There is something unmistakable about the unique personality of Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s most successful Test captain, but now enjoying unprecedented powers in the dual role of national side’s head coach and chief selector.
Since taking the job in August, the 45-year-old has seldom managed a smile or two in the spate of reversals his team had undergone and Sunday was no exception either. Despite Pakistan sitting on verge of their first win in the longest form of the game in 13 months and maiden success in the newly-introduced ICC World Test Championship, there were glimpses of wry smile on arguably the most famous face of Pakistan cricket.
On a day when Pakistan were outplaying Sri Lanka in all departments hands down, Sarfraz Ahmed, who until early October was the Pakistan captain across all three formats, made a rather conspicuous appearance at the National Stadium’s media centre of all places but hardly spoke much — for obvious reasons, since the now dumped wicket-keeper/batsman still holds a Category ‘A’ central contract — except uttering a few words about his well-being.
Misbah, meanwhile, was finally at peace during the presser shortly after stumps were drawn on the penultimate evening of the two-match series.
“When a team performs so well after the difficulties of the first two days [Pakistan being bowled out for 191 and then Sri Lanka taking an 80-run lead on the first innings], there is no reason to complain,” Misbah observed. “The most heartening aspect was the way we came back to wrest back initiative because usually the team is under pressure after such a [batting] collapse. When the batting unit collapses like we did on the opening day and then seeing the opposition take lead, the team comes under heavy pressure. Even the entire support staff feels the heat.
“But all credit to our batsmen, especially [openers] Abid Ali and Shan Masood for putting us in a position of strength during the magnificent [278-run] partnership yesterday [Saturday]. And then Azhar Ali regaining form by emulating the openers with an excellent century and Babar Azam also reaching three figures brought a lot of joy to our dressing-room.
“For me it was much more relief to see the boys bounce brilliantly, particularly the manner of our comeback in this match. The confidence level has definitely gone up at this point on time. But at the same time there’s always room for improvement and obviously there are [areas of] concerns for the Pakistan team which we must address and improve upon them.”
Misbah minced no words in saying there are serious with Pakistan’s spin bowling. “We are hoping for Yasir [Shah] to regain his lost form. At the same time we are thinking about the future as well because going forward we must bring drastic improvement in that department. And if start improving day by day then only we can hope to get better as a team. There are grey areas that we have to consider and work on and spin is one area where we may to look at other options.”
The Pakistan coach showered praise on the emerging teenager Nasim Shah and his fellow fast bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi while saying they have the potential to dominate world cricket in the years to come.
“Being so young both terms of both his age and experience, I think Nasim is fast learning the art of bowling in international cricket. I was overly impressed with the way he [Nasim] bowled today. This youngster is a real star in the making from my perspective, provided he keeps his focus on the game.
“Shaheen, on the other hand, is a much improved bowler now. He’s much fitter and stronger. That’s why he is bowling so well because he has worked tremendously hard on his fitness and at the same time, has learned to bring the ball into the right-handed batsmen, which is just great to see. A left-armer doing this with such control is always a big threat for the batsmen.”