On the eve the Pakistan team’s departure for the West Indies, its long-serving captain Misbah-ul-Haq announced his intention to retire after the end of the tour. It marked the end of one of the most remarkable and distinctive eras in Pakistani cricket.
Misbah has evoked a plethora of emotions within fans: the spectrum ranges from outright rage to reluctant capitulation to adulation. Many of us would be lying, though we might profess our undying loyalty now, if didn’t admit to feeling the spectrum in its entirety over the years. Our relationship with Misbah has changed drastically over the years as we have came to appreciate his persistence, cricketing genius and understated love for the game. To deal with this loss in our collective cricketing experience, we at CricinGif would like to take you through this journey with a countdown of Misbah’s ten most memorable moments through the years.
Despite making his debut in 2002, Misbah entered the national imagination with that fateful Twenty20 World Cup final in 2007 against India. We’ve all agonized over and dissected this moment in our head multiple times. It features heavily in a long-running debate of Pakistan cricket: is Misbah the hero who brought us at the brink of victory or the tuk-tuk who didn’t have what it took (tuk?) when it mattered the most?
Chasing a competitive 157 in the inaugural T20 world cup against India--of all teams--Misbah-ul-Haq found himself in the same position he would be in for a good part of his career--the lone warrior among a stream of collapsing wickets. As the batting order around him disintegrated, Misbah did whatever needed to be done to stay afloat. While his 43 from 38 balls was not particularly slow, it garnered him a reputation that would dog him for most of his career. With the prize so close, champions of the world in the new order of T20, and the desperation of the last wicket stand, Misbah played that scoop shot with 5 runs to go in the last over off Joginder Sharma.
Trigger warning: painful shot and India celebrations ahead.
Misbah talks about that moment as one that could have potentially ended his career. The rest of his career, when seem in the context of this failure and the scale of the loss, becomes even more remarkable and a testament to his unflappable temperament.
Recent memories of Pakistan-India clashes are defined by heartbreaking losses, with 2007-Misbah is their poster boy. However, Misbah has been instrumental in wins against India outside of world cup. In the second Pakistan-India clash of the Asia Cup in 2008, Misbah played a crucial knock of 70 runs to help Pakistan to victory. However, it was in the less visible moments that Misbah emerged as an important team player, an unselfish contributor and excellent fielder. Misbah’s contribution to the team, especially as captain, is often times in the intangibles--the example that he set through unrivalled fitness (regardless of his age), professionalism and consistency.
Misbah catching Gautam Gambhir off Iftikhar Anjum’s bowling in Asia Cup, 5th Match, Group B: Pakistan v India at Karachi, Jun 26, 2008
This was one of the last home matches played by the team before the suspension of international cricket in Pakistan and among the few instances we got to see Misbah play for a home crowd.
Misbah captained the Pakistani outfit to a tournament win in the 2012 Asia Cup, emerging victorious from a nerve-wracking final with a steadily improving Bangladesh squad.
Misbah’s contribution as an ODI captain is often overlooked in comparison to his stellar Test record. However here, under tremendous pressure and a passionate home crowd, Misbah galvanized his bowlers to defend a modest target of 237.
By accepting captaincy after the 2010 spot-fixing scandal, Misbah had an impossible task on his hands. The team’s morale was at an all-time low with a humiliated side and a fanbase that was reeling from the sting of betrayal.
In this context, the 2012 whitewash of England was nothing short of a revelation. Misbah not only delivered a historic and symbolic 3-0 a as captain, he also restored pride and confidence when the team needed it the most. In the second test and series clincher, England collapsed for a mere 72 runs--a performance so clinical that it became etched into the psyche of the team and fans for a long time (also rendering the following footage superfluous for most readers).
It’s hard to underplay how much of a turning-point that series was. It marked the rise of Pakistan as one of the best sides in Test cricket. Exiled, isolated and humiliated, Pakistan did not simply win, it dominated the English cricket team, with a depleted yet unplayable bowling lineup and the steadying hand of their captain, Misbah-ul-Haq. This was only the beginning for one of the best Test captains Pakistan would ever have.
England v Pakistan at Abu Dhabi, 2nd Test, Jan 25-28, 2012
South Africa in 2013 were at the top of their game and considered untouchable at home. In fact, Pakistan had experienced this earlier in the year with an emphatic Test (3-0) and ODI (2-3) loss to South Africa. This made it all the more remarkable when Misbah led Pakistan to a 2-1 ODI series victory, the first time an Asian team beat South Africa in a home series. Series wins away from home are particularly important in world cricket and perhaps it was Pakistan’s itinerant playing circumstances under Misbah that made it so resilient and adaptable.
2nd ODI: South Africa v Pakistan at Port Elizabeth, Nov 27, 2013
As Misbah’s tenure continued, a subtle shift had occurred. Pakistan had quietly mounted an enviable winning streak in Tests, and erstwhile impossible feats now seemed doable. The seismic change was felt when Pakistan stepped out to bat on the fifth day in the third test against Sri Lanka. To fans burnt too many times, it seemed impossible: we were down 1-0 in the series and had a formidable target of 302 runs in only 59 overs on the last day. Those kinds of miracles didn’t happen for Pakistani fans.
Nevertheless, through sheer force of will, Pakistan chased down the total like they were merely confirming a foregone conclusion. Misbah was instrumental in steering Pakistan to this memorable win. The victory also coincided with a narrative shift around Misbah the man--he became likable: a winner, a leader and, perhaps more importantly, a meme (or GIF).
Any metric you might have employed to understand Misbah early in his career was irrelevant now. He was freed from the shackles of rebuilding the Pakistan side from the pieces of 2010 and was in bloom. The 2014 2-0 series win against Australia was so decisive, so emphatic that it seemed disorienting, verging on bizarre. This was the first series win over Australia in 20 years. It was against a confident, winning Australian team. Misbah showed fans once again that they too deserve a team that commands respect from its opponents and dominates the world’s best.
This extraordinary win was topped off by Misbah-ul-Haq’s fastest 100 in Test cricket (from 56 balls), equalling Sir Vivian Richards’ record (on top of that, he had already scored a 100 in the first innings). The score lines themselves told an extraordinary story: Pakistan won by 221 and 356 runs respectively in the two Test series. The traumatic losses of the past were, at least in that moment, a distant memory. We were soaring under one of the greatest captains in Pakistan’s cricketing history.
Pakistan’s 2015 World Cup campaign, like all others, started out with unrealistic expectations. Couple that with the added spectre of the 1992 world cup (both world cups were held in Australia), the country even excused the lukewarm start to the tournament expecting to see history repeat itself. Before being eliminated from the tournament, Pakistan managed to qualify to the quarterfinals despite a disastrous start; losing its first two matches (against India and the West Indies) evoked a different spectre, 2003 and 2007. It took some inspired captaincy to pull the team out of the doldrums to win the rest of its group matches against Zimbabwe, South Africa, Ireland and the UAE. When Pakistan eventually lost to Australia in the quarterfinals, most fans were impressed by the valiant fight put up by some players and their captain. Misbah retired immediately afterwards from ODIs, while still remaining at the helm in tests.
Warning: catching skills, not familiar to Pakistani fans, ahead.
Pool B: Pakistan v Zimbabwe at Brisbane, Mar 1, 2015
By the time 2015 came along, Pakistan was looking for newer challenges. As a test side, they had become confident in their makeshift home of the UAE. The fourth innings chase of 377 against Sri Lanka came along at the perfect time as a testament of the Test team at its peak under Misbah, and winning on foreign soil. Misbah’s quiet confidence had become a team trait and impossible targets seemed achievable through Misbah’s signature toil and persistence. Pakistan clinched a 2-1 series victory in a chase brimming with self-belief and tenacity. Once again, Misbah was at the centre of the crucial partnership, with another contemporary great Younis Khan, that saw his team through to the end.
In 2016 and at the age of 41, with retirement nearing, Misbah’s captaincy came full circle: being handed the reigns after the indignity of the 2010 spot-fixing scandal in England, returning to England with one of the fallen heros, Mohammad Amir. Winning against England has been a signature move of Misbah’s captaincy, both in 2012 and 2015. However those series had taken place in the UAE and maintaining that track record in tough English conditions was going to be a challenge for Misbah and his men.
Pakistan held its own and drew the series 2-2, showing incredible grit and self-assurance. The achievement was topped off with Pakistan rising to Number 1 of the ICC's Test rankings for the first time since the ranking was introduced in 2003. Misbah had done it.
Misbah’s 100 at Lord’s and his iconic push-up was a well deserved celebration. He knew Pakistan’s time had finally come, after years of labouring in the deserts of the UAE to amass upsets and winning streaks in Test cricket. Even at his most aggressive, Misbah was not arrogant or entitled. He knew that finally, at the home of cricket, he and his men could claim the respect that they deserved.
GIFs courtesy A Z Khawaja