I have always been a fan of Misbah Ul Haq. I remember how he almost secured a World T20 title for us single-handedly, under enormous pressure (Mohammad Yousaf was dropped to accommodate him). I also remember how he, laboriously, late in his career, transformed his approach to batting and became a top-level international test batsman and captain. This latter feat tells us two things about Misbah—first, it demonstrated a willingness to evolve; secondly, transforming his game, despite already being well into his 30s, suggested strength of character and mental dexterity.
Then the more world-renowned feat of how Misbah, in 2010, managed to rebuild a side with depleted resources—after the loss of a young Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif at the peak of his bowling prowess—and ensure that Pakistan maintained the standards expected of them in test cricket. This was another monumental achievement. Let’s not forget that, initially, we had to rely on Tanvir Ahmed and Aizaz Cheema—well beyond his peak years— to battle against the top sides in the world. To win or draw series in these circumstances, with a young batting line up to boot, was exceptional.
I was critical of Misbah’s post-Sri Lanka series press conference in a previous article. I offer a few words here on his more recent media briefing, where he announced the Australian Tour Test and T20 squads.
This is the Misbah I have become accustomed to. The Misbah who I have always enjoyed listening to. Not because of the personnel he selected per se but because he was calm, rational and direct. He did not dodge questions. Did not rely on humour to defuse difficult situations. Every question was answered honestly, professionally. Difficult questions as well: What is the future of Mohammad Hafeez and Malik? Why was Fawad Alam not selected? What does he make of Shadab Khan’s form? Why was Sarfaraz removed from captaincy in a format he has had so much success in? Misbah explained his rationale in each answer and it all made sense.
Moreover, his answer to each individual item related to a broader vision. This vision can be summed up in two points 1) We want to invest in a youthful, aggressive approach on this tour to fight fire with fire on Australian soil. 2) We are thinking long-term, with an eye to the T20 world cup and wish to see how our youngsters perform now.
On specific selection matters, it is good to see that Misbah is thinking about the future—investing in young talent such as Naseem Shah and Usman Qadir. He is taking a bet on Khushdil Shah, which is a brave call, and it may not work, but perhaps it is the right thing to do considering our current resources. Kashif Bhatti is an intelligent, very Misbahesque pick and I hope it works to our benefit. He has taken heaps of wickets in domestic cricket, averaging under 20 for the past two seasons and also keeps things tight; he possesses the best economy rate for a regular bowler in this season’s QEA trophy. Waqar was probably behind the selection of Mohammad Irfan. These were all tactically informed, smart decisions. Whether they work or not only time will tell. What they do tell us, however, is that Arthur’s minimum fitness standard requirement for international selection no longer applies.
I am doubtful about the selection of Imran Khan senior as I do not think he has the pace to trouble the Australians on home soil. He has played one test match in Australia where he ended with match figures of 2/154 (FYI: I am also worried about Rahat Ali’s consistency, since he appears to be back on the radar, despite a test average of 39.03). Is Musa ready for international cricket?
I am quite disappointed not to see Usman Khan Shinwari in the test squad. His bowling would suit Australian conditions. He gets extra bounce and can move the ball both ways at pace. He has already bowled some incredible spells for Pakistan in ODI cricket—for example this one, and this one, and this one. He should have featured in our world cup squad. He deserves to be shown more faith.
This article will remind me not to be over-critical in hindsight. Australia is a tough tour and good results will be hard to come by. However, I will try to remember when writing the post-mortem report that, apart from the exceptions noted above, I was largely satisfied with the selection calls made.
Overall, in contrast to the press conference after the Sri Lanka series, I was glad to see that Misbah fully backed the players he has selected this time. I hope he continues to do so publicly, even if they have a bad day. Even though he is an inexperienced coach/selector, his approach to the job appears to be evolving rapidly and this is a good sign. I believe the best of Misbah in this new incarnation is yet to come. I hope, for our sake, that he maintains the dexterity of mind and strength of character in this new role that gave him so much success in the final period of his playing career as a batsman and captain.
This story was updated with some slight amendments at 5:47pm.