Misbah-ul-Haq is the easiest player in world cricket to admire. Elevated to the Pakistan captaincy amid the upheaval and toil that erupted after the spot-fixing debacle of 2010, Misbah has led his side with an honesty and humility that is frankly staggering – and almost touching – in a sport where mass advertising is truly beginning to dominate; where money and commercialisation is an undoubted priority for most of those involved in its management.
Pakistan have been largely unable to exploit an ever-growing pot of gold, a seemingly never-ending bowl of sweets. Social and political reasons have made international matches in Pakistan an impossibility since the horrific terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team; an IPL-esque T20 competition in Pakistan has never really taken off due to these same safety concerns. Yet despite all of these serious and weighty issues, issues that are deeply political, Misbah-ul-Haq has remained focused on guiding his national side to victory, and better days.
Misbah is a man of perspective: he understands his role in the batting line up is to act as an iron rod in the middle order; to painstakingly labour at the foundations and allow those younger, and perhaps more naturally talented, to decorate the cathedral, insert the stain-glassed windows, produce the gold. Tall and with the most fantastically crafted nose in cricket, he reminds one of a heron: the definitive landmark of the park pond, standing tall over the shuddering reeds and rippling water, seemingly unbreakable, invincible.
There is no need to think back to some of the immoral corrupters of Pakistani cricket, but Misbah has all of the presence that men such as Salim Malik and Salman Butt never possessed. In the dressing room, he assumedly can’t be an Imran or an Inzamam; he can’t sway those as Wasim Akram could simply by his genius: Misbah is an organised, pragmatic cricketer who seeks to get the utmost from himself in service of his country. These are the features of his Pakistan team.
Just as Nasser Hussain was undoubtedly the man to insert backbone into England at the turn of the century, Misbah-ul-Haq is the man to restore pride to Pakistan cricket. Under him, Mohammed Hafeez has grown into a mature, intelligent cricketer: who would have thought that was possible of Hafeez? Under him, Pakistan have lost only two Test series’ in three years, one of those away to South Africa. Under him, Pakistan white washed an England team ranked as the best in Test cricket, it is difficult to imagine seeing a result such as that mirrored again in this lifetime.
Misbah has overseen a progression of changes in personnel, both coaching and playing and has stood over all, the unimpeachable guardian of his nation’s game. At 39 years of age, how long he will continue to serve his country in the cricketing arena is unsure; reportedly he was very close to signing a two-year deal at Worcestershire, which would have signalled the end of a career that took until the age of 36 to truly begin. What is sure is that in Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan found a man who brought the nation’s cricket back from the gates of sporting hell, and who fought for his country like few others.
Misbah became the father his team needed, and all lovers of sport should respect such a strong and decent man.