It’s March 30. Not 2017. 2011. Mohali is screaming. Lungs are bursting. The sun is shining. But the weather isn’t sweet. TV screens, across the host nation and its neighbouring one, are showing one broadcast and one broadcast alone.
India v Pakistan: you could say Cricket’s version of a titanic duel between Night and Day. Also, depending on which side of the border you’re from, a war between good and evil.
India have asked Pakistan a not so mighty 260. It’s the kind of score that resembles a mysterious woman you are on a date with. You are drawn to her candidness and you tend to think, in your next big move she’ll end up as yours. But by the time you can initiate smoothness, she dumps you. It’s over.
So many summers ago, India came deathly close be dumped by arch-rivals Pakistan who surprisingly ended the date just when the outing was set to reach its crescendo, nearly going Pakistan’s way. Reducing them to 106 for 4 off 26 overs, India had thought they were out for what had seemed, until then, a walk in the park.
And in that precise moment, Pakistan’s captain decided to cut loose.
So when Misbah walked in, replacing Younis, a scenario so dramatically perfect by default, with Pakistan’s most respected luminary replacing its most prodigious Test scorer, it seemed a divine plan had been concocted, with a friend holding the fort in his buddy’s dismissal.
And soon, in the wake of the fall of Asad, Akmal, Afridi and off course Younis, Misbah began blasting Nehra, Munaf and Zaheer in a fashion that Captain Haddock in Tintin literature describes as “Billions of blue, blistering barnacles”.
His 56 off 76, a knock that began in a ridiculously docile fashion into being somewhat dormant in its gradual thwarting of India’s vehemence before finally unleashing a heavy artillery gunfire, took Pakistan achingly close to cornering India.
5 boundaries. 1 six. 128 minutes on the crease and still 29 runs short. But he walked off without a grimace on his face.
It also submitted on prime time television, amidst a high-octane action, credentials of a cricketer of a different species.
Calm, but obdurate. Slow but steady. Seeming never in charge, whilst always tinkering with the game’s narrative.
Thus, reinforcing the belief that Pakistan wasn’t just about the mindless butchering of bowlers.
Misbah, it could be said, was the climber that made mountains very nearly shudder by his resolve
So when they hail a Waugh- suave and ice-cool- as a maker of Australia’s modern day winning machinery, they do the right thing. But, alas forget a point.
A defining one.
That in orienting men so accustomed to seeing geopolitical hostility, honing their skills amidst a culture of brazen volatility, Misbah ran a long-run in nurturing talents- Umar Akmal, Babar Azam, Ahmed Shehzad, Yasir Shah, Wahab Riaz- in a manner that could for intellectual mentoring and brave shepherding be equated to sprinting barefoot on a thin sheet of ice.
And while Misbah did all of this, he kept up with his own numbers in both formats of the game.
His figures, post facing a daunting 18,671 deliveries in international cricket, measure a very respectable and solid 10,300 international runs.
To some, Misbah might’ve seemed a straight-faced devil that administered justice with a bat in hand. But wasn’t he also someone who remained exemplarily content in receding to a somewhat unglamorous avatar of a leader who patted the backs of those he so rejoiced defending on the pitch?
And also fought gallantly for- never with a grin but always with a smile.
But while Pakistan produced dashers, lavishing on the Cricket’s bare body a magnificent carving of flair and power- Zaheer Abbas, Majid Khan, Saeed Anwar, Inzamam Ul Haq, Misbah tampered the template, lending a very un-Pakistan-like efficacy.
Painting the canvass of Pakistan’s batsmanship with colours of stoicism. Shining brightly, but with a touch of an understated feel about him.
And true to every pour of his being in a game he lifted to seminal heights, from every throbbing vein of his existence- Misbah Ul Haq ran cricket’s equivalent of a marathon run.
15 plus years. Debuting in 2002. Exactly when Lara had screened his first magnum opus in Sri Lanka, tethering Murali and Vaas. A time when most contemporary Indian cricketers were enjoying school crushes.
When Twenty-20 was but an abstract phrase.
So today, as Cricket’s finally begun to grow into a global sensation, even though at the back of a buck-spinning hoopla thrown around the clutter of dipping Bollywood into a very prevalent T20 culture- Misbah’s presence- although no longer in Pakistani colours but finely curated and catalogued across social media, Cricketing literature and stats books seems like a victory.
Signalling a victory of simplicity over complexity. A triumph of will over acquired virtues.
A sensational recounting of a time when there was pleasure in acquiring stains on those plain whites; spots garnered with one purpose and one purpose alone- to triumph in the most strenuous of all cricketing contests, instead of delving into the mindless hyperbole of wearing purple pants over green shoes for a contest that lasts no more than 4 hours.
As the man who sadly bade farewell, thousands of miles from the earthen comfort of playing at home, a thought goes out to that beard that grew thicker by the tick of the clock.
Perhaps it was because the man whose face it conveniently hid- one who just scored two amazing 99’s in a swansong looking a 24-year-old in a 42-year-old’s body- wanted to be identified only by the difference his deeds brought to the scoreboard.
By the impact, he had on others around him.
Perhaps that is why Misbah, who ended his run walking through a guard of honour, honourably preferred walking beside his men.
Soldiering alone when required. But never shy to lead his troops into battle.