From being the unlikely candidate entrusted with the captaincy baton almost a decade ago, Misbah-ul-Haq is back fronting the charge of Pakistan cricket after being appointed the new head coach and chief selector. Misbah, alongside bowling coach Waqar Younis, has been handed the task to steer Pakistan cricket amidst testing times posing various challenges.
Although he is seen as one of the few unblemished personalities in the country’s cricket echelons, it remains to be seen how he battles the constant doubts and questions raised over his coaching credentials.
Misbah gains possession of a flailing Pakistan Test setup beset by different problems under Sarfaraz Ahmed’s leadership. Still reeling from the retirements of Misbah himself and the legendary Younis Khan, the gaping hole in Pakistan’s middle-order continues to persist unchecked with little assurance.
The recent retirement of Mohammad Amir from Test cricket adds to the woes of the number seven ranked Pakistan. On the one hand, Amir’s decision to quit the longest format sets a bad example for the future crop of cricketers signaling the waning priority given to Tests while it also deprives the team of an experienced paceman shouldering the bowling attack.
The familiar sight of panicky batting collapses has seen Pakistan mess up chases they should have arguably won over the last two years – the 21-run defeat against Sri Lanka at Abu Dhabi and the 4-run heartbreak against New Zealand in 2018. Misbah’s calming influence and his status as Pakistan’s most successful Test captain may thus be the need of the hour to overcome this unpleasant habit.
Power-hitting has acquired an integral role in limited-overs cricket but Pakistan still suffer from the lack of batsmen who can up the scoring rate when required. The repeated failures of Asif Ali in the lower middle-order and Fakhar Zaman’s worrying form have put this issue in the spotlight once again.
Four editions of the Pakistan Super League have also not been able to resolve this issue. With Misbah being distastefully typecast as a defensive tactician, the concern over Pakistan’s inability to match the modern-day requirements of aggressive cricket will only escalate.
Misbah will simultaneously be heading the selection committee along with his head coach position. While this originally is aimed at eliminating any room for conflicting ideas that could hamper progress, the dual role also becomes a double burden for the 45-year-old.
He will solely be held accountable for the team’s performances and with the impassioned Pakistan fan base pressing on the management to deliver soon, there is added pressure on Misbah to do both jobs right. International tours with the team will keep him away from on the ground developments in the domestic circuit proving to be a hurdle in his job as chief selector.
Moreover, this ‘experiment’ affords Misbah extra power to be in charge of every decision made and rid of whomever he pleases despite the checks and balances in place.
The Pakistan Cricket Board recently introduced a spate of reforms to the domestic cricket structure, most prominently reducing the number of sides from 16 to 6 and eradicating the concept of departmental teams. For a person coming through the system of departmental cricket, Misbah will be faced with the challenge of navigating the reformed structure.
Additionally, the shortened pool of cricketers may limit the reach of the game and form an obstacle in the drive towards discovering new talent. The reduction in the number of PCB centrally contracted players threatens the financial security of several cricketers. One of Misbah’s priorities as chief selector hence involves trying to keep the out of favour cricketers motivated while they are out of the team.
Unofficial reports claim Misbah will be appointed as the PSL franchise Islamabad United coach, potentially creating an issue of conflict of interest which the board is willing to ignore.
“An executive decision has been made to let Misbah coach during the PSL as our team will be playing only 42 days of international cricket in the next one year. Misbah needs all the coaching experience he can get and the PSL is a good place to start,” PCB CEO Wasim Khan told reporters.
This precedent paves the pathway for similar appointments in the future and also creates doubts over Misbah’s impartiality in matters relating to the national side given his PSL affiliation.