42 and strong: Misbah going into ‘tough’ tour high on confidence
KARACHI: Three weeks after celebrating his 42nd birthday, Misbahul Haq is going to lead Pakistan into their most challenging Test tour in years.
In the six years that Pakistan last toured England, the Mianwali-born has steered Pakistan from the embarrassment of that 2010 spot-fixing series to one of the most formidable sides in the longest format. In the process, he has become Pakistan’s most successful captain and has acquired a reputation as one of the calmest heads around.
“The England tour is going to be tough so we have been preparing extensively for it,” he said, while speaking to The Express Tribune. “We will prepare further when we get there. We will play a couple of four-day games before the first Test (at Lord’s from July 14), which should help us acclimatise well.”
Test cricket in England is generally a test of batting skills and temperament, especially for batsmen brought up on flat Asian tracks. Misbah, who is yet to play a Test there, is aware of the challenge the seaming and swinging conditions pose. But rather than overcomplicating things, the 61-Test veteran wants his players to play with a clear mind.
“The greatest difficulty is the movement in the air, while sometimes there is exaggerated seam to deal with as well,” he said. “The conditions where we play don’t normally have that much seam and swing. In England, one needs to be disciplined yet capitalise whenever a scoring opportunity arises. Batsmen need to be clear in their head when deciding if a ball is to be played or left alone and need to play a long innings when they get set.”
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Pakistan and Misbah planned their strategy around attacking the spinners in the 2-0 series win against England on the slow low UAE tracks last year. But the skipper knows the same game plan will not work in England.
“Obviously we will [mostly] face fast-bowlers there, their spinner can’t be expected to bowl more than 15 overs a day,” he said. “Batsmen need to ascertain when to attack and when to defend.”
Pakistani batsmen have struggled in recent times to cope with English conditions but Misbah is backing his batting unit to buck the trend.
“The current line-up is settled and experienced,” he says. “We are mentally prepared to cope with what their bowlers have to offer.”
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Yasir Shah — a potential trump card
While Pakistan batsmen are bracing for the English pacers, they have in their ranks a spinner who can play a decisive role.
Leggie Yasir Shah is one of the most exciting talents in Test cricket and Misbah is relishing the prospect of unleashing him in the four-match series.
“I feel Yasir has a pivotal role to play there, regardless of the pitch conditions,” he said. “Historically, leg-spinners like Shane Warne and Mushtaq Ahmed have performed well there. Even if there’s little turn at the start, spinners get good bounce and the ball starts to turn as well once the pitch deteriorates.”
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A bowling attack to match England’s
Luckily for Misbah, his bowling attack is anything but one dimensional, with a host of threatening fast-bowlers also within the ranks.
“Mohammad Amir is bowling really well; he is swinging the ball and Rahat Ali can also swing it appreciably,” he said. “Imran Khan has bowled really well in flat conditions and now has the chance to shine on favourable pitches. Let us not forget that bowlers such as Sohail Khan and Wahab Riaz are also major threats.”
Personal ambition and future
Due to his advancing years, questions about Misbah’s future are almost inevitable, but rather than worrying about what lies ahead, the captain wants to enjoy the moment.
Statistically he’s Pakistan’s most successful Test captain but all his series wins — barring New Zealand 2011— have come in familiar environs of Asia.
In a personal capacity, a series win in either England or Australia — where Pakistan play three Tests later this year — can catapult his status to unchartered heights.
“The England tour provides us with an opportunity of proving our mettle outside of our comfort zone,” he says. “The series is big, for me personally as well as for the team. The way we won against big sides in the UAE, we see this series as an opportunity of moving further forward as a team.”
Misbah also appears to be at peace with his critics, focusing on making his performances talk. “I am thinking about my own job rather than worrying about what the critics have to say,” he adds. “However, I want our fans to support us and stay patient.”