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Pakistan’s Ol’ Man Misbah secures his legend by just saying nuthin’

 

The dignified veteran with the deadpan wit has become cricket’s accidental hero by staying true to himself in a world where independent thought is endangered

by


Misbah

The internet has shattered the comforting notion of individuality. That cult film you’ve been telling your best mates to watch? It’s got 14,000 followers on Twitter. That organic, gluten-free, Fairtrade, vegan pale ale you love? Father John Misty’s just posted a selfie of him supping it. We are, as Dan Ashcroft put it in Nathan Barley, oblivious to the paradox of our uniform individuality.

In the manic, try-hard modern world, it is the man who stands still who finds himself in space. Misbah-ul-Haq never wanted to stand out, yet by staying true to himself he has become the accidental hero of Pakistan and world cricket. The word ‘unique’ feels inadequate to describe him. And his mystique is such that, even if you wanted to copy him, you couldn’t.

By leading Pakistan to the top of the Test rankings for the first time, after taking over with their cricket at rock bottom, he has cemented the legend of Ol’ Man Misbah. Some are born great, some achieve greatness, some have greatness thrust upon them – and some stumble upon it at the age of 42 after doing 10 press-ups. He is not quite a great batsman, but he now sits at the top table of Test captains with people like Richie Benaud, Mike Brearley, Sir Frank Worrell and Imran Khan.

Pakistan’s 2-2 draw in England, in the best series in this country since the 2005 Ashes, was an outrageous result for a relatively limited team who had not played a Test outside Asia since 2013. They have also played no ‘home’ Tests under Misbah, a far greater handicap than most realise. Even more notable is the manner in which they have gone to No1 – playing controlled, atypically Pakistan cricket, and after a Test series in England so harmonious that it verged on schmaltzy.

England’s meetings with Pakistan usually come with a cast-iron guarantee of controversy, yet Pakistan were so charming that only the most miserably one-eyed patriot begrudged them their draw. The dignity of Misbah, his determination to right previous wrongs and to give hope and pride to a country devastated by terrorism, almost brings a lump to the throat.

His response to drawing the series and becoming world No1 could barely have been more Misbah: he went to Norway for a ‘Play for Peace’ charity match and biffed a century in 34 balls. Where do you start with that? But then Misbah has always done things differently. In a country where players are blooded young – 20 years ago in October Hasan Raza made his Test debut at the official age of 14 – Misbah took the long road.

His family prioritised his education, and it was not until after his Masters degree that he made his first-class debut at 24. He did not become a Pakistan regular until he was 33 and his international career was apparently over when, in 2010, at the age of 36 he was recalled to the team as captain. Misbah was the last, last, last resort for a country in disarray. In the previous 18 months there had been the terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka team in Pakistan, the spot-fixing scandal in England and other allegations of match-fixing.

Misbah has only recently become a national treasure. He was made a scapegoat for his batting in defeats to India in the World T20 final of 2007 and the World Cup semi-final of 2011, and for a long time was the subject of vicious criticism over his cautious captaincy. He had complete courage of his convictions, a particularly admirable quality in a world where independent thought is increasingly endangered. Others can shout their opinions. Misbah doesn’t need to. Misbah knows.

He has won over almost everybody now. After sorting out Pakistan cricket, Misbah should turn his attention elsewhere: the Brexit fallout, perhaps, or the X Factor’s plummeting ratings. Who wouldn’t stay home on a Saturday night to match Misbah mentor a 37-year-old teacher from Grimsby with a dream and a half-decent falsetto?

With his antiquated values of dignity, modesty and patience, Misbah has shown that sometimes it’s good to be behind the times and given hope to those who believe there is an alternative way of doing things – not just in Test cricket, but in life. Kipling’s ‘If’ could have been written about him. So could parts of old Paul Robeson song: Ol’ Man Misbah: he must know sumpin’ but he don’t say nuthin’, he just keeps on rolling along.