The chasm in class and consistency between Misbah-ul-Haq and the rest of his team-mates is wide

Misbah-ul-Haq… unfair criticism © Getty Images

Misbah-ul-Haq is often criticised for going too slow in One-Day Internationals. However, are Pakistan’s batting struggle’s forcing him to take that approach? Nishad Pai Vaidya finds out.

At the age of 39, Misbah-ul-Haq is Pakistan’s go to man and a dependable force who invariably stands up in the hour of need. That he made a comeback at the age of 33 [in 2007] and forged a successful career was a huge surprise, but no one would have imagined that he would still go strong after all these years let alone captaining the side. While he is the mainstay of the batting in One-Day Internationals (ODIs), there have often been talks about him taking things too slow. Therefore, one must ask the question: Is there too much pressure on Misbah and does it force him to go into a shell?

Misbah has been very prolific in the year 2013 and is way ahead of his team-mates. The others have struggled to maintain consistency and Misbah has saved Pakistan after several top order failures.

Here are the top run-getters for Pakistan in ODIs in the year 2013:

Player M R Ave 100s 50s HS   SR
Misbah-ul-Haq 18 808 57.71 0 9 96* 70.81
Mohammad Hafeez 18 500 29.41 1 3 122* 81.83
Nasir Jamshed 16 444 27.75 1 2 106 63.15
Kamran Akmal 13 238 18.30 0 1 81 80.95
Shahid Afridi 10 228 28.50 0 2 88 150.00
Shoaib Malik 12 203 22.55 0 0 43 73.55
Umar Akmal 6 200 50.00 0 1 50 96.61
Imran Farhat 7 170 24.28 0 1 93 53.62
Asad Shafiq 8 153 19.12 0 1 84 72.16

Misbah leads Mohammad Hafeez, the second highest-run scorer, by more than 300 runs. Not only that, but his average of 57.71 is significantly superior than his team-mates’ appalling figures in the 20s. Umar Akmal is the only other player who averages in the 50s, but has warmed the bench for the majority of the year, only to get back during the series in the Caribbean — where he performed well.

The 50s column also reflects how much Pakistan rely on Misbah. In 18 outings, he has scored nine fifties, three times more than the next best. While Hafeez and Nasir Jamshed have got a score of three figures apiece, they have been very erratic and have only occasionally given Pakistan a good start upfront.

Pakistan have won only eight out of their 18 matches in 2013. In those 10 defeats, Pakistan have been bowled out under 200 on six occasions — which does show how much they have struggled to get going as a unit. Their victories have largely been due to Misbah’s rescue efforts backed by their formidable bowling attack.

Currently, Misbah holds the record for the most ODI runs [3,819] without a hundred. Other notable frontline batsmen who failed to score a hundred include: Guy Whittall [2,705 runs in 147 matches], Mudassar Nazar [2,653 in 122 matches], Graham Thorpe [2,380 runs in 82 matches] and Jimmy Adams [2,204 in 127 matches].

Top order failures to blame for Misbah’s low strike-rate?

Misbah has been subjected to copious criticism for his tendency of taking things too slow and leaving the attacking job too late. A strike-rate of 70.81 in modern days isn’t close to the acceptable standards as batsmen try to get on with things earlier. However, what can one do if one walks into tough situations time and again? He has had to rescue the team on numerous occasions this year as the top-order has failed to hold fort and have lost direction early in the innings.

The fact that Misbah has scored nine fifties this year tells us the amount of work he has had to do. Let us revisit those knocks and analyse the situation he walked into:

57 not out vs South Africa, 2nd ODI, Centurion

Chasing a total of 192 in 44 overs, Pakistan wobbled a touch and were 69 for three in the 15th over when Misbah walked in. He anchored the innings and stitched good partnerships with Younis Khan and Shoaib Malik to take Pakistan home comfortably. The interesting thing is that he smashed three sixes during the innings and finished it off easily.

80 vs South Africa, 4th ODI, Durban

Another run-chase, another early collapse! Misbah gets the 911 call again. Pakistan were in pursuit of 235, when they slipped to 33 for three in 11 overs. Misbah joined Imran Farhat in the middle and took control of the innings. When compared to his other efforts, this was a more proactive one as he smashed 80 in 93 deliveries. That took the pressure off Pakistan and put them in the driver’s seat by the time he was dismissed with the score on 186 in the 42nd over. There was a late stutter, but Pakistan made it through.

83 vs Scotland, 1st ODI, Edinburgh

Even against the minnows Scotland, the Pakistani top-order wasn’t able to dominate and the run-rate and was found wanting. Misbah came in with the score on 95 for three in the 25th over and hit a quick 83 to take them to 231 — which may have been on the lower side, but was beyond Scotland’s reach.

96 not out vs West Indies, ICC Champions Trophy 2013, The Oval

Take Misbah and Jamshed’s contributions away and Pakistan’s scorecard would have resembled a mobile number. The West Indian pacers rattled the top order and left them stuttering at 15 for three. Misbah and Jamshed started the recovery job and took them past hundred, but once the latter fell, the onus was completely on the captain. He kept fighting even as wickets tumbled at the other end and remained unbeaten on 96 as Pakistan were bowled out for 170. West Indies huffed and puffed, but eventually won by two wickets.

55 vs South Africa, ICC Champions Trophy 2013, Birmingham

The conditions were helping the bowlers and the South African seamers reaped rich rewards. Not only did they keep the Pakistan batting quiet, but also took key wickets to dent them early. At 48 for three in the 18th over, recovery would have been on Misbah’s mind as the target of 235 may have seemed far away. The story was similar to Pakistan’s game against West Indies earlier in the tournament as they collapsed after a Misbah-Jamshed stand. Misbah’s fighting 55 was in vain as the asking rate kept mounting and no one supported him at the other end.

52 vs West Indies, 1st ODI, Guyana

Misbah promoted himself to number four and the only consequence was that he had to walk in a touch earlier with the score on 18 for two. In fact, Pakistan then slipped to 47 for five in the 21st over as there seemed to be no direction to the innings. Comeback man Shahid Afridi essayed one of those idiosyncratic knocks to pull Pakistan out of the hole. At the other end, Misbah was stoic and his presence ensured Afridi could hit his way. His 52 consumed 121 deliveries and had only one hit to the fence — a gritty effort one rarely sees in ODIs. Pakistan defended 224 because Afridi turned it on with the ball as well.

75 vs West Indies, 3rd ODI, St Lucia

Pakistan had a relatively better start to their innings here as Misbah was required at 39 for two. His innings of 75 rallied the middle-order and anchored the innings as Pakistan reached 229. West Indies tied the game as the run-chase finished in dramatic circumstances in the last over. It was a game Pakistan should have won.

53 not out vs West Indies, 4th ODI, St Lucia

For a change, Misbah had good support this time as Hafeez also contributed during Pakistan’s pursuit of 189 in 31 overs in a rain-reduced game. With Hafeez going strong, Misbah could also attack and his 53 off 43 balls ensured Pakistan romped home with an over to spare.

63 vs West Indies, 5th ODI, St Lucia

Chasing 243, Pakistan were in a spot again at 64 for two in the 17th over. The ever dependable Misbah had to see it right through as his 63 took Pakistan on the brink of victory. By the time he was dismissed, Pakistan only needed one run in four balls.

What is evident from this trend is that Misbah has to shoulder a lot of pressure and that has invariably affected his strike-rate. There have been times when he has forced the issue early, but that has been when he has found support at the other end. More often, he has been sedate and perhaps he can be more aggressive to ward off the pressure. Leaving things too late may have worked a few times, but there are risks involved.

Mudassar Nazar, the former Pakistan batsman, has an interesting perspective. He said, “At the moment, because you’re 30 for two or 30 for three, he drops an anchor and it’s suitable for him and the team as well. That’s the need of the team at the moment.

“In the long run, would it be? When you go into a one-day game, you go in with the intention of scoring 300-plus to put the game away from the opposition. That’s not the case when he comes in to bat. At the moment, it is all about survival.”

Keeping the 2015 World Cup in perspective, Nazar also said, “To win the World Cup, you need to do a bit more than that. You need to dominate right from the first ball.”

Thus, Misbah’s approach is the need of the hour for Pakistan and if they are to revive their batting fortunes, the other batsmen have to show more consistency. A team consists of an eleven and depending on one man doesn’t help the side in the long run. An individual can only win you a game or two, but it is the unit that wins tournaments.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)