In defence of Misbah

Published: April 9, 2012

The writer is a doctoral candidate in Political Economy at the University of Cambridge and pursues cricket as a keen side-interest

Until Pakistan won the Asia Cup recently, Misbahul Haq had faced overwhelming criticism, with calls for his removal from captaincy gaining momentum by the day. The highly negative public reaction to a few limited-overs defeats against England, coupled with a scathing media campaign had turned a hero into the biggest public villain in recent memory. One had hoped that the Asia Cup victory would have silenced some critics, but the jury is unfortunately still out on one of Pakistan’s most successful captains. As one is tempted to explore the reasons for this onslaught on Misbah, it also becomes imperative to distinguish facts from the ever-so-emotional myth.

Firstly, the persistent hatred of Misbah is rooted in the Pakistani public’s inability to stomach a loss against India. We demand instant reasons, rather instant justice for such heart rendering losses. Unfortunately, all games that Pakistan has lost against the arch-rival in recent memory have featured Misbah prominently in some way or the other. Whether or not he alone was solely responsible for those losses has never been objectively analysed. His only undoing has been the fact that he was the most visible victim when we turned to hunt for culprits.

Misbah could not hit a four in the last over — the story goes — and we lost to India in the final of the first World Twenty20. Misbah stood his ground without scoring as wickets fell around him in the 2011 World Cup semi-final. Most recently, Misbah could only watch as Virat Kohli ran roughshod over our bowling unit in a mammoth run-chase.

In all the anger and emotion, glaring facts are conveniently forgotten. Misbah was the only man who made a Pakistani victory in that World Twenty20 final even probable, by bringing us that close to the victory target in the first place. Misbah was the last man standing in that semi-final loss, scoring the only half-century of the Pakistani innings, while all the big hitters like Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq, failed to cross even 20. Even in the Asia Cup tie, we were in such denial over the appalling display of our bowling, and so pleasantly surprised with our batting, that no one else could be blamed but the captain.

Another factor that has led to our hatred for Misbah, is our love for charismatic and eccentric individuals over those that are more mature and measured. We judge Misbah by comparing him to his predecessor, who by the way, was also wrongly removed from captaincy by our whimsical board. Afridi’s flamboyance and charisma have effectively blinded us to his follies and made Misbah’s sedate and stoic persona appear as one that is laid-back and ineffective. Even when Afridi doesn’t perform, it is somehow Misbah’s fault. Judging them like this, only gives an evaluation of their personalities, with little insight into their leadership abilities, which can be measured through their records and on-ground exploits.

Finally, and most importantly, a collective national amnesia about Misbah’s success has also led to an increase in those individuals who hate him. His record while at the helm of affairs, has been one to make the most successful captains envious of. Misbah has led Pakistan in 22 One-day Internationals (ODIs) to date, of which Pakistan have won 16. This also includes a little-remembered victory over India in the 2008 Asia Cup when Pakistan chased down 309 runs in Karachi with Misbah scoring an unbeaten 70. In Twenty20s, he has led Pakistan to six wins in eight matches. And in Test matches, other triumphs aside, just whitewashing the world’s top-ranked team is an unparalleled feat for a Pakistani captain.

If anything, Misbah’s captaincy has been a beacon of hope for the team. Pakistan has moved beyond the spot-fixing saga and we are once again being reckoned as a force in international cricket. Leading from the front, his own batting has shown exceptional improvement. He sits on top of the list of Pakistani skippers in terms of batting average across all formats. In the eight Twenty20s he has captained, he averages 43.5 at a strike rate of almost 95. In the 22 ODIs he has captained, he averages close to 50 with a strike rate of 70. On a list of ODI captains who have led in at least 15 matches, Misbah stands at number five in terms of batting average.

Misbah may be no Chris Gayle when it comes to big-hitting prowess, or an Afridi when it comes to public appeal; yet he commands respect, has helped gel the team well, knows his role in the side and performs it well on most occasions — qualities ideally suited for a captain. Recently, former coach Geoff Lawson wrote a congratulatory letter to Dav Whatmore on his appointment as the new head coach (published on www.espncricinfo.com). Among other things, Lawson told Whatmore:

“A huge bonus for you will be that Misbahul Haq has taken over the captaincy. He is a bright, well-educated man, who understands the game exceptionally well. When in doubt, ask Misbah who should be in the team and he will give you players who aren’t someone’s second cousin’s brother’s uncle but rather are the most skilled for that position. He is a winner and plays no favourites… He sets a perfect example in work ethic and discipline…”

It seems Lawson, in his brief stint with the team, came to understand Misbah much better than most cricket enthusiasts in the country who run only on subjective analyses that are amnesia-induced and filled with emotion.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has only just begun to show some consistency and maturity in policies, a welcome step which has already paid dividends. Directly blaming Misbah for the (very few) recent losses is wrong. Instead of allowing him to work with the new coach to groom young talent, removing him from the captaincy would be disastrous and will start another round of musical chairs for the top job in the national team, as was typical of the years under Ijaz Butt’s PCB. It would be a saner move to announce Mohammad Hafeez as the team’s vice-captain, train him for the job and, in doing so, quell any speculations about the future of the captaincy. That is how successful teams plan for the long haul. A few bitter losses, however hard to swallow, should not elicit such emotional reactions so as to obscure larger victories and aims of making a stronger team.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 10th, 2012.

Reader Comments (41)

  • 3footninja
    Apr 9, 2012 - 9:23PM

    excellent post… thumbs up!

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  • Mirza
    Apr 9, 2012 - 9:41PM

    A very nice Op Ed that is based upon logic and facts. Lawson wrote about Misbah “a bright, well-educated man” and this is the key here. Misbah looks and behaves like an educated professional and not a political and emotionally charged leader. There are very few emotionally charged batsmen in the history of cricket. Our own examples have been Hanif, Miandad, M. Yousuf, Younus, and Zaheer to name a few. On the other hand Chris Gayle has been in and out throwing tantrum while Schin, Gavaskar, Lara, Ponting, Chanderpaul and likes have been putting up big totals. Calm, cool, calculated are some of the terms used to describe the greats in cricket especially as batsman and leader.

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  • Shariq
    Apr 9, 2012 - 9:44PM

    Well-written article.

    Sadly, not many people in Pakistan will like this article simply because it gives Misbah the credit he deserves. They only like entertainers, not match-winners. I wrote a similar blog a month ago, and I received almost the similar magnitude of hatred and mockery people throw at Misbah.

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  • Apr 9, 2012 - 9:53PM

    Spoke my heart out.

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  • HRK
    Apr 9, 2012 - 9:58PM

    I second that…excellent write up and you hit the nail right on the head. An educated man who has good planning and strategic skills, is still fitter than most youngsters at this age and has a track record of leading his domestic team SNGPL to so many wins, Misbah deserves utmost respect as Pakistani captain. Darren Sammy and Misbah are two individuals who were handed out captaincy responsibilities in harsh times when state of WI and Pak cricket, respectively, was pathetic. They’ve been able to turn things around by unifying the team, preventing them from controversies and focussing on the long term future of Pakistan cricket.

    The problem with our nation is that they focus too much on his defensiveness and his failure to finishing things while forgetting the hard work he put in to bring us where we fall “just short”. They never understand that Afridi, while being a great player with all that charisma, has never been a good planner. He can lead but he cannot manage our team nor can he speak sense in front of media. The actual test of a captain is not when you’re doing well, but when you’re in crisis. We should focus on our cricket instead of star value and do what’s good for Pakistan. Insha’Allah success will follow!

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  • Ch Allah Daad
    Apr 9, 2012 - 10:09PM

    So true. Misbah is doing great..

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  • faraz
    Apr 9, 2012 - 10:24PM

    tuk tuk master needs to learn that end result matters; atleast Afridi doesnt waste over after over before getting out for 10 runs

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  • moiz sheikh
    Apr 9, 2012 - 10:26PM

    true fact….. people should understand…
    a great mianwalian a great player a great leader

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  • BlackJack
    Apr 9, 2012 - 10:41PM

    Totally agree. Misbah has the maturity to shoulder responsibility to see the side through. Great temperament, excellent player.

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  • Zia
    Apr 9, 2012 - 11:12PM

    Actually he isn’t bad as a captain in Tests and ODIs but in T20s he doesn’t deserve a place in the team. Remember the last T20 which he lost against england when 25 were required of 20 deliveries and 7 wickets were left. He couldn’t score those 25 runs of 20 deliveries while he was quite set after facing a lot of deliveries. I think he should retire voluntarily from T20s and retained as captain in ODIs and Tests. Hafeez doesn’t deserve the vice captaincy as his form is lost recently so don’t overburden him with extra thinking to snatch captaincy. I think current policy of no vice captain is good alternative.

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  • Oopsie!
    Apr 10, 2012 - 12:06AM

    im sure Mr.Faraz is a teenager. Bro this isnt u-19 cricket! Let the Real Men like Misbah take care of it. Afridi’s no match for misbah in term of captaincy.no-way!

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  • Qaiser
    Apr 10, 2012 - 1:04AM

    Personaly i don’t think he is a good captain but even i have to admit that he has been lucky by all the standards. His choice of fielding positions have a lot to be desired. He is not bold enough in his desires to field the best player for that certain position. His interaction with bowlers is almost negligible, when a bowler is being smacked all over then he needs a helping hand, a calming word to get him back on line.

    In the recent one dayers against England, he failed even to spot they were scoring freely one’s and two’s with long on and long off too deep. It was very easy for England to keep geting runs in that areas. Made it easy for them to score.

    I don’t know who picks the team bt it seems like wrong team is picked for the conditions.

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  • blithe
    Apr 10, 2012 - 2:45AM

    @faraz:
    Afridi just doesn’t have the temprament.

    The Afridi trolls are similar to the PTI trolls – both lack logic and judgement,.

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  • rashid khan
    Apr 10, 2012 - 7:25AM

    I believe that if Misbah had captained the team in the world cup final against India there would have been a far better performance by Pakistan. Afridi was overwhelmed by the situation and he goofed up. The cool and calm Misbah would have held things in check.

    Unfortunately, such individuals are not appreciated by Pakistanis who seek consistently seek thrills and miracles and feed on conspiracy theories.

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  • Nabeel
    Apr 10, 2012 - 8:54AM

    @blithe
    In last 5 years
    Afridi averages 32 with bat and 22 with ball whenever Pakistan won ODIs
    Afridi averages 20 with bat and 55 with ball whenever Pakistan lost ODIs
    Afridi is a true champion!
    Sorry Misbah lovers…!

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  • faraz
    Apr 10, 2012 - 9:30AM

    @Oopsie!, blithe

    Let me elaborate. A batsman who comes in the lower middle order must have the capacity to finish the match like Dhoni, Hussey or Inzimam. He should have the ability to score quick runs and it’s a great art. Misbah, as you say, is a solid batsman so he should come as opener or at No. 3. In the last phase, a batsman like Misbah wastes too many deliveries, and run rate creeps up which puts immense pressure on the tail enders. At least Afridi doesn’t allow the run rate to drop. And there is no comparison between Afridi and Misbah; Afridi is all rounder who bowls 10 overs. I think Umar Akmal is more suited to the role of lower middle order batsman.

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  • Mr. T
    Apr 10, 2012 - 9:47AM

    Excellent article.. Couldnt have summed it up better than this, backed with logic and stats. And to all those misbah haters out there, the reason he didnt finish off when needed, is because no body in the team was good enough to keep up with Misbah. While the whole team stumbled, he kept the nerve and took us to a respectable defeat… I will always have my respect for the most sensible captain ever..

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  • Shyam
    Apr 10, 2012 - 9:55AM

    At least Misbah does not try to eat cricket balls on the ground

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  • Ammar
    Apr 10, 2012 - 10:18AM

    “In the 22 ODIs he has captained, he averages close to 50 with a strike rate of 70″

    70 Avg is useless in ODIs. Actually we hate his approach towards the game. Pakistan Cricket is not known for defensiveness, greats like wasim waqar have always been attacking.

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  • Harish Puri
    Apr 10, 2012 - 10:21AM

    A most astute analysis of the Pakistani fan’s mindset – well spoken!

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  • Rashid
    Apr 10, 2012 - 10:33AM

    Excellent piece sir… Very well-articulated!

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  • Pk
    Apr 10, 2012 - 10:43AM

    While i agree that Misbah is a great captain and should be persisted with, I think the writer ignore the role he had to play in the WC semi-final loss to India. Misbah’s sedate pace in the face of a climbing run rate compelled his partners to hit out and get out. If Misbah had shown some intent maybe Umar Akmal wouldn’t have felt the need to play some crazy shots in order to get the rate up.

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  • mansoor
    Apr 10, 2012 - 11:18AM

    Twenty20s he has captained, he averages 43.5 at a strike rate of almost 95…….. Strike Rate of 95 in T20s is enough to indicate that he at least doesn’t deserve a T20 Spot…..

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  • Riaz Khan
    Apr 10, 2012 - 11:48AM

    As usual we make decisions on emotions not on logic & reasoning! Typical trait of an average Pakistan & ALWAYS lost big time. We lost East Pakistan & all the wars with India but ready to fight on a minute notice. Now we have find a bigger enemy which is USA. God help Pakistan & Pakistanis! Probably we have a desire to go into Stone Ages!

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  • roomi
    Apr 10, 2012 - 12:15PM

    Atleast a sane and rationial perspective on Misbah! Most of the foreign cricket enthiusiastss are perplexed by our hatred for Misbah who in such trying times for our country and cricket has delivered great results and brought a sense of calm to this mercurial side. Given that he has been a bit defensive at times but he has delivered. People even criticize his 2007 last ball shot against India but they forget that it was only because of Misbah’s amazing innings against Australia Pakistan made it to the final. And even in the final he was the last batsman standing against India.

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  • Asad
    Apr 10, 2012 - 12:53PM

    Misbah is a only a good captain when it comes to play in sub-continent with teams like England, Zimbabwe, West indies or New Zealand (specially in Test matches) despite of recent success against Srilanka. The reason for his recent success is because Pakistan has a great bowling attack in light of Afridi and Saeed Ajmal. Further there is no doubt that he is not fit for T20 as a player or as a captain. As far as ODI and Test matches is concern, since there is no alternative for captancy, he should remain captain.

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  • rana adnan
    Apr 10, 2012 - 1:44PM

    Three of our players were caught spot fixing. We failed to provide security to Srilankan team and No other country will play cricket in Pakistan. And we still have the guts to criticize. Seriously we should not focus on winning at all at present. Time is to get house in order. Improve the domestic cricket so cricket can stay alive.

    Question we need to ask do PCB has any road plan to bring back the cricket to Pakistan ? not who is better captain Afridi or Misbah ?

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  • Youshea
    Apr 10, 2012 - 2:42PM

    look at the stats and you will find out in so many matches that Pakistan has won under misbah, Afridi got the MoM award. Afridi was the one to stable the ship of Pakistani cricket when it was under the fire of match fixing. Most of us do not hate misbah as a person but his approach as a captain is not what is required to become a champion side. Atleast when Afridi was captin a spark in the team can been seen, a side that looked to become a champion side

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  • ishtiaq
    Apr 10, 2012 - 3:28PM

    Intelligent article. Why can’t Pakistani suppoters treat India as just another opposition? India puts no great importance on Pakistan. As a supporter of Pakistan Cricket (I am a Kashmiri), I enjoy their triumps and am disappointed when they lose….for me it does not matter who the opposition is. MUH has served Pakiatan crciket extremly well and therefore appreciate him….he will be missed when he retires.

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  • Col (R) Nauman Lodhi
    Apr 10, 2012 - 3:54PM

    It is very rare in Pakistan that we hear a voice based on reasoning, logic and facts rather than emotions. I have to appreciate Irfan for his candid views based on all three. Cricket must be viewed as a sport and not a matter of life and death where a sacrifice is required for every loss. Misbah is doing a good job and must continue till we are able to train a new captain who not only understands the game but has other leadership traits which would earn him the respect of his peers. For the love of the game please let there be continuity, stop changing captains on whims.

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  • Apr 10, 2012 - 4:04PM

    Excellent piece. I has all the facts needed. It’s pretty sad the way we treated this well-educated person, Misbah. As far as his comparison with Afridi is concerned. Leave it there nothing between them. Both have a different style of thinking and play. Both good players but Afridi outsmarts Misbah, or anyone for that matter, when it comes to fan following.

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  • Vishal
    Apr 10, 2012 - 4:11PM

    We Love Misbah.
    He Helped us in winning 2 World Cup.:-)

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  • Ahsan
    Apr 10, 2012 - 4:29PM

    @Ch Allah Daad:

    He is doing great only becouse he doesnt belong to PML (N)

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  • Omair
    Apr 10, 2012 - 4:34PM

    I don’t know why people start Pakistan bashing. It’s just a debate whether Misbah is good for Pakistan cricket or not. Every one have a right to there own opinion.
    The same happens with Dhoni or any other captain when their team looses or wins.
    Just comment if you agree or disagree. Don’t start Pakistan bashing if you don’t agree with other people’s point of view.

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  • Omair
    Apr 10, 2012 - 4:50PM

    @blithe: this proves one thing. Mianwali produces great leaders :P

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  • AMQ
    Apr 10, 2012 - 4:57PM

    Good article however, I still hold that Misbah is not the best captain for T20s and ODIs. Hes not gutsy enough for it, especially in T20s. People dislike him because of his approach and not because he lost to India. He is perfect for test matches because u need patience and calm in that format but ODIs and T20s require a faster pace. He has no place in the T20s at all and he should retire. For ODIs I think the battle is between Younis and Misbah and I prefer Younis.

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  • Satya
    Apr 10, 2012 - 6:58PM

    @Harish Puri: The Indian fan’s mindset is no different – lose to Pakistan and you will see how we react…! btw, I must congratulate the author on an excellent and objective analysis…

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  • HMM
    Apr 10, 2012 - 9:29PM

    come on people…cool and calm does not mean not to attack the opponent…Steve Waugh was a cool and calm but attacking captain….Misbah is not an attacking captain…look at his field settings…when there a boundary he drops down the fielders which gives the batsman the breathing space to settle down…and also check on how many occasions there were catches in slips where there should have fielders…and how can even imagine bowling Saeed Ajmal with fielder in slips?

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  • ZZtop
    Apr 10, 2012 - 9:38PM

    I am ok with him coming as a last man

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  • Qasim
    Apr 22, 2012 - 4:45PM

    Misbah is a graet player and best captain as well.Pakistanies should not criticise him,because he save Pakistan cricket.He is a true legend.He is very suitable for all three formats of game and He should remain captain for all three formats.He is great player his batting average shows.He is a good fielder and lead from front.He is very solid batsman and stronggest cricket brain in Pakistan.I love Misbah very much,may ALLAH bless him and give unlimited success.Keep it up MISBAH love u…Thanks

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  • Kumail
    Apr 26, 2012 - 9:49PM

    A Very good and intelligent article , Good points made ..

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