Later this year, thousands of athletes from around the world will descend upon Rio with an almighty thud of honed muscle, guile and skill. A select few will have the honour of singing their national anthem with a gold medal around their necks.
The casual viewer will have watched a bloke throw the furthest or jumped the highest. Some will even capture that moment as a polaroid in their memories. However, the athlete will remind you that what you saw was just the culmination of four years hard work. It’s a reflection of a bigger sacrifice.
In Pakistan’s case, its recent rise as a Test powerhouse has been almost six years in the making. The same amount of time that Misbah has been captain.
The Misbah years.
2009 marks the height of cricket arsehattery. A Sri Lankan team bus gets attacked by weak little men holding assault rifles. It just so happens that this bus happens to be driving down a Lahore Street.
It was the last time Test cricket was played in Pakistan. Nothing is ever easy when you wear the green shirt.
Younis Khan lasted as skipper for only one more series. Then Shahid Afridi. Then Butt. Then a spot fixing scandal that would have broken most teams forever.
About about this time, if I was describing Marvel superhero movie, a guy in a green cape and a beautifully groomed beard would magically appear from the pavilion.
Super Misbah. Misbah Man. The caped Misbah. Captain Misbah.
The life expectancy of a Pakistan Test captain is not a long one. Many butterflies live longer. But Misbah is no butterfly.
When he was thrown to the wolves in 2011, Pakistan hosted South Africa in Dubai. Deep inside a foreign middle eastern desert. An empty stinking hot stadium surrounded by power lines and sand dunes. Whatever crowd turned up thought it was a fancy dress party. They came as empty seats.
It was an away match for both teams.
Two Tests. Two draws. Misbah’s fault. It’s always Misbah’s fault.
His team was full of battered egos post the Lord’s scandal. It was full of suspicion. It was full of alpha egos and ex captains. It was just as Pakistani cricket has always been.
Misbah has played as many Tests in New Zealand as he has in Pakistan. Only five. It is unlikely he will ever play another one at home. Time is not on his side. Nor is the perceived security situation. But that no longer seems to matter as Misbah has turned this team from a loose rabble into a travelling Harlem Globetrotters.
But it hasn’t been easy and it wasn’t luck.
Since taking over as captain nearly six years ago, Misbah has led Pakistan in 19 Test series. Not one has been played on home soil in front of home fans in home conditions. Dubai is not home. Dubai is cricket’s Switzerland. A neutral destination, but lacking the lakes and snow and French speaking people.
The old adage is that it is almost impossible to win a Test series away from home. It rarely happens. Well, it rarely happens unless you are Pakistan.
With Misbah behind the wheel of the Millennium Falcon, these green shirted rogues have beaten New Zealand in New Zealand, Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe twice, Bangladesh in Bangladesh twice, England in the UAE twice, Australia in the UAE, Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka and now lead England in England.
During that time, the PCB offices have been raided by the Pakistani Tax Office. India have banned Pakistani players from the IPL due to political reasons but allow Ramiz Raja and Wasim Akram to commentate. Younis threatened to commit suicide if he was dropped. Hafeez was banned from bowling and then publicly stated he wouldn’t play along side Amir. Misbah also didn’t want Amir. Misbah learnt he doesn’t control who is in his team. Former captain Afridi came and went and came and went again. So did Malik, but only after making a double hundred. Yasir Shah failed a drug test. Someone shot up a Pakistani school during a New Zealand series and no one cared about cricket for a while. Umar Akmal took selfies. Lots of selfies. Justice Qayyum said he was too lenient on Wasim Akram regarding match fixing. The PCB mandated fat camps. The PCB mandated army training camps. Mickey Arthur’s returned from Homeworkgate.
Stability is probably a word that has no Urdu equivalent. It is meaningless is Pakistan.
Yet despite all this, Misbah remains. He is now Pakistan’s longest serving Test captain. Last year, he took Pakistan to second in the Test rankings. This year, he has a chance to take them to first. A 3-0 series win against England will do it.
Many will argue that Imran Khan was Pakistan’s greatest ever leader. He delivered them a World Cup in 1992.But he never took Pakistan to the top in the real stuff. Test match cricket.
Misbah has yet to achieve that either and he may not.
But after watching his team win at Lord’s, complete with a century from the skipper, the reintegration on Amir, Hafeez dropping catches and the PCB General Manager slipping on steps and cutting open his face, nothing seems insurmountable.
Regardless, the sight of those cricketers doing push ups post game as a sign of respect to their leader is all you need to know about this team. Misbah didn’t ask for it. Misbah didn’t order it. The team wanted it.
This was then followed by a military salute towards the skipper.
This Pakistan team is having fun. This Pakistan team is united.
This Pakistan team is Misbah’s team.
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