Till the appointment of Misbahul Haq as Pakistan’s cricket captain in 2011, former all-rounder, Imran Khan, was overwhelmingly remembered as the greatest captain ever to lead the Pakistan cricket side.
However, five years after Misbah’s elevation to the post of captaincy, he not only leveled the joint-record (of most Test victories as captain held by Imran and Javed Miandad), but, by the tail-end of 2015, Misbah has already added to his tally another 6 victories (compared to the 14 each by Khan and Miandad).
Misbah now has an impressive 20 Test wins under his belt, the most ever by a Pakistani Test captain.
But Misbah is a modest man. Whenever he is reminded of this feat of his, he almost always recoils and politely suggests that as a cricketer he is nowhere close to Khan or Miandad.
Though it has taken quite a while for Misbah’s prestige and fame (as skipper) to mushroom, there is now enough evidence to suggest that he may as well have become the country’s greatest cricket captain.
Compared to the way Misbah’s fame as captain has slow-burned its way to the top, Imran Khan’s rise in this context was a lot swifter. But interestingly, both took over teams that were peppered with multiple problems.
Khan was appointed captain in 1982 at the age 0f 29. He had already established himself as a world class fast bowler and was on his way to becoming a quality all-rounder as well.
He was a regular member of the Pakistan team, having made his debut in the early 1970s as a lanky teenager.
Cricketing wisdom in those days suggested that fast bowlers never made good captains. However, this perception was somewhat negated when England’s quick bowler, Bob Willis, was made captain in 1982 and did quite well in his first series as skipper (against India in India).
Although Khan’s appointment took the players and the media by surprise, it baffled Khan too. After consulting with some of his closest friends (including legendary cricket commentator, Iftikhar Ahmad), Khan almost declined, only to accept the post just before Pakistan’s 1982 tour of England.
This meant Khan had to lead a team that was severely troubled by in-fighting and had in it some players who even refused to speak to each other.
What’s more, Khan hardly had any captaincy experience. He had only captained his university team at Oxford in the early 1970s.
However, in the next two years, Khan was more than successful in transforming the once bickering squad into a close-knit unit who turned winning into habit.
But Khan’s first era as captain almost entirely revolved around his imposing personality.
Misbah too, took over a troubled squad. But unlike Khan, he was not even in the team when he was asked to lead.
Also, quite unlike the appointment of Khan, Misbah’s appointment as captain was initially a make-shift affair.
Misbah had made his Test debut in 2002 but was soon dropped. He was recalled to the side five years later in 2007.
In 2010, he was again dropped and was most likely to have remained in obscurity had three frontline Pakistani players (Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir), not decided to earn some extra bit of money by indulging in spot-fixing during Pakistan’s 2010 tour of England.
Misbah’s approach on the other hand, was a lot more cautious. Because when he took over as captain, the once celebrated belligerence and flamboyant unpredictability of the Pakistan cricket teams under Imran (and then of the Pakistan sides that followed his retirement in 1992), had stopped being seen as things to rejoice or endear.
Misbah came in as an outsider. Though untainted by the debris of what had befallen the team in his absence, he was quite alone.
Not only was he expected to restore order, but he also had to actually justify his return as a batsman.
Misbah, in this respect was like Mr. Spock (the extremely rational and unemotional Vulcan in Star Trek).
As a captain he came in as a detached and stoic Vulcan to lead a team of passionate, warlike but wayward Klingons!
He knew well that no matter how he would want to restore his version of order in a highly instable and tainted team, he would first and foremost have to win the respect of his teammates by leading from the front.
Looking back, it is remarkable how well the then 36-year-old returnee managed to do this, finding his batting form, and gradually becoming the central figure around which the team’s batting would begin to revolve on a consistent basis.
To Misbah, order meant applying reason. In the face of some vehement criticism (especially from some former players), Misbah consciously went about detaching the team’s unpredictability tag and curbing its unabashed flamboyance and its penchant to be roused by emotional spiels of glory and honour.
Unlike Khan, who often clashed with the selectors and the cricket board – mainly due to his belief that the captain should have the most say in selection matters – Misbah in his five-year-stint has never had a single major falling-out episode with the country’s cricketing establishment.
Khan used to lament that when the team lost, it was always the captain’s head that ended up on the chopping block, so he needed to be given more say.
Misbah actually agrees with this assessment. But his dealings with the board and the selectors too, have been stoic.
Khan would often threaten to resign if the selectors did not give him the player (or players) he wanted on a tour. But Misbah simply takes what he is given and tries to make the best of it.
However, the more his place in the team got cemented (due to his resolute and dogged batting), and the more victories he began to score as captain, the selectors eventually began to invite him to give his suggestions on selection matters.
If one were to choose the two’s greatest feats, then for Imran it has to be the way he led a depleted side in 1992 that turned the tables and lifted that year’s Cricket World Cup; and for Misbah it should be the manner in which he quietly stabilized a tainted side of a country in turmoil, and lifted it to become the 2nd ranked Test side in the world – despite it not being able to play a single Test at home ever since 2009.