| NEW DELHI
NEW DELHI Jan 31 Following the Pakistan
cricket team has often been a veritable health hazard for their
supporters, pledging allegiance to a supremely talented but
highly fractious bunch that would veer from the sublime to the
ridiculous in the blink of an eye.
Even at the start of this decade, the team functioned more
like a secret society where any newcomer would struggle to
breathe in a dressing room polluted by air thick with suspicion.
Not so long ago, local media would report stories about
senior players holding clandestine meetings at a former
captain's residence to take an oath to betray the incumbent.
A former coach would call the players "mentally retarded"
and a captain would blame poor fielding on team mates busy
ogling girls in the outfield.
Of course, any players named denied the allegations.
Even for such a disjointed side, the 2010 spot-fixing
scandal would mark a new low, culminating with the imprisonment
of the then captain Salman Butt and bowlers Mohammad Amir and
Mohammad Asif for agreeing to bowl deliberate no-balls in the
Lord's test against England.
Less than a year-and-a-half on and Pakistan have not only
survived the crisis but emerged stronger under Misbah-ul-Haq's
understated captaincy, reveling in consistency and shrugging off
their notorious unpredictability.
Misbah and his men have clearly banished the nightmares of
their previous meeting with England to take an unassailable 2-0
lead against the same opponent in a 'home' series in the UAE and
are eyeing a clean sweep.
The latest success follows their series victories over New
Zealand, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka in a highly rewarding 2011 when
they won six of the 10 tests, losing just one.
"After the spot-fixing scandal the players discussed things
and we unanimously agreed that we need to just do well," Misbah
recently told the Geo News channel.
"I am happy that we have been playing with lot of focus,
dedication and discipline. The players have lots of faith in
each other and their abilities to perform under pressure."
Forced to host teams in the Gulf due to security concerns,
Pakistan have achieved a great deal under the quiet stewardship
of a 37-year-old captain who is unlike any of his predecessors.
Misbah does not warrant comparison with either
Inzamam-ul-Haq or Younus Khan as a batsman, lacks Shahid
Afridi's flamboyance and is not as articulate as Butt at
However, shoehorned into captaincy after Butt's ignominious
exit, Misbah has achieved what most others could not.
He has won eight of the 12 tests he has been in charge of
the team and is yet to lose a series as skipper.
More importantly, Pakistan finally look like a well-knit
unit of honest triers who have complete faith in their
phlegmatic leader and his single-minded pursuit of victory.
"It's better to win by playing defensively, instead of
losing by playing aggressively," Misbah said before the start of
the series against England.
This safety-first approach is hardly a surprise, coming from
a man whose fatal scoop shot in the final of the 2007 Twenty20
World Cup allowed arch-rivals India to walk away with the
Misbah may not have secured his place among Pakistan's great
captains yet but in the first two tests against world number one
ranked England, he has shown tactical acumen and flexibility to
get the best out of his team mates.
In absence of Asif and Amir, Umar Gul is relishing leading
an inexperienced pace attack while spin twins Saeed Ajmal and
Abdur Rehman have ruthlessly exposed the technical deficiencies
of the English batsmen.
The second test in Abu Dhabi was a proof of the team's
never-say-die attitude and Misbah's excellent captaincy.
With England chasing a meagre 145-run victory target, Misbah
opened with Mohammad Hafeez's gentle off-breaks and withdrew Gul
after just three overs so that he could unleash the Ajmal-Rehman
dynamic duo on the tentative batsmen.
Vindicating his decision completely, the spin trio shared
all 10 wickets, shooting out England for 72 in just over 36
overs for a memorable series-clinching victory.
For their volatile fans, it was a heart-warming display of
the team's collective grit and many would believe Misbah applied
some of the management lessons he learnt as a degree student in
It is this steady progress that convinced coach Mohsin Khan
that Pakistan, currently ranked fifth, can become the top test
"I think this team has the capacity to become the world's
best team," he said in Abu Dhabi.
"Our target should be to gradually come in the top three in
both tests and one-day cricket, and then gradually go to world
(Editing by John O'Brien; To comment on this story: email
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