x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Misbah-ul-Haq calmly builds on his reputation against Sri Lanka

Captain leads from the front as rampant Pakistan win the series 4-1.

Pakistan’s Umar Akmal remained at the wicket to finish things off, a notable result for a fledgling career.
Pakistan’s Umar Akmal remained at the wicket to finish things off, a notable result for a fledgling career.

ABU DHABI // If he was under pressure, it was only of the mildest kind. Having been run-out cheaply twice in the last two games, Misbah-ul-Haq would not have minded a decent score to end a series in which his own stature as Pakistan's leader has grown.

Many were, at best, indifferent about Misbah before the tour, but he has begun to gain greater acceptance; some are relieved to have come upon such a calming influence, others resigned to a successful streak of pragmatism.

His 66 at the Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi, which laid the way for a shaky three-wicket triumph but a thumping 4-1 series win over Sri Lanka, captured the effect well. It was not a flashy intervention, but it was serene and came precisely in the kind of middling chase Pakistan often fluff.

In fact they did stumble. They had lost two wickets in two balls in the 28th over to suddenly find themselves 113 for four, chasing 219. Jeevan Mendis's googly, unreadable in Sharjah on Sunday, was causing problems again. Already settled by then, Misbah proceeded to guide the young, hyperactive Umar Akmal through a vital 84-run stand.

There was nothing in the innings you would not find in good Misbah knocks and there have been a few recently: this was his ninth fifty in 30 ODIs since his return last October. Some reverse sweeps, some sweeps, some good running and plenty of infuriating blocks. And, of course, the infuriating end, just short of the finishing line, sparking another needless mini-wobble.

Lucky that Umar remained to finish things off, a notable result for a fledgling career a little scarred by not finishing games. Doubling up as a wicketkeeper, Umar's unbeaten 61 showcased the vast quality at his disposal. Along with the thumping pulls - one of which ended the game - there were to be found the power cover drives and the smart, swift running; he can be frighteningly good if his head is right.

Not that it was a particularly stiff target. Sri Lanka's batting was of two stories, both familiar by now. One was the continuing rashness of a top order that has failed through the series; Pakistan's pacemen attacked and swung the ball and were rewarded. The other story was of Kumar Sangakkara, regal and abrasive in distress.

Even as wickets fell to Sohail Tanvir and Umar Gul at one end, he attacked. When the length was right, he leant forward to drive. When shorter, he cut without hesitation, or dabbed around the field.

The early gusto not only showcased his essential quality but also doubled as a pointed dig at his own top-order and its wastefulness. He calmed eventually as he found an able partner in Angelo Mathews, himself woefully out of form in the ODI series. The pair built an eminently sensible 118-run stand, not only preventing meltdown but building towards a potentially solid total.

The Mathews hand was not without highlight, begun with an easy loft over mid-off off Shahid Afridi. A little later, as Gul returned for a mid-innings spell, he twice danced down and lifted him for six with the grace of a ballet dancer.

Thereafter the pair batted with due care, allowing Pakistan to maintain a semblance of control throughout. Once Sangakkara fell, slapping the ball to cover in the 39th over, the chances of a big total went and Pakistan's spinners, hitherto flat, tightened up.

Mathews fell soon after to Saeed Ajmal and it took some late, late lower-order swinging to take the total to 218. Two wickets for Tanvir in the final over were just reward for a fine and important display for a man on the periphery for too long.

Pakistan's win also ensured they remain at fifth in the ODI rankings, their highest position in over two years. Twenty-three wins out of 34 since October last and a few more expected in Bangladesh means that the stage is perfectly set for when England arrive in the new year.