Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Best Is Yet To Come From Captain Misbah's Team Pakistan....

Pakistan will be taking on Sri Lanka in a 3 match series starting from the 18th of October in the UAE followed by a 3 match series against the currently number 1 ranked England side also in the UAE which gets under way in January. Pakistan go into this series having been undefeated for the last 4 consecutive test series they have contested which have all come ever since Misbah-ul-Haq took over the role as a result of Salman Butt’s suspension and Afridi deciding he was unable the handle the challenges tests demanded and therefore chickening out in an amateurish manner. Misbah has only lost 1 in 16 matches as Pakistan captain overall across all formats of the game which is the highest win loss ratio ever by an international captain in that regard. 25% of those matches included encounters against India, Australia and South Africa. He has achieved this even with major absences, isolation from being allowed to play on home soil and taking a more inexperienced squad to tour away from home. The results have been clinical, desirable and prolific. Moreover, he has the most wins and least losses by a Pakistan skipper in the 5 day game ever since Bob Woolmer passed away which is a time which has seen the likes of Malik, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Shahid Afridi and Salman Butt taken over the reins. Misbah has been the most stable and successful of the lot and the team is undoubtedly moving in the right direction under his leadership and guidance which the results significantly back up with only 1 loss in 7 tests and that too by a narrow margin. He has led Pakistan to back to back comprehensive test wins for the first time since 2005. Under his captaincy Pakistan have won 2 convincing test series wins outside Asian territory this year alone. Previously Pakistan had not won a single between 2004 and 2010. He also led Pakistan to a test series win for the first time in over 50 months in January this year at the Basin Reserve in a match where he was also awarded MOM for his spirited resilience as the Kiwis struggled to dislodge him. He survived for over 200 balls on a day 5 wicket and remained not out at the end of it for an unbeaten half century as as well as notching up a crucial 99 during the 1st innings when the pressure was on him. As we all know test cricket is the pinnacle of the game. It is a true examination technically, mentally and physically. It separates the men from the boys. Misbah has an excellent track record in this format and has demonstrated his class as a complete and serious contender. Unfortunately he never got a consistent run in the side until late on in his career and got limited opportunities as he was born in an era of world class Pakistan batsmen. Nonetheless, this has not discouraged him.

The captain and senior player has been in sensational form with 8 half centuries and a century in 13 innings since taking over including standing unbeaten on 5 occasions. He averages 88 as captain after 7 tests. He has the highest % of 50+ scores by a test captain ever with a minimum qualification of 10 innings, even higher than Don Bradman. His phenomenal run of form earned him a much deserving nominee for ICC player of the year, the only Pakistan player who got one. Unfortunately he was not short listed against many people’s surprise. He was also on the brink of challenging the record for the most consecutive 50s in test history and just fell one short of achieving that during this year. Moreover, he is the 7th leading run scorer in tests this year where all of the players that are in the top 5 have played 3 more tests than him. Overall across all formats he is positioned at number 8. He leads from the front. He relishes the responsibilities. The burden of captaincy doesn’t affect his performance. He thrives with the added responsibility. His leadership qualities, presence and record breaking performances have regained the stability, respect, fortunes, direction and credibility of the team in challenging circumstances with all the off field distractions and torture the players and fans had to go through as well as the poor run of results which had hurt the team in 2010 (a period where he had been excluded for most parts and was contemplating retirement). His self belief, determination and mental toughness to come back hard, perform as he has done and keep the camp trouble free and well unified is worthy of unstoppable praise. As the most qualified member of the team he is renowned to have a calming influence for a team which is continuously involved in shenanigans and instability and therefore is exactly the type of player they need and can benefit from having around in the camp with his respectable and dependable stature. He has unarguably been a saviour and unsung hero in our time of need.

Under his captaincy the following have happened:

-Our highest ever 4th innings total

-Our highest 1st wicket stand in ODIs.

-Denying the opponent a victory on a day 5 pitch on 3 occasions when we were on the back foot.

-Bowled out New Zealand in a single session on a good batting track in all seriousness. Winning by 10 wickets inside 3 days.

-Won 9 matches in a row as full time captain across all formats.

-Posted 340+ 6 times in our last 11 test innings (previously it was a major struggle to even get in the 300s)

-Managed to take 20 wickets on some of the flattest motorways you could ever wish to see such as Bulawayo and St Kitts.

He has injected a sense of solid consistency, greater professionalism, application, discipline, mental toughness, stability and pride in this unit. This brand of play may not be the most appealing but give me this any day over unpredictable aggression, flair BUT continuous dramas to haunt the camp time and time again. Ultimately the effectiveness is what get’s you far.

He is a solid batsman, street smart operator, consistent performer, thorough professional and a true gentlemen figure of the game. An ideal ambassador for game and country. He has been the backbone and workhorse of the batting line up which Pakistan have regularly been counting on with him going from strength to strength. Also, very switched on in the field, naturally very athletic even at his age, regularly taking catches with his bucket hands he is as safe as houses. He knows full well how to set the example. He has a “commanding structure” about him as batsmen. He displays a big price on his wicket, can occupy the crease for extended periods of time, he is purposeful and planned in his approach for reaching a particular outcome, he summarises situations efficiently, reads or reacts to game scenarios responsibly as we often hear commentators associating phrases like calmness, coolness, composure about him, a steadily controlled sound technique, plenty of awareness on how to combat or outsmart the bowlers, be patient and be prepared to sit in and overcome passages of play with utter concentration and application, set the platform, engage in frustrating mind games with the opposition in the sense he is showing a flawless approach and battling/digging in really hard to do the hardyards like a gritty workhorse. It places him in a strong position & frame of mind. He goes about his business in a systematic, organised, controlled, methodical and structured manner. He has a healthy tendency of being there at there at the end, knocking off the winning runs and guiding the team over line with his systematically organised method. He is a genuine good old test class batter who knows how to frustrate, tire, work over and get into the skins off the opponent with his discipline, mindset and sheer mental strength. He is a tough nut to crack with a tight defence, concentration, stamina, patience, application, game sense combined with guts and grittiness. However, he is not one dimensional. He can change gears and be intimidating to bowl to in passages when he has his eye in and is seeing the ball clearly (one of the reasons he is effective in the shorter formats as well). Therefore, if you don’t get him early you have your work cut out.

He works the ball productively off his legs through mid wicket and mid on with anything slanting towards him or when he shuffles across confidently looking to find the vacant gaps. He cuts and pulls decently getting on top of the bounce. He drives pretty well through the off side. He executes the reverse sweep expertly, the slog sweep and straight hit with a full flow of the blade which is some sight for the signature shot. Ultimately it’s his solid blocking and defending with a bright head on his shoulders which is the bread and butter to his game plan to demonstrate his firmness at the wicket. He earns his runs the hard way and is willing to do so. He is measured, watchful and calculated rather than instinctive. A sound temperament is a leading strength of his. The nerves of steel or ability to operate with a clear mind is such an underrated attribute.

The MBA graduate can be outrageously aggressive with his stroke play or scoring options. The ability to play attackingly is there, however he does this with an element of shock and surprise which increases its effectiveness of coming off when he decides to step the pedal on the accelerator. He first made a name for himself during the inaugural World T20 in South Africa 2007 he was the 3rd leading run scorer in the tournament and took the world by storm including smashing an unbeaten 60 odd in 42 balls to give Pakistan a victory in their very first T20 match against Australia. He also, performed on the big stage in the final where he nearly took his side to victory from the jaws of defeat batting with the tail when they looked completely down and out. Hence, there is a sense of adaptability about him across different formats, but what stands out is that he has made the biggest impact in the longer version of the game not only since he has been appointed captain, but back in 2007 he averaged over 100 against India in the 3 match away series including 2 centuries. He was a standout performer who earned the respect of the arch rivals. This was his first full series as successor to Inzamam and he did not fail to live up to expectations. He had a bit of a lean patch in 2009-2010 season with only 1 half century in 8 innings, but I think we can also put this down to no cricket in the whites during 2008 as a result of the political tensions in the country. Hence, it would naturally have taken some time to get back in the fold of things.

As a captain Geoff Lawson quoted him as having the best cricketing brain in the team, someone who handles adversity analytically and not emotionally, someone with a statesmen like demeanour, someone who was a very suitable candidate. He is eloquent and intellectual when interacting with the press. On the field he has an advanced mind for decision making credentials through thorough assessment and matured application of all his knowledge and experience in the field. He places a great deal of emphasis on discipline, responsibility and mindset which have been missing ingredients in the past. He fathers a healthy team environment which has been a rarity. I have already covered his own performance which is a no brainer but exceptional. What more could you ask for? Age is no barrier if you have the form, fitness and hunger.

He has vast understanding on the various technical aspects and regularly provides his guidance and input. He is tactically intelligent. He has an “eye for talent” and knows what is required at the highest level and how to extract the best from his team. He sets high standards and strives for excellence. Tends to make some bold and outside of the box moves. He doesn’t necessarily ploy the obvious or expected move, but takes things his own way with valid justifications behind it. This is an area where he stands out. We can say he is considerate, perspective minded and implies clarity of thoughtfulness when weighing up the pros and cons. His cricketing braininess is undisputable. Not to say that everything he does will be right, but he has strong case credibility in his approach.

He has strategist capabilities and is known as the genius masterful brain of the game within the team. I’ll give you some examples here. For example he was the man who was behind convincing Afridi to allow Wahab to go for the unplayable reverse swinging Yorker on the 30th of March when there was some deliberation as to whether he should go for the standard delivery first up or outclass him with the variation. His persuasion and game sense of Yuvraj’s high bat lift resulted in a magical moment for all to enjoy with the exception of the batsmen of course. The man managerial powers are evident. This enables people to feel confident, settled and professionally guided and assisted regardless of whether they are bowlers, batters, fielders. He has all bases covered technically and epitomises that it is a game in the mind as much as it is to do with the skill. The ability to convert the skill and talent into a well executed plan is where he specialises and places a great deal of importance. He also recommended Saeed Ajmal for national selection during the 2008 Asia Cup when he was vice captain. The team were lacking a front line specialist in the spin department. He forwarded a recommendation of a quality product who now is considered one of the most feared opponents in the modern game. His match anticipation and eye for talent is a rare attribute. There has never been a negative word spoken against him on this matter and all who have worked with him have been praiseworthy and expressed great gratitude for raising their game through professional advice along with portraying the characteristics of a complete or ideal package captain. It’s not often you get the chance to say this, especially for a Pakistan captain. He is a rare species who are found far and few between in the mysterious world that is Pakistan Cricket.

People can keep referring to his semi final knock as if they are so emotionally down that nothing else has any relevance; however such ignorance shall never end up on the winning side. He is the only one who did not throw their wicket away, fought right to the end, came to terms with the pitch and conditions, attempted to reconstruct the innings and top scored not only in this match, but throughout the tournament he had the best record by the batters in what had been a memorable campaign. Moreover, he was not really batting in the top 4 so his role was undefined and others around him choked considerably more. To summarise a player’s career on the basis of one innings is beyond logic. It’s as simple as that. Unfortunately he gets a lot of exaggerated and unnecessary stick from various quarters of his own fan base for his less entertaining style, his age, his unglamorous personality, the myth that he cost Pakistan WCs and even the myth that he removed the charismatic Shahid Afridi from captaincy when really the board made the decision after Afridi had violated the players code of conduct after repeated warnings. These are just some of the reasons which prompted me to write this article. He is an understated character whose achievements are overlooked. He deserves significantly better. For some he can do no right.

The aim of the winter has to be not to lose a test series against Sri Lanka and England and carry his successful record and reputation further as well as his own personal form. A draw would also be a positive achievement considering the contrast on the rankings prior to the series. We could sneak in a 1-0 win against Sri Lanka more so than England. However, regardless of what happens what he has done in the previous 12 months speaks volumes and deserves our admiration. Nonetheless, we are on track and prepared to do well under him against 2 stronger opponents and we shouldn’t be surprised to see him and them do well in these forthcoming assignments. I believe the best is yet to come and backing some successful results to come through. I would like to see him lead the team until the next 2012 T20 World championship which will be held in Sri Lanka next year. If his form allows maybe even he can go beyond that and who could consider complaining after all what he has achieved and done? The groups for that incidentally have been announced. The greens have been paired up with the Kiwis and Bangladesh during the preliminary round in Palakelle with fixtures on the 23rd and 25th of September. If things go according to pre tournament seeding India will lock horns with the greens exactly 18 months after Mohali in Colombo for a super 8 head to head, regardless of whether they finish 1st or 2nd in their initial preliminary pool.

He has a 100% clean record in 6 one day internationals and 3 Twenty20 matches as well. Although, 7 of them have come against minnows they have been all away from home in a tight schedule which adds weight to the argument. Overall, in 8 series as captain he has won 6 with 2 draws. The highlight would be New Zealand 2011 as well as successfully drawing a test series against the number 2 ranked South African side with a new looked reforming test side in only his first series in charge as full time captain. Previously he was not even in the team, but he had captaincy experience and performed well domestically captaining his domestic side to both the one day and 4 day title. The board which had been somewhat of a laughing stock at the time made an outside of the box appointment and the results have been in front of one and all. You could clearly see the thought process and logic behind the appointment. Furthermore, since he has been reintroduced into the ODI team they have won 77% of the matches he has played in, won 4 consecutive ODI series, appeared in the semi finals of the world cup for the first time in the 21st century, averaged in the 60s with 8 half centuries in 19 innings including 2 MOMs in chases as well as 7 not outs. He has been Pakistan’s 2nd leading ODI run scorer after Mohammad Hafeez this year in a year where Pakistan have won 17 one day internationals out of 23 appearances in contrast to the 5 out of 18 they had won in the much forgettable 2010. The aim ahead shall be to be competitive in one and at least win one ODI series and T20 leg against one of Sri Lanka or England as well as building up some preparation for a good showing in the 2012 Asia Cup in Bangladesh should the bilateral series between Pakistan and India not go ahead.

16/09/11: The day he topped that chart

The run machine marches on........

Records Of Pakistan Captains In Modern Era Across All Forms Of The Game:

Shahid Afridi, 54 Matches: 26 Wins, 27 Lost, 1 NR
Shoaib Malik, 56 Matches: 36 wins, 19 Lost, 1 Draw
Misbah, 16 Matches: 12 Wins, 1 Lost, 3 Draws
Younis Khan, 38 Matches: 14 Wins, 19 Lost, 5 Draws
Mohammad Yousuf, 17 Matches: 4 Wins, 12 Lost, 1 Draw

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