The Zen Master of Cricket lays down his bat
He is not the leading run scorer for Pakistan in Test cricket. Not by a mile.
In fact he only shuffles in almost silently into seventh position on that august list behind the likes of Younis Khan, Javed Miandad, Zaheer Abbas and Inzamam, with 4951 runs at an average just below 46.
But that’s how he has played his cricket throughout his life. Understated. Unassuming. Unobtrusive. But effective. Very effective.
He is Misbah-ul-Haq. The Zen Master of cricket.
Pakistani cricket had always been defined by flamboyance, by charisma, by elegance, by intimidating pace, and by ridiculous doses of unpredictability. But never by calmness.
Until Misbah arrived on the scene.
Pakistani fans embraced Misbah much as Japanese Samurai warriors embraced Zen Buddhism. He brought a serenity and calmness to a team that had traditionally been one of the most unpredictable units in sport – sheer genius one day, self destructing rubbish the next.
Jarrod Kimber, writing in ESPN Cricinfo, perhaps expressed it best when he described Misbah captaining the side in England last summer: “Misbah starts playing with his beard. The genius of Misbah is the ability to do nothing. At times he barely moves, even when a tidal wave of ill-informed patriotic opinions floods down on him. In the field, on those panicky Pakistani days, when every single thing seems to worry them, Misbah just rubs his beard. Misbah is cricket’s Zen master warrior, his doing nothing does more than the actions of most.”
Misbah made his debut in 2001, scoring a dour 28 in two hours against some hostile Kiwi bowling in Auckland. But since this was Misbah, and rushing anything is anathema to his nature, he really came into his own 10-years later in 2011, when he was to have the best year of his Test career.
Between 2003 and 2007 he didn’t play a single Test, and only received a central contract from the Pakistan Board after Inzamam retired in 2007. Remarkably, for a player whose Test batting average and Strike Rate are virtually identical, he was picked to play for Pakistan at the inaugural World T20 and against all odds, and almost won the Tournament for Pakistan, emerging as Pakistan’s top player of the tournament.
When the spot-fixing scandal left Pakistan cricket shattered in 2010, it was to 36-year old Misbah that Pakistan turned to lift the side up, and put the pieces back together.
Misbah did that and much more.
Not only did he have a remarkable 2011 when he could do nothing wrong with his bat, but he eventually ended up leading Pakistan to a remarkable 3-0 victory over No.1 ranked England in early 2012.
He hasn’t looked back since, eking out a creditable series draw in England over the summer this year and almost leading Pakistan to what would have been a fairly tale Test win against Australia.
He finished 2016 as one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year and briefly led Pakistan to the No. 1 spot in the ICC Test Rankings last year.
Misbah has been the pillar on which the edifice of Pakistani cricket stands, the rock in the Zen garden that defines permanence, the Buddha that emanates serenity.
He is also Pakistan’s most successful Test captain, winning 24 of the 53 matches he has captained in this far. This is remarkable, as it puts him above the likes of Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, James Miandad and Hanif Mohammad, who would be the names that come to mind when you talk about the most successful men to ever lead Pakistan.
His batting average as captain is just below 51 and eight of his ten centuries has come as captain of Pakistan.
In an article in Cricket Country last year, Abhishek Mukherjee summed it up well when he said, “Imran ruled over Pakistan. Miandad used to take up the bayonet for Pakistan. Misbah became Pakistan.”
Misbah announced this week that he will retire after the 3-Test series against West Indies starting on 21st April, after a series of losses in the last few months and a dip in his own form.
At the age of 43, Misbah still looks like he could carry on for a while, notwithstanding the reverses of the past few months, but he knows better than most, that even a flower that blooms late, cannot escape the finality of winter.
When he finally lays down his bat next month, the game will have lost one of its characters whose calmness and unobtrusive style understated the quality of his leadership. It will also have lost one of the last true gentlemen who played the game as it should be played at its highest level, no matter what the distractions and temptations.
Cricket will miss its Zen Master.