The veteran seems determined to enjoy whatever little cricket remains in him
With 3,235 runs under his belt, Misbahul Haq is Pakistan’s most prolific Test captain ever. With 18 wins, he is also their most successful and will in all likelihood further reinforce that record with a plus one to the wins column on the final day in Dubai.
He should be spoken of in hushed whispers with a mixture of reverence, respect and awe by the plethora of country’s cricketing fans. But he is not. Instead many can’t wait for him to retire and give way to the number of exciting young men queuing up to take his place. In Dubai, the 41-year-old gave as emphatic a ‘careful what you wish for’ as he could have.
Misbah recently talked of life after cricket and of hanging up his gloves when the passion for the game is no longer there; the biggest hint yet that we may soon see the last of the man that can only be described as a colossus of Pakistan cricket.
But the man from Mianwali, by far cricket’s most divisive character right now, is a man of outstanding longevity if not of anything else. You don’t consistently remain one of the best around in cricket’s most demanding format at the age of 41 otherwise.
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Now the biggest challenge is not picking up the pieces after the spot-fixing scandal, nor is it building a Pakistan team without any half-decent fast-bowlers or silencing the doubters back home. Now the challenge is from within. Misbah is feeling his motivation wane, and while his body refuses to feel old, his heart is. The man who has looked almost infallible over the past half-a-decade may well end up having his career finished by a midlife crisis.
The skipper is a man on a mission to enjoy himself, and after five hard years, he deserves it more than anyone else in the sport.
He was given out caught behind by the third umpire on a review despite there being daylight between the ball and the bat in the first innings in Dubai. He returned to the pavilion mumbling and grumbling — he is, after all, a 41-year-old man.
In the second innings when a draw was just around the corner, Misbah decided to waltz down the track and hit Mooen Ali into the nowhere that surrounds the Sheikh Zayed Stadium. The Misbah of old would have just played a forward defensive, but then the Misbah of old never felt old. Instead the ball hit timber, cue a run of the mill Pakistan collapse.
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and dogs don’t generally come older than Misbah, but the Pakistan skipper is determined to teach himself the art of letting his hair down.
It is not that Misbah never changed gears before — his tally of 63 sixes makes him top of the pile as far as Pakistani batsmen go — but his calculated risks are becoming increasingly uncalculated, for lack of a better word.
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He hit two in the last over of day one at Abu Dhabi to bring up his century when it would have been safer to play out the day and start again the next. But perhaps it was the right decision, as he was dismissed in the first over the next day attempting a lazy-looking flick off Stuart Broad.
It was more of the same in the second innings; the skipper opting to lazily waft Joe Root over midwicket in the final over of day three despite being in the 80s. But perhaps this new Misbah, irresponsible and fun-loving, was visible more than anything in the way he was dismissed early on day four.
Misbah chased a wide one from James Anderson, a ball he would have left almost every single time, and slapped it straight to mid-on to once again walk back without troubling the Dubai scorers on a new day.
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The dismissal came after successive maidens and the skipper looked almost too impatient and eager to score; two things he is almost never accused of, if they can be called accusations.
Misbah has conquered everything that has been thrown at him during the last five years — and there has been a lot that has been thrown, by friends and foes alike — but the master Zen must now conquer the biggest problem of them all.
Regardless of the outcome, Misbah’s battle with himself may lead to even more exciting times for the team in exile.