x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Runs flow, and so do emotions for Misbah-ul-Haq

With no pressure this time around, the crisis man and Pakistan captain revelled in the conditions.

AbuDhabi, United Arab Emirates- October,16, 2013: Pakistan Captain Misbah Ul Haq plays a reverse sweep shot during the 1st test between Pakistan vs SouthAfrica  at the Zayed Cricket Stadium in AbuDhabi. ( Satish Kumar / The National ) For Sports/ Story by Osman Samiuddin *** Local Caption ***  SK-Crik-16102013-02.jpg
AbuDhabi, United Arab Emirates- October,16, 2013: Pakistan Captain Misbah Ul Haq plays a reverse sweep shot during the 1st test between Pakistan vs SouthAfrica at the Zayed Cricket Stadium in AbuDhabi. ( Satish Kumar / The National ) For Sports/ Story by Osman Samiuddin *** Local Caption *** SK-Crik-16102013-02.jpg

Misbah-ul-Haq could stare out a wall if he wanted. In press conferences his usual style is to acknowledge the questioner and then set his eyes as solidly as cement, into undefined space.

If he blinks make a note. One on one, he is even more unnerving. Smiles do not break out but materialise gradually like an old Polaroid photograph. The voice does not flinch in tone or tenor.

So when he does emote, just know that these are seismic moments. Yesterday, as he ran the single that marked his fourth Test hundred and his first in 29 months, came one of these.

An emphatic, double-arm hammer, vigorous unhelmeted acknowledgements and a prolonged sajda (the moment Muslims kneel in prayer) in gratitude. He smiled lots as well.

Inzamam-ul-Haq’s legendary fist-pump after a match-winning, career-reviving hundred against Bangladesh in September 2003 strayed into the mind, as a loose reference point.

Inzamam was under a different kind of pressure and though he could be as poker-faced, he had a delicious, mischievous and fairly evident wit underneath.

To break through Misbah’s exterior? It has not been done yet.

Clearly this innings was a big deal, a bigger deal than it just being a hundred against the top-ranked Test side in the world, or a hundred to break a drought, or even one to rescue an innings.

The context to this brief burst of emotion lies in the deeply complex and divisive place Misbah has come to hold in Pakistan cricket, and even Pakistan.

It may sound far-fetched, but you could probably draw out a pretty revealing sociological profile of the country based on how they feel about Misbah.

From the outside, there is nothing to his defence. Misbah scores runs, he does so in crisis, he has led Pakistan successfully, stably and with a dignity that, let us face it, many have not.

But it is such an internalised debate that looking in from the outside sometimes means missing a world of nuance.

He bats too slowly, with too much fear, which spreads through the side; he does not show enough emotion, is too bland.

These are not just criticisms of Misbah; some of these barbs are expressions of a way of being, of a culture and a tradition.

Yesterday came an innings purely for himself though, a rare opportunity for unfettered self-expression. There was no crisis to resolve, no run-rate to maintain.

When he arrived on Tuesday Pakistan were 178 for three, which is a position of such luxury and relief it must have felt like arriving to an air-conditioned mansion in a desert. It was an innings played in a manner in which it has always been said – lately by himself – he is capable of playing in.

He was fluid from the very beginning and so in control, never more than in that repeated deliberate quivering half-edge, half-dab through third man.

But there was another shot to remember from Tuesday: that easy clip through to the square leg boundary off the last ball of the day. That point of utmost caution and preservation, the last ball of the day, for four?

It probably does not mean anything other than it was a bad ball, but how easy is it to imagine him having blocked it? And there would have been nothing wrong with that either, but it kind of tells a tale about this innings.

The funny thing though is, as unique a figure as he is, as captain he has unwittingly maintained that which defines Pakistan.

No other side in cricket could even imagine conceiving the kind of triumph Pakistan stand on the verge of right now, one Test after losing to what was then the bottom-ranked side in Test cricket.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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