When an exalted sportsman retires, there is an inevitable tinge of melancholy. The memories suddenly flow through unabated as a feeling of yearning creeps into the subconscious. Once the emotions begin to subside, the realisation of being a distant part of an illustrious voyage allows the mind to soak in the echoes of nostalgia.
The sight of Misbah-ul-Haq riding off into the sunset evinces such a fervent melange of emotions. A career built on the vestiges of relentless discipline and uninhibited patience will no longer continue to captivate. Ironically, his parting shot was an antithesis of everything he stood for – an uncontrollable rush of blood culminating in a fateful slog sweep.
Naysayers shake their heads towards the supposedly one-dimensional style of his batting. Notoriously (or affectionately depending on how one looks at the nomenclature) nicknamed ‘Tuk-Tuk’ for his stop-slam approach, Misbah has repeatedly battled against turbulence and embodied Pakistan cricket in such a way that was never envisaged by his much more charismatic predecessors.
At one point in his journey, he reminded the doubters of the fallibility in their judgment by musing, “Call me Tuk-Tuk and keep saying it, but remember I am the captain of Pakistan.” Indeed – if one were to describe the 42 (soon to be 43) years of his life, the aspect of unwavering leadership stands at the forefront. As with any professional cricketer, his story is filled with numerous highs and lows. But, the underlying theme resonates to his steely temperament.
An obstinate test of resolve
Misbah’s tryst with international cricket began on a forlorn note. Following an unremarkable solitary appearance at Auckland, his mettle was truly put to the sword by one of the most intimidating teams in cricket history. From three Tests against Steve Waugh’s domineering Australian side, the then 28-year old could only manage 69 runs at a miserable average of 11.50. An outing against the much easier bowling attack of Bangladesh did not fetch better returns either.
As the powers above gave a disapproving look at the cold statistics, his future was thrown into disarray. For a batsman who had dived headlong into first-class cricket only at the age of 24, time was not a luxury but a fickle demon looming nearby.
Factoring into account Pakistan’s obsession with flair and flamboyance, it appeared as if this obdurate right-hander had met his last straw. Even as the selectors persisted with less convincing stroke-makers, Misbah was sent packing to the wilderness. The one final shot at glory, that he desperately sought, never came his way for a very long time.
When lesser minds would have relented, he remained steadfast in his approach. Despite possessing an MBA degree, the man from Mianwali did not give in to the enticements of greener pastures. He could have easily succumbed to the gravity of the situation confronting him. However, the unadulterated love for the beautiful sport came to his rescue. With each passing day, the resolve only seemed to become stronger.
While he was battling his inner demons, Pakistan were boasting of arguably their strongest ever middle-order. The likes of Inzamam-ul-Haq, Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan not only kept opposition bowlers at bay but also prevented any alternative selections. The signs were rather ominous for Misbah.
The gruelling path to redemption
The 2007 World T20 offered Misbah a way back into the international fold. Putting on the lone warrior persona, he almost helped Pakistan reach the precipice of success. Alas, an ill-fated scoop shot ended with him on his haunches while MS Dhoni’s men paraded across the globe. A fatal moment of misjudgement, particularly against the arch-rivals, would have left most cricketers wallowing in self-pity.
However, he did not allow the tremors of defeat define his life. Upon returning to the Test team, the emotionally driven batsman channelled his frustration in the proper direction and proceeded to prove his worth. But bigger things lay in wait.
During the summer of 2010, Pakistan were left in a state of disenchantment when newly appointed captain Salman Butt became embroiled in an abhorrent spot-fixing scandal. More importantly, the left-hander had also dragged two of their most reliable bowlers into the quagmire.
Amidst uncertain times, the mantle of captaincy surprisingly fell into Misbah‘s lap. With the team still reeling from the sordid turmoil and its ramifications, he instilled self-belief in those impressionable group of players who were eagerly awaiting a messiah. The rest, as they, is history.
Extra Cover: Top 5 test knocks from Misbah-ul-Haq
Perhaps, the veteran’s final day on the field should give an accurate rumination of his legacy. Even as the clock ticked rapidly and the curtains started to fall, he brought his troops close together and fashioned a miraculous victory in his own image.
“Why should we look to the past in order to prepare for the future? Because there is nowhere else to look.” James Burke’s iconic words offer a dazzling reflection in the aftermath of Misbah’s odyssey. In times of despair, the heart gains succour in remembrance of the man who just refused to give up.