Misbah Ul Haq has retired from international cricket leaving an indelible mark, both as a fine cricketer and an outstanding sportsman. His cricketing skills were without doubt special, but what made him unique was the way he carried himself as a person. His leadership qualities were something that future captains should imbibe, but what every youngster should emulate is his mannerism.
There is no international cricket team captain that I have interacted so closely and regularly with like I have with Misbah. After the 2009 terror attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore, international cricket came to a halt in Pakistan and all their international home matches got shifted to UAE. From the 2010 Test series in UAE against South Africa, Misbah had captained the Pakistan team here.
The warmth he exudes on meeting anyone was indeed special. Despite being one of the finest batsmen in the game, he had no airs of a superstar ... an example of how humble one can be despite being a top cricketer. Be it after a tiring practice session or a hard-fought match, he would always stop to oblige a fan for a selfie or sign an autograph. He was friendly with journalists and knew well how to handle media during press conferences. The calmness in his responses to provoking questions is something captains should pick up from him. Very often, after a defeat, journalists asked him intimidating questions. Not once did he get provoked, or express his anger, or ridicule journalists like some cricketers do. Misbah’s responses were always correctly worded and non-controversial, hardly giving journalists the opportunity to provoke him again in order to elicit a controversial statement.
Misbah holds a Master’s Degree in Business Management from Lahore University of Management and Technology. That seems to have taught him how to manage his players, especially some of them who were eccentric geniuses. He ensured he got the best out of everyone; but in the event his team crashed to a huge defeat, he often handled the media with tact.
Misbah has been subjected to a lot of attack for his batting style. Despite being a consistent batsman with an average close to 50 in Test matches and One-day Internationals, he has been labelled as too slow a batsman. Once he was mockingly addressed as a ‘Tuck Tuck’ (a three-wheeled, slow, auto rickshaw) for his slow batting, although it is a known fact that he has been the mainstay of Pakistan batting, without which his team would have very often crumbled to a poor total. Never did he hit out against critics or make a statement justifying his batting style, but he responded to them with his bat. On one occasion, he even hammered the fastest Test 50 and hundred during the course of his unbeaten 101 against Australia at Abu Dhabi in 2014. Misbah got his 50 in 21 balls before completing his hundred off 56 balls for the joint fastest Test hundred, along with the legendary Sir Vivian Richards.
Misbah has had to often bear the brunt of criticism over his team being among the most unpredictable sides in world cricket. Yet, he ensured that his team clinched the No 1 slot in International Cricket Council (ICC) Test rankings. People often wonder how he managed to take his team to such great heights.
In fact, all his life, Misbah has handled challenges and achieved the impossible. He was the youngest in his family with two older sisters. His father, a school principal, died when he was only 14 years old, and as the only male member in his household, he had to take on the responsibilities of his family from an early age. He grew up in a small town called Mianwali, which was never a cricket centre. Like most Pakistan cricketers, he began by playing gully (the narrow, neighbourhood lane) cricket with tennis ball and watched cricket all the time on television. Apart from cricket, he played various other sports and was good in hockey, tennis and badminton as well. He also played snooker, which, he once remarked, had helped him in playing some of his well-placed shots in cricket as well as help him in planning a game as captain.
Unlike many other Pakistan cricketers, he did not get into first-class cricket early. His debut for Sargodha came only at the age of 24. He got picked for the Pakistan national team following consistent scores in domestic cricket. He made his Test debut against New Zealand in 2001, but was then discarded for three years.
Misbah returned with a bang at the age of 33 and never looked back after that. He went on to become Pakistan captain at the age of 36 and proved to be a success, forcing the Pakistan Cricket Board, which was known for changing captains at frequent intervals, to give up their old habit!
Although labelled a slow batsman, Misbah as in demand for all Twenty20 leagues around the world. He played in the 2008 Indian Premier League for Royal Challengers Bangalore; in Sri Lanka Premier League for Kandurata Warriors in 2012; for St Lucia Zouks team in the Caribbean Premier League in 2013; and for Rangpur Riders in 2015 in the Bangladesh Premier League. He silenced critics who felt he was unfit for the Twenty20 format by leading Islamabad United to become the first champions of the Pakistan Super League (PSL) in 2016.
Once Misbah turned 40, calls for his retirement mounted whenever Pakistan lost a match; but he rebounded winning the series for them, with him playing a vital role with the bat.
Misbah finally decided to hang up his shoes after guiding Pakistan to their first series win in the West Indies earlier this month. For cricket fans, he will remain the embodiment of endurance and determination. This classy player will celebrate his 43rd birthday tomorrow after having bid goodbye to international cricket, but fit enough to play for many more years.