Precise, sharp, consolidated. These are not the terms one often uses – all at once – to describe the Pakistani team.
Genteel, unflappable, unperturbed. These are the traits often associated with Pakistan’s Test captain Misbahul Haq.
So when did the captain and the team exchange these somewhat profound qualities? On the surface of it, a transformation appears to have taken place between the third One Day International and the first Test of the recently concluded Pakistan-Australia series in the UAE.
For those of us privileged enough to have watched the Test series, it was evident early on that we were witnessing history in the making. For avid cricket fans, sublime moments such as Younis Khan’s double century or Misbah’s fastest Test ton (on par with West Indian Viv Richards), often come after a lull in play or a long stretch of conventional overs. But the second Test match was full of disciplined, exciting performances from both batsmen and bowlers on the Pakistani side.
After being whitewashed in the ODI series, how did the team make such a grand comeback?
A number of varying factors were present, not least the introduction of new bowling finds Yasir Shah and Imran Khan who jointly took 17 wickets in the Test series.
Secondly, Australia’s Test side had Michael Clarke, Mitchell Johnson, David Warner, Mitchell Starc, Steve Smith and Mitchell Marsh, all of whom are Indian Premier League players. Was this the moot point?
Like all current and former players who have benefitted financially from the IPL, Wasim Akram and Kevin Pieterson insist that the ever-popular T20 format, does not encroach on Test skills because “The basic technique of the player has to be strong.” To refute this fact is the make-up of the current Pakistani Test squad, most of whom have not played an international match on home soil, let alone taken part in the cash-rich IPL.
However, the main difference between the ODI and Test sides was the attitude of captain Misbahul Haq. From looking forlorn and dejected after the loss of the second ODI, he seemed a changed man after Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Shaharyar Khan backed him up as leader until the World Cup 2015. With well-intentioned but misinformed fans giving him their own advice, “He needs to gain weight to balance his body at the crease,” perhaps the best thing he did was ignore the naysayers and dig deep within himself to bring out some inner resilience. With 14 Test victories behind him, Misbah is now on the cusp of becoming Pakistan’s most successful Test captain.
With the onset of the New Zealand series, interest in Test cricket in this region has revived, largely because the Pakistani team’s recent Test performances have whetted fans’ appetites and left them hungry for more.