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Opinion

March 23, 2015

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O Captain! My Captain!

Out of my head
I write this the morning after our World Cup quarter-final loss to Australia. The feelings are mixed. Of course, the primary emotion is that of disappointment. Oh, the what ifs. What if even one – just one – of the many of our batsmen who got starts had gone on a reasonably high score? 40-50 more runs on the board, who knows what could have happened.
What if Irfan had been fit? What if Rahat Ali hadn’t dropped the sitter of all sitters – a catch that even Geoff Boycott’s legendary grandmother would have caught? It was probably already too late by then but what if Maxwell hadn’t been dropped by Sohail? But as John O’Callaghan said, “The ‘what ifs’ and ‘should haves’ will eat your brain.”
Then there’s the still-lingering exhilaration from watching one of the most thrilling exhibitions of fast bowling I’ve ever seen by any pacer – not just Pakistani but from any country. Wahab Riaz’s battle with the Aussie batsmen, particularly Shane Watson (who, for the longest time, looked like the proverbial deer in the headlights) was awesome. It was sport at its most visceral. Gladiatorial combat without the blood (though at times you feared for Watson’s life and limbs). Wahab’s performance was almost (but not quite) enough of a balm for the agony of defeat. Still, Wahab made us proud. We can all be ‘Wahabis’ now.
Finally, there’s the bittersweet ache of (an-almost) farewell to one of the finest cricketers ever to wear the Pakistan colours. No, not Shahid Afridi. Lala (as he’s affectionately – and occasionally, cynically – called) has finally ridden off into the sunset (unless he changes his mind one more time) and we are never again going to have the opportunity to exult in his exploits (say what you will about him but the man has won more man-of-the-match awards for the greenshirts than anybody else) or lament another one of his inexplicable brain explosions.
Afridi’s undiminished popularity

and what it says about us as a nation and, perhaps more to the point, how we see ourselves deserves a column all its own. However, I wanted to take this opportunity to celebrate the anti-Afridi – our captain Misbah-ul-Haq.
If the flamboyant Afridi is who we are or who we imagine ourselves to be then the understated Misbah is somebody who we can be, the best part of ourselves (even if we don’t realise it). We haven’t exactly seen the last of him yet – he still plans to carry on in Test cricket – but this ICC World Cup has been his ODI swansong and it is sad to see him go while also admiring and appreciating all that he has achieved.
He may not have been uber-talented like some of his predecessors or contemporaries – he really came into his own when he returned to the national squad for the second time, having been dropped twice before – but he’s accomplished so much since becoming captain, maximising his own abilities and the often limited resources of his team.
In the wake of the spot-fixing scandal, he inherited a team deprived the then finest new-ball attack in the world, a fractious team deflated and demoralised, a team practically ostracised from the international cricketing community. He’s had to lead this team while also dealing with probably the most incompetent cricketing administration in the world this side of the West Indies and the most arcane of team selection decision-making. He has not had the opportunity to lead this team for a single match – Test, ODI or T20- - in his own country because Pakistan is forced to play all its international cricket overseas due to security concerns.
Yet, under his stewardship, the Pakistan cricket team has experienced one of its few stable periods (there have been hardly any reports of the squabbling that has been part of almost every Pakistan cricket team). The team, united under Misbah, has achieved some tremendous things on the field – whitewashing the Aussies and the English in a Test series is no mean feat – with the captain himself so often the boy standing alone on the burning deck while all else fell around him, yet somehow inspiring his men on to some famous victories.
Even in this World Cup Misbah managed to reinvigorate an underperforming team and a team playing essentially with a third-string bowling unit and marshalled them to the quarter-finals. He’s done this while facing a constant barrage of criticism for his slow batting and so-called defensive captaincy (both usually arising as a result of circumstances) from both the general public and the cricketing pundits, usually ex-Pakistan cricketers with an axe to grind. And he’s done it all with a grace and a dignity and a humility that is rare in public figures in this country combined with a fierce desire and resolve to improve and to succeed.
Misbah represents the best that there is in us. There is a resilience within the nation that has helped us overcome the very worst of odds over the years. There are so many of us who answer the call to serve in so many walks of life and who achieve so much with such little resources and for whom the driving impulse is not fame or fortune but a desire to help and to inspire. To me, Misbah is an embodiment of that impulse. For that, I thank him. He’s my hero.
The writer is a freelance columnist.
Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @KhusroMumtaz

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