In with a mace out of the maze

October 2, 2016

Misbah receiving the honours at the very venue where the shop was shut in 2009 and the world left Pakistan in the lurch was poetic justice

In with a mace out of the maze

It’s a story that begs to be told, if only to draw on the depth of achievement that has propelled Pakistan -- still a pariah for being a no-go area for international teams -- to the World’s No 1 Test team.

To see this epoch-making triumph as a mere sporting zenith even in a cricket-mad nation like Pakistan would be to undermine its value as a modern-day template for hard-earned glory.

Back in 2010 after the abyss was reached following the match-fixing saga on a tour of England that later saw three Pakistani stalwarts go behind bars, the chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) Ijaz Butt called a secret meeting with Misbah-ul-Haq in a clerk’s room at the PCB headquarters and asked him if he would care to mind the store.

Once a nod was elicited, Butt directed the 36-year-old "scapegoat" to keep the rendezvous a secret. Misbah, ever the statesman, took it to the next level by not even disclosing it to his family! He recently justified that silence of yore as a call of the dark times.

But on the red-lettered September 21 as Misbah held aloft the famed mace at the PCB headquarters in Lahore that officially anointed Pakistan as the world’s leading Test nation, there was no word on how or where Butt was even though it wasn’t difficult to reach a consensus on according that clerk’s room museum status.

Yes, Lahore! This was where terrorists struck an empathetic visiting team, but really at the heart of Pakistan cricket more than seven years ago. This was where a security lapse overrode all sacrifices Pakistan had rendered on the world’s behalf to fight the war-on-terror in no time.

This indeed was where stumps were drawn, hastening the end of international cricket, for now -- the short Zimbabwe series last year being little more than an aberration with a financially weak African board agreeing to draw on the generous rollout of the greenback by the PCB.

Poetic justice, therefore, didn’t get any better than a neatly suited Misbah wearing a broad smile upon receiving the mace from International Cricket Council chief executive Dave Richardson at the very venue where the shop was shut in 2009.

Fittingly, the ICC official had to come to Lahore to accord the honour. But if this bit was poetic, starker still was the irony that Pakistan created history by rising to the top by being the only team to have won the honours without even playing at home -- an inconceivable idea for the rest of the world. This, more than anything else, makes it a stunning feat of endurance.

All this has been made possible by the magnificent Misbah, who himself continues to defy age, norm and tradition in holding fort at the ripe old age of 42. He now has a slew of ‘oldest to make/break’ records that, in time, will become a benchmark for what is possible if the spirit -- and in case of Misbah, even the body -- is willing.

To be sure, earlier this week, he was calling on the world to embrace ‘Pink Tests’ or night time longer version of the game. Indeed, he would be leading Pakistan next month in one such Test and another Down Under later in the year.

In a country where only army chiefs secure extensions -- with or without civilian consent -- Misbah’s is a fascinating, if personally unsought, encore to keep serving as captain till the spirit is willing -- well, almost!

And yet, it was not always thus. In fact, far from it. No Pakistani cricketer has endured more insults from past players, commentators and fans alike for his style of play that also earned him the unflattering sobriquet of "Mr Tuk-Tuk" (slow poke) than Misbah.

But Misbah’s response to this tirade all along has been dignified silence with a Buddha-like poise, and an uncompromised work ethic premised in discipline and unreserved commitment to his country’s cause.

Over time, fans began to convert and realised they had misunderstood Misbah’s measured approach, patience and a steely resolve to reset the House of Pakistan Cricket -- weaned as they were on the slam bang variety offered by the likes of Shahid Afridi but minus the temperament, intelligence and staying power of the man from Mianwali.

But while Afridi has always profited from an image of a stuntman with a shelf life of an item number in a Bollywood flick, it is some irony that Misbah ended up with a world record for the fastest Test century that was only recently broken by Brendon McCullum, and earlier this year led his unfancied Islamabad United team to the maiden T20 crown in the inaugural Pakistan Super League!

That he is, in the Test arena, Pakistan’s highest scoring captain, the fastest century-maker, the top six-hitting stalwart as well as the world’s premier averaging skipper are but just stats on a broad canvas.

Still this space will not be enough to draw home the injustices Misbah suffered along the way by being forced to retire from both the shorter formats where Pakistan continues to struggle in his absence, but suffice it to say, he has already ensured his place in the pantheons of greats by becoming the most successful Pakistani Test captain.

But the greatest service he has rendered in the cause of Pakistan Cricket actually transcends the sport itself: restoring the country’s integrity and pride as a cricketing nation after the dark events of 2010. A culmination of this was a squared series against England last month that included an emotional Test victory at Lord’s -- this was the same venue where the country’s image was sullied six years ago -- and a symbolic victory at The Oval to draw the series on Pakistan’s Independence Day.

Long after Misbah walks in his country’s colours for the last time, it is this redemption that will define his legacy for posterity.