Misbah-ul-Haq saved Pakistan cricket
Whitewashing Zimbabwe is not a great indicator of any cricket team's progress. And while Bangladesh’s latest annihilation on their tour to Zimbabwe aptly marketed the home team’s marquee return to international cricket, it also spoke volumes of Bangladesh cricket’s perennial decline. They played such habitually mediocre cricket, that gauging any sign of improvement in Zimbabwe’s first post-hiatus display was almost impossible.
There is no doubting the abundance in talent, with the likes of Sibanda, Taylor, Taibu and Vitori in the ranks, Zimbabwe has the makings of a quality cricket side. However, can Pakistan afford to over hype their recent successes against them?
Historically, Pakistan cricket team's sojourns in Africa have been split into two parts; a short preparatory series against Zimbabwe preceded the tussle with the mighty South Africans. More often than not, Pakistan would trounce Zimbabwe convincingly, only to be knocked out cold by the rampaging South Africans. In the process, also laying to waste the hard fought minnow-bashings of a ‘preparatory’ tour. This also proves my earlier hypothesis - "whitewashing Zimbabwe is not a great indicator of any cricket team’s progress".
Based on the approval of the said hypothesis, should we completely dismiss Pakistan cricket team’s recent successes in Zimbabwe? It would be a bit foolish if we did. The extraordinary circumstances of the last two years beg us not to. This was a period of epic upheaval in Pakistan cricket. Even by our volatile national standards, the commotion was unprecedented.
The timeline of this farcical era makes for a tragic reading. Allegations of spot fixing on the England tour led to a hugely dented national ego and trashed dignities. Then, after an excruciating fact finding mission, we saw the cricketing demises of the super-talented duo of Aamer and Asif . Also there was the continued, indefinite banishment of international cricket at home, the ever persistent coach-captain-manager tussles, and to literally provide the icing on an unsavoury cake, the coinciding era of the most imbecile cricket chairman in PCB’s history.
In this melee, entered Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan's go to man at the age of 37. Why the nation's most naturally gifted cricket captain since Imran Khan has stayed on the sidelines for so long is an intriguing question. Great credit should be given to him though, for he has gradually becalmed a swirl-pool of ill-discipline and inconsistency marring Pakistan cricket for so long. Under his captaincy, results have been steady rather than spectacular. A drawn test series against South Africa, Misbah's first as captain, was followed by a series victory abroad against New Zealand. The West Indians were also held to a 1-1 draw.
In between Misbah’s tenure as the test captain, there was a world cup semi-final berth to savor too. Pakistan, then led by the ODI captain Shahid Afridi, played some credible cricket. Yet under Afridi’s captaincy, the Pakistani team could internally combust any second. A brainwave was always just around the corner. A captain’s temperament reflects largely on his team’s performances. Mercurial leaders often breed unpredictability. Precisely for this reason, the calm and composed Misbah is an ideal man for leading Pakistan.
Far more important than the results is the unbridled joy of watching a Pakistani team playing consistently solid, controversy-free cricket. These are attributes which a cricket fan like me has longed to witness. Finally, we have a captain who can collar his players, and on the back of stellar personal performances, command enough respect to instill a fighting spirit into the team.
Given the acute adversities, these small achievements in actuality represent colossal triumphs. Is Pakistan cricket on the rise again? This will largely be determined when the post Misbah era unfolds. Pakistan's ageing captain, despite his superhuman fitness levels, has a few years of cricket left at best. Will we have a worthy successor to replace him when he’s gone? This is perhaps the most crucial question. Consistently composed leadership will be vital in garnering long term success for Pakistan cricket.
The Upcoming series’ against Sri Lanka and England will also provide many answers. Any assurance regarding Pakistan's revival as a cricketing force, hinges greatly on playing competitive cricket against these world class teams. Miraculously though, Pakistan cricket's most traumatic phase has passed away in relative peace, and for this reason alone, recent successes, however small must not be ignored.
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