It is a well-known fact that Pakistan cricket has been devoid of superstars for a good many years. Players of the stature of Imran Khan, Wasim Akram or even Javed Miandad, who could turn matches and heads, are now a distant memory in many minds. Whilst ardent fans of the mercurial Shahid Afridi could also argue that he was the last remaining mega-star until his recent retirement, it is clear that in today’s world, fans are simply not impressed by the razzmatazz or aura surrounding a player before they bestow such statuses on their favoured cricketers.

If proof is needed of shifting sands in the adulation stakes, then one should not look any further than the accolades being showered on the Pakistan Test captain Misbah-ul-Haq, who on Thursday announced his plans to retire from international cricket. It is indeed strange that the departure of the man who in 2010 was ridiculed for his role in Pakistan’s loss to their arch-rival in the World T20 and then lambasted again in 2011 for his role in the loss to India in the World Cup, is today being marked as one of the saddest occasions for Pakistan cricket.

The Accidental Captain

It is a sad irony that Misbah-ul-Haq was on the verge of ‘burning’ his kit on not being selected for the England tour of 2010. Such was his dejection that an early retirement would not have surprised many and frankly at that point, Misbah could have easily joined the long list of has-beens who had flattered to deceive in their desire to play for Pakistan. But as fate would have it, the events of the summer of 2010, where the then Pakistan captain Salman Butt and two others were found to be involved in spot-fixing, completely turned around Misbah’s failing career.

Alarmed by the prospect of a total shutout by the international cricketing fraternity and to project a more responsible image of Pakistan cricket, the PCB did not have to look too far to appoint Misbah as captain. The idea probably was to allow the establishment of a brief period of calm and then look for other candidates if results did not go as planned. The choice of Misbah as captain was based less on his personal achievements but was more the product of the absence of other viable options in Pakistan cricket.

What the PCB administrators, unwittingly, had not realised was that in appointing the then thirty-six-year-old Misbah, they had set in motion the most stable period of Pakistan’s cricket history which would become the envy of many.

The fourth Pakistan Test captain to be appointed in 2010 after the likes of Mohammad Yousuf, Shahid Afridi and Salman Butt, the Mianwali born Misbah brought a strange calmness to the customary chaotic world of Pakistan cricket. Gone were the histrionics of previous captains and the unwelcome media attention. In was the poker-faced resilience which was to become the trademark of the Misbah captaincy years.


The calls to retire

His captaincy in the shorter formats of the game, however, did not inspire much confidence and given his penchant for a measured approach, earned him an unwelcome nick name in ‘Tuk Tuk’. After giving up captaincy in ODIs in 2015, Misbah then got busy in the style of cricket which was to take him and his team to the pinnacle of achievement. The journey to the World Number One ranking in Tests was based upon robust performances against some of the best teams in the world.

The euphoria which accompanied Pakistan’s rise to the top of the ICC’s Test rankings seemed to bring endless joy to the country but the fall from grace was equally dramatic. The tours of New Zealand and Australia in 2016/2017 was to prove a major source of embarrassment for the Pakistan Test team and Misbah-ul-Haq personally. With consecutive series losses now threatening to wipe out years of progress and Pakistan dropping to fifth in the Test rankings, Misbah, at the age of forty-two, was feeling the heat and the scorn of the media. The calls for his retirement which he himself had delayed on behest of the PCB, seemed now to be emanating from within the organisation. The pressure to hang his boots was immense and the longer Misbah took to make his decision, the greater the speculation about his future grew amongst fans and experts alike.

Not one to panic under pressure on or off the field, Misbah then took his time and probably came to the conclusion that the wiser decision was to move on. Instead of walking away from the team he had hand-crafted into one the best units to come out of Pakistan, Misbah decided to lead his team one last time on the tour of the West Indies to ensure that the transition to the next captain would be a smooth one. Whether the PCB had an influence on this decision is difficult to say but given the stable head on Misbah’s shoulders, it is probably a conclusion that is well thought out and in the best interests of the team he has groomed for many years.

Pakistan’s most successful Test skipper

To put his success in perspective, consider the fact that Misbah-ul-Haq has up to now captained in fifty-three Tests, the highest for any Pakistan Test captain, and has won the most Tests of all Pakistan skippers. He now has the goal of leading his team to a first ever Test series victory in the West Indies, which is quite achievable given the team’s recent performances against the same opposition. This is an aim that Misbah’s team will probably make their number one goal as they look to give a fantastic farewell to their much-loved captain.

In the future, how a Pakistan Test team will function without its main pillar of stability is a question on many minds. The answer to that is probably with a lot of difficulty, but Pakistan are lucky in that Misbah’s trusted partner Younis Khan and the younger apprentices in the form of Azhar Ali, Asad Shafiq and his very able vice-captain Sarfraz Ahmed, are likely to continue on the path set by their skipper.

Whilst the thought of their well-respected skipper riding into the sunset is one which will fill many cricket lovers with sadness, the news that Misbah will still be involved in the development of Pakistan cricket is likely to bring a few smiles back as well. Regardless of how he spends his days after retirement, Misbah-ul-Haq’s services to Pakistan cricket in leading the team from days of darkness to the top of the world will be remembered with great fondness.