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Captain Misbah: a Case Study in Management

Captain Misbah: a Case Study in Management

As I write these words on day 2 of the third and final test of Pakistan’s series in the West Indies, Misbah is batting on 1 off a characteristic 39 balls. It’s a test match with a tinge of sadness as two of Pakistan’s great players, Misbah and Younis, are retiring from international Cricket after the last ball has been bowled.

By the time this article goes up, both will have hung up their boots one last time, pressed and folded their kits neatly into cricketing history. Though both are giants of the game, I want to focus on Misbah for this particular write up.

Misbah’s decision to retire came as no surprise, considering he is now a few days short of 43, making him the oldest cricketer amongst the current test playing nations. Yet, it still feels odd, as if we expected Misbah to play on for a few more decades.

A lot has already been written about Misbah’s batting so I will not bother to go into an analysis of him as a player. I want to focus more on a side of Misbah that has not truly been appreciated by the masses that follow Cricket in our country: that of, as we say in business speak, his role as a turnaround CEO. Make no mistake about this, since Misbah took over the reins of the Pakistan Cricket team that is exactly the role he has performed.

A quick rewind to 2010 and we come to Pakistan darkest hour yet in international cricket. The embarrassment and shame felt by each Pakistani fan on the 2010 spot fixing scandal that broke in UK during Pakistan’s tour was a scar that will never go away. While many of us just went into denial, others were mortified and couldn’t understand how someone could disgrace the office of a Test Cricket Captain, possibly the most coveted job in Pakistan.

Yet the truth is that this event had been long in the coming. If anyone was surprised at the shameful act happening, it could only be because he/she had spent the decade before with ears and eyes tightly shut. Trouble had been brewing for a long time, with endemic lack of discipline in the team and regular murmurs of match fixing, which had become the elephant in the room.

Misbah is on 1 off 51 balls now.

So, when Misbah was handed the captaincy while he was essentially an outsider to the squad, having spent several years in the wilderness, most of the fans looked at each other in puzzlement. Yet, now with the benefit of hindsight, we can see the impact he has had on the team in his own quiet way.

The first task of any good turnaround CEO is to stabilize a panicked and disheartened team and focus on raising the morale. Misbah, who ended up earning the nick of Tuk-Tuk for his slow batting, put his head down and started the process of rebuilding the team. Pakistan’s batting has long been known for its brittle collapses. Misbah ended up taking on the unglamorous role of being an anchor. In a country where flashy batting and grandstanding wins fans, this was a thankless position to take up. Anyone who has seen him when he is playing without pressure knows his ability to hit the ball out of the park – and with deft ease! Yet once handed responsibility of Captaincy for a demoralized team, he would regularly come to bat after the top order had collapsed for a few measly runs within the first 10 overs and then put his head down and carry the team through the middle overs. Suddenly Pakistan batting discovered it had a spine after all, and victories started being shaped around Misbah’s role in the center.

His approach frustrated the average cricket fan in Pakistan. He is decidedly old school – playing with a straight bat and each ball on its merit. Add to that the knowledge that there are only a handful of technically correct batsmen in the team and almost none who could be relied on to carry the bat, it’s understandable why Misbah had to cut back on his shots and play the long innings. This ability, which is now lost not only on Pakistani cricketers but also on the fans, is called temperament. It was the quality that used to separate the men from the boys on the field – and still does. Misbah showed true leadership by absorbing all the pressure and creating a space where his batsmen could build innings around him, while taking on the ire of fans who poured hatred for his tactics on social media.

Another sign of a good turnaround CEO is humility while quietly turning the company around. Misbah brought a sense of quiet confidence to the team, in sharp contrast to the other Captains who have led Pakistan. I suppose this is why we never truly developed an appreciation for the man and the player. Yet, in his quiet approach he not only led Pakistan but also delivered. He averages almost 47 in Tests and 44 in ODIs. His win loss ratio as Captain stands at 1.31 with 27 wins out of 56 tests as captain. Just to give perspective, in the six years prior to Misbah taking over as Captain, Pakistan played 48 tests and won only 14. Yes that was 14 wins by six captains in six years before Misbah took over.

As a result, despite the challenge of international isolation at home, Pakistan under Misbah reached the number 1 Test side spot in October last year. There are not many leaders who can hold a side together and get the best out of them, while the team is suffering travel fatigue, homesickness, lack of support and a drying talent pipeline. In many ways Misbah represents the spirit of Pakistan – resilience in the face of tough odds and patience when things are not going your way. All this while he carried his office as Captain with grace and dignity – and may I add, without much thanks.

People hold strong views on whether Misbah was a great Captain or not. While statistics place Misbah as one of Pakistan's greatest captains by record, people blame him for Pakistan no longer being the top team in ODI rankings. I think this is injustice to the man. Pakistan Cricket has suffered tremendously in the last 10 years because of multiple issues, including poor infrastructure, indiscipline, poor fitness standards and a drying pipeline of talent. To blame one man for the outcome of a confluence of issues is misguided. Misbah has done what any great turnaround CEO will do: he has set the course and created a team capable of becoming world-beaters with the limited resources he had. His part is over - now it's up to the new leadership to carry on the rebuilding.

“Misbah has done what any great turnaround CEO will do: he has set the course and created a team capable of becoming world-beaters with the limited resources he had”

So, as we bid farewell to a great servant of the game and Pakistan with the end of this test match, I will be rooting for him to exit Pakistan Cricket on a winning note. More than the player, I think what I will miss more is a Gentleman who led Pakistan out of a dark hole and gave us reason to take pride in our team. As they say, form is temporary but class is permanent. Like a true turnaround CEO, Misbah leaves a stronger team than he took over, and crucially with successors like Azhar, Asad and Babar who can carry on the task where Misbah and Younis will leave it. And, pointedly, without any scandals.

Thank you sir, for the class you brought with you. You will be missed.