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The past year has been mediocre for Misbah-ul-Haq, the Pakistan captain, in the 50-over format with the batsman averaging around 35 and worse playing at a strike rate of just 66. Lakruwan Wanniarachchi / AFP
The past year has been mediocre for Misbah-ul-Haq, the Pakistan captain, in the 50-over format with the batsman averaging around 35 and worse playing at a strike rate of just 66. Lakruwan Wanniarachchi / AFP

Time is right for Misbah-ul-Haq to step aside

The Pakistan captain has revived his team's fortunes, but with age and form against him, the batsman must make way for a younger player, writes Osman Samiuddin.

This probably is not the right time to bring this up. In fact, it is about the worst time to bring it up, Pakistan having just beaten India in an one-day international (ODI) series in India; the world champions in their backyard, only their fourth ODI series defeat in over a decade.

But, and this is not said lightly, maybe it is the right time for Misbah-ul-Haq to step aside as the ODI captain and out of the side itself.

A case could be made to let him lead in South Africa where his experience and sponge-like impassivity might still help on what could be a difficult tour.

But, given the enormity of the role he has played in Pakistan's revival since the winter of 2010, it might be more appropriate for Misbah to go out on the high of a win in India rather than a potential defeat in South Africa.

Why? A confluence of reasons really. What would be most important in most countries the fact of the 2015 World Cup being two years away and wanting to have a settled leader by then is least relevant for Pakistan.

Shahid Afridi was announced as Pakistan's captain for the last World Cup just two weeks before the tournament began, having been tugged along uncertainly series by series for nearly a year before it.

Pakistan made it, without breaking sweat, to the semi-finals, their best performance in three World Cups.

Leadership successions and planning ahead not only do not work for Pakistan, they usually do not seem to matter.

That the man who eventually replaces Misbah may not be ODI captain by the time the next World Cup rolls along or the man who replaces the man who replaced Misbah or even the one after that is more than just a chance.

It is a likelihood because two years in Pakistan cricket is an entire universe's existence, unrelated to ones that come before or after.

Still that does not mean it should not be attempted, or that it does not work ever. Because just at this very moment they are wonderfully placed to attempt one.

In Mohammad Hafeez they not only have a man who is already leading the Twenty20 side, they have a very good cricketer at the most secure moment in his career, both within the side and in his own abilities.

Later this summer is the last Champions Trophy in England and although it is too early to be a thorough dress rehearsal, it will be invaluable experience.

Sure it is difficult to completely erase the fear that Hafeez's batting might not hold up in Australia, or that he will be 34 by then, but no one is better placed currently (and to worry about how a player might do as captain before you make him captain kind of defeats the point).

But the more pressing reason is Misbah's own place in the side as a batsman.

Now, opinion has always been divided on his worth over 50 overs, sometimes (as with me) even within one person.

Is he too defensive, or is he merely what a flimsy order above him needs? Does he finish enough games? Or does he get left with a very weak tail too many times to be able to finish them? But I do not think he has ever, over 110 ODIs, conclusively proved either side right or wrong. Which is precisely the problem.

In this series he has been overshadowed and a little forgotten. Pakistan have got pace again: rejoice! Hafeez and Saeed Ajmal are still wonderful as spinners: hurrah! Nasir Jamshed is a quality opener: yay! Kamran Akmal's taking some catches: gosh! Misbah? Err, you know, he has made 16, 2 and 39.

And in the pantheon of great, polarising Misbah innings, the last was as representative as they come. Needed to stabilise. No, no, too slow. Put pressure on. Pakistan lost.

It is the kind of form that makes his statistics over the last year look very ordinary: averaging 35-ish in 20 ODIs, just two fifties and crucially, in this day and age, a strike rate of 66. That is just too retro, like listening to a Walkman.

But more than the direct impact of his presence at the crease, it is the indirect absence of young players such as Asad Shafiq and Umar Akmal, and even (remember him?) Fawad Alam.

If you add Azhar Ali as an improving, stabilising option, Pakistan have a real opportunity to develop an adaptable and potentially prosperous middle order for that World Cup (and by the by, the bulk of it good across formats too).

There are but the slightest murmurs that Younis Khan may not be around much longer in coloured uniform.

Losing Misbah and Younis at around the same time will not be ideal.

If Afridi and Abdul Razzaq are also unlikely to make it back so swiftly now, then all put together, that is a sudden and substantial loss of experience.

But about the only time Pakistan could afford that blow is now, in the peachy afterglow of beating India and still two years before the next World Cup.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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