by Nomaan Qazi

In May 1974, in the small southern Punjab city of Mianwali, a boy was born to an athlete mother and a father who was a hockey player. The kid was to grow up to further uphold the sporting traditions of his family.

In our part of the world, kids often face violent opposition from parents when pursuing sports, purely due to a lack of scope and minimal financially stability. Misbah-ul-Haq Khan Niazi was no exception. Hailing from the same town as the great Pakistani cricket legend Imran Khan, he first fell in love with the game after watching the great Khan lift the World Cup trophy for Pakistan back in 1992, although he was just eleven years of age at that time.

Like every child growing up in Pakistan, Misbah started playing tape ball cricket besides the railway lines of Mianwali. However, it was not until 1994 that Misbah decided to adopt cricket as a profession after watching Pakistan take on the touring South African side in a test match, being a spectator and witnessing the live action from the stands. Thankfully for him, he fell for the game at a time when Pakistan cricket . 

He then started playing tape ball cricket professionally and would travel to the adjoining towns, such as Layyah, Sargodha and Faisalabad, to play tape ball cricket tournaments, returning home in the wee hours next day tired and exhausted after the long train journeys. Misbah would climb over the wall of his house and jump into his bed so that his parents wouldn’t get to know how late he arrived home.

Those who have played tape ball cricket professionally in Pakistan still regard the Mianwali-born Misbah-ul-Haq as the cleanest hitter the game has ever seen. His friends and former team mates narrate that Misbah would always look to hit straight, and 99 times out of hundred, he would clear the fence with ease and help take his team over the line at the end. On numerous occasions he would open the batting and bat right down till the last ball.

These qualities got the attention of the coach of the Mianwali Gymkhana cricket club where proper hard ball cricket was the norm and Misbah soon joined the club. Misbah narrated the fact that the entire club used to practice on cemented tracks where lanky, pacy bowlers would make him smell the leather every other ball. That was when Misbah grew strong in his defence. His club cricket career was a success and soon he played grade 2 domestic cricket where he scored a truck-load of runs before making his first first class debut for Sargodha. In the same season Misbah whacked two centuries and chipped in with a number of handy contributions as well.

All these years, Misbah was forced by his father to acquire education and focus less on cricket. Therefore, Misbah continued his studies and emerged as an MBA graduate from the University of Management Sciences in Lahore. He was all set to join a government job before sacrificing it for his first love, cricket.

The hard working Misbah had a couple of highly successful seasons before his biggest dream came true. He was called up to Pakistan’s test match side to face New Zealand where he made his debut. However, as per the tradition of Pakistan cricket, he was dropped without being given a fair run.

It was in August 2002, that Misbah was recalled for a triangular series in Kenya, involving the hosts and Australia. Misbah showed his real colours in that series scoring back-to-back fifties apart from other useful contributions where all other batsmen failed to pick the likes of McGrath, Warne, Lee and Gillespie. However, soon after, Pakistan faced Australia in a test series in Sri Lanka/Sharjah Misbah failed miserably, and was dropped again from the side.

It was in the summer of 2007 that the 33-year old Misbah was rewarded with a slot in the World T-20 squad in South Africa. This was to turn out to be the turning point in his career. Misbah was the star of the show at the mega event winning crunch games single-handedly against the strong Australians and the New Zealanders.

However, his life-changing moment, and arguably the most depressing moment in his life, was soon to follow. Against arch rivals India in the World T-20 final Misbah came out to bat as the sole hope for Pakistan after they lost their top order and middle order like nine pins. He continued from where he left off in the previous game not paying any respect to the Indian bowling attack. A powerful six down the ground to Joginder Sharma in the final over of the innings took Pakistan within touching distance of just 4 runs before they could lift the coveted trophy with one wicket in hand. However, destiny had something else in store for him.

As Joginder Sharma waddled into bowl, Misbah had things running in his mind about which he states that the boundaries were packed with fieldsmen on all corners and Sharma possessed very little pace so he felt he won’t be able to clear the boundary.

All of a sudden he decided to play a shot that he was an expert at. A shot that he had played with nearly 100% success all his life starting from his tape ball playing days- the cheeky scoop shot over the head of short fine leg. Unluckily, he played it too close to his body and ended up lobbing a catch to Sreesanth thus breaking the hearts of millions of fans and crushing his own to say the least. He knelt down on the pitch with his head down in shear pain and utter disgust.

The fans and cricket pundits back home all of a sudden made got after him as per the norm in Pakistan.  Ninetey-Nine ordinary men out of one hundered would have beenprofoundly affected after such disappoinment. Misbah-ul-Haq , however, was that one extraordinary man Pakistan cricket desperately needed at that stage with the retirement of legend Inzamam-ul-Haq.

However, as they say when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. Misbah got up from where he fell down on the Wanderers pitch and took it as his mission to compensate Pakistan cricket and win back the love of the passionate Pakistan cricket fans.

Misbah returned with some daddy hundreds on the test tour to India a couple of months later, establishing his name in the game’s longest format as well. He remained part of the Pakistan team from there, until the disastrous tour of Australia in 2009 after which he along with some other senior players faced the axe. In utter disgust and despair the Niazi from Mianwali burnt his cricket kit bag. God Almighty had better plans for him.

In 2010 the spot-fixing saga that rocked Pakistan cricket emerged and Pakistan lost their captain Salman Butt and two of the world’s top ranked fast bowlers Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif. Having lost their skipper, the chairman of PCB, Ijaz Butt, offered Misbah a comeback in the test side as captain for the home series against South Africa in the UAE, which Misbah happily accepted. From there on Misbah never looked back. From his experiences of leading the Pakistan A side on numerous occasions, Misbah defied all odds by  captaining Pakistan to level that particular series against a strong Graeme Smith-led Proteas test team.

Thereafter, Pakistan’s test side made winning a habit. They beat New Zealand in New Zealand, and followed it up with a levelled series against the West Indies in the Carribean and defeated Sri Lanka in the following series. A little after the 2011 World Cup, Misbah then was also given Pakistan’s ODI captaincy. The following year in 2012, Pakistan faced the then number one ranked England side fresh from an Ashes series win. Misbah’s men whitewashed the Englishmen 3-0 rather convincingly. That was when Pakistan achieved a record high ranking of number 2 in the world. Pakistan then toured India and won the ODI series 2-1, and a few months later became the first Asian team ever to beat South Africa in South Africa.

Between 2007 and 2013 Misbah-ul-Haq had the unique record of not ever getting bowled in an ODI, which speaks volumes of the man’s sound defence. Although he has had ups and downs in his captaincy career, such as the test series whitewash in South Africa, the test match lost against Zimbabwe at Harare, and the away series loss to Sri Lanka.  Apart from that, his career remained on a high. He skippered his team to test series wins against Australia which included the fastest ever test match fifty and the fastest test match hundred, and a levelled series against New Zealand in the UAE. In between he also led his domestic first class side SNGPL to two titles in the Quaid e Azam trophy, the country’s premier domestic competition. He also captained the side to a memorable test series win against Sri Lanka in 2015, which included a Pakistan record chase at Pallekele.

He is one of those few Pakistanis who themselves called it a day on their ODI careers after a 2015 world cup quarter final loss to Australia. Misbah decided to hang on to the longest format of the game where Pakistan needed him the most.

A cricket team’s real test comes when it tours England, and this time, in the summer of 2016, Misbah-ul-Haq flew with his crew to the UK with nerves of steel and an unshakeable resolve to create history against an England side that hadn’t failed to win a home series since 2010, having just lost to South Africa in between. Pakistan however, had already beaten England 6 months ago in a test series played in the UAE.

Super fit Misbah as they called him, by now was 42 years young at the time, and lead from the front on day-one of the first test at Lords’, scoring a masterful hundred . The Pakistani Ace outclassed England’s pace and aggression throughout the series and ended up levelling the series and consequently causing Pakistan to become the number one ranked test team in the world. ‘King’ Misbah himself was named man of the series.

Only a true lover of the game would understand the value of being crowned as the number one team in the game’s purest format. Serene and humble, the dedicated Ace from Mianwali lifted the mace on 21st September, 2016 making the whole nation proud.

As it stands, Misbah-ul-Haq who had burnt his kit bag 7 years ago with shattered hopes of making another international comeback at his age is the country’s most successful test captain ever, surpassing arguably the country’s biggest and most highly celebrated skipper of all time, Imran Khan. Truth be told, a lot of credit goes to Misbah’s luck at the coin toss which he seldom loses and his ability to read the pitch means that he would help his side take control of the test match from the onset.

Misbah is adamant on hanging on until the challenging tours of New Zealand and Australia later this year which might be his last international tours in Pakistan colours. Whatever the result is, Misbah-ul-Haq shall forever be hailed as the finest test captain ever produced by Pakistan and a real role model for the budding youth to follow.