 World Cup). Whether it was the 2007 WT20 final or the 2011 World Cup semifinal – both against India – Misbah’s folly was, more often than not, being the last man standing while everyone else had faltered.
When Pakistan were knocked out by India in the 1996 quarterfinal in Bangalore, it wasn’t Waqar Younis who was singled out for the battering at the hands of Ajay Jadeja that eventually lost the match. Similarly, in 2003, in what was practically another World Cup knockout blow by India, neither Waqar nor Shoaib Akhtar had been scapegoated for their glaring contributions in the team failing to defend a more than decent 276. More often than not, it was the entire squad that would bear the brunt of the Pakistani fans’ wrath every time the team would disappoint.
Misbah, meanwhile, not remotely close to being a match-winner as big as his illustrious predecessors, and many of his peers, would rigidly be remembered for the scoop down Sreesanth’s throat at Johannesburg or the dot balls at Mohali. What everyone did around him was largely irrelevant – so were the stats.
The only logical explanation for this was how easy it was to hate him. For, he never fit the mould that we have for the Pakistani cricketer – one with flair, aggression, and egotism. If there’s no visible self-importance, the odds are we won’t give you much of it either.
With neither narcissism nor flamboyance in his repertoire, Misbah had to rely on the impalpable features found in him in abundance: unrelenting hard-work and incorruptible dedication.
By the time he was made the Test team’s captain, following the spot-fixing scandal, Misbah had already been in a decade-long relationship with obscurity and had nothing to lose. And so with Pakistan cricket falling apart, and his own future perpetually uncertain, he decided to give one last go at making lemonade from the tomatoes that life had thrown at his doorstep.
But the Pakistani fan, Misbah’s greatest detractor and the churn for TV ‘analysts’ to milk the TRPs, only saw the man who had cost Pakistan two World Cups leading the national side in all formats in the summer of 2011.
The fan drew first blood when Misbah stepped down from T20s after losing against England in 2012. That it came at the back of whitewashing the number one Test side in the world had little sway on the call for Misbah’s head. The wins were the team’s and the losses were to be put on Misbah. They’d knocked him out of T20s and believed that the ODIs would follow next. Fans 1-0 Misbah.
Misbah, however, retired from the ODIs on his own terms following the 2015 World Cup, after becoming the first Asian captain to win a series in South Africa, the second Pakistani skipper to win the Asia Cup, with an historic three-match ODI win away to India as well, in an uncharacteristically stable three years for Pakistan.
The respectable quarterfinal finish, where Pakistan were a Rahat Ali drop away from possibly defeating the eventual champions, had been preceded by the Misbah critics mauling him for the group stage defeats. But the fans seemed to have abandoned the bandwagon.
The turning point, perhaps, was the first World Cup match – ironically another defeat against India where Misbah was the lone ranger in a failed run-chase. This time Misbah’s long-time foe finally managed to spot what they had long missed out on. Some even managed to decode the stats.
Misbah ended his ODI batting career with the second highest average of all Pakistani batsman in history. As captain his win percentage (53.48%) was almost as high as Imran Khan’s (55.92%) – unanimously regarded as the greatest skipper in Pakistan’s history – with arguably the weakest squad(s) ever to represent the country.
Even so, while his contribution to the ODI side was finally being acknowledged, all-time greatness for him lay elsewhere. In the next two and a half years, Misbah would go on to become Pakistan’s most successful Test captain of all time, ending with 26 wins, none of which was at home. He has also remained unbeaten at the fortress he built in the desert away from home, where his side whitewashed England and the mighty Aussies. He finished his career on Sunday, becoming the first Pakistani captain ever to lead the side to a series win in the West Indies.
There is a gamut of other Misbah feats as well, but the one that mattered the most were the lessons he has left behind.
How many runs or wickets would Mohammad Yousaf or Shoaib Akhtar give for the guard of honour that Misbah got from his teammates?
What would Wasim and Waqar not do to have the world pour in messages of respect for the farewell they never had?
Misbah’s career, and its picture perfect curtain call, has taught us – the average Pakistani – the value of integrity and respect.
He is a living example of everything that Pakistan should strive to be, both on and off the pitch. He is proof of the miracles one can achieve through sheer diligence and honesty. He has showed the entire country how the steepest corner can be turned, once you embrace your very evident limitations.
Let’s hope we can self-reflect and learn from the lessons that he has long personified. That, right there, would be Misbah’s greatest win.