Misbah-ul-Haq at the press conference after the India-Pakistan match
© Getty Images

Cover story

The logician

A man of reason, numbers and sense, it is no wonder Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan's most un-Pakistani captain, has never connected with fans like someone of his accomplishments ought to have done

Hassan Cheema  |  

Misbah-ul-Haq stands there, looking first to midwicket and then to cover. He is glancing around even as Joginder Sharma runs in. He raises his bat like an axe, ready to chop a tree, but the bat never comes down. The ball goes through to MS Dhoni, a wide.

Dhoni runs down the wicket to Joginder, perhaps trying to calm the bowler's nerves. The next ball is barely a foot straighter but is inside the white line. Misbah swings and misses; Dhoni applauds, and coughs. Pakistan require 12 from five with a wicket remaining, and the bowler seems to have revealed his plan.

The next ball, Misbah shuffles across so far, all three stumps are visible. Joginder attempts another yorker outside off, but bowls a high-ish full toss instead. Misbah responds with a six high and straight down the ground. Perhaps he doesn't get hold of it, but he gets enough. In the dugout Younis Khan laughs, and the Pakistan team cannot understand how they are about to win a game they had no right to. They should have been buried when they needed 81 off 50 with only Misbah and the tail left. And Misbah should have probably been buried a long time ago.

He still stands there, unmoved by the commotion around him, save for the occasional touch of the helmet, assessing the field. The replay shows him following up the six like any good tape-ball player would: walking towards the bowler with an uncharacteristic swagger. Meeting him mid-pitch is Mohammad Asif, who offers a fist bump. As Misbah gets back to his crease, zoned in, his score flashes on the TV screen - he is yet to hit a four but has four sixes in 43 from 37 balls. It is what will come to be known as typical Misbah.

Misbah wasn't supposed to be at the Wanderers. He wasn't supposed to be in the squad. He wasn't supposed to be playing international cricket at the time. Hell, he wasn't even supposed to be a cricketer

Pakistan need six from four. Misbah waits some more. Dhoni runs back to his position. Joginder keeps his line. And Misbah plays that shot. A leap out to off, a fatal scoop, and Sreesanth, lurking at fine leg, takes the catch. He flings the ball high and the jubilant Indian team management runs onto the field. Dhoni's gamble has worked.

Meanwhile Geoff Lawson, the Pakistan coach, slaps his thighs and looks around, only to see mostly shell-shocked faces. Umar Gul looks like he is lost for the appropriate facial expression. The Indians celebrate in the background; in the foreground Misbah is on his knees, clasping the bat to his chest, unsure of what to do.

That one shot would have a profound influence on the direction the sport would take. It would also influence how Pakistan viewed Misbah and establish a template for the rest of his career. In a tournament where Pakistan were not front runners, Misbah had pulled off chases against Australia in the group stage and New Zealand in the semi-final. Yet he would be defined by what he did not finish - the two games against India. He would end the tournament as the third highest run scorer despite not once batting in the top five. Yet he would turn into a scapegoat. A comprehensive loss might have led to the criticism being shared, but Misbah had offered hope. And it is the hope that kills.

What might have been: Misbah's innings in the 2007 World T20 final offered Pakistanis unimaginable hope, which was then rudely snatched away

What might have been: Misbah's innings in the 2007 World T20 final offered Pakistanis unimaginable hope, which was then rudely snatched away © Associated Press

Misbah wasn't supposed to be at the Wanderers. He wasn't supposed to be in that squad, only there as a surprise last gasp because Shoaib Malik, the young new captain, wasn't comfortable with Mohammad Yousuf. Misbah wasn't even supposed to be playing international cricket at the time; he was 33, a time when Pakistani cricketers wind down careers. Hell, he wasn't even supposed to be a cricketer.

In The White Tiger Aravind Adiga describes parts of northern India as "the darkness" that his protagonist has to escape. Bangalore is the light: new India, shining amid the darkness. In Pakistan, the light has long shone on the Punjab, maybe a bit too much, those outside the province will argue. But here too there is some darkness, especially in the part of the Saraiki belt that separates the province from the mountainous west.

The land is known for little beyond its fertile fields, rugged terrain, rugged men and Attaullah Esakhelvi, one of the country's most popular folk singers. It is the Pakistani equivalent of the bush, where ambition is a willingness to move out. In The Unquiet Ones, a history of Pakistan cricket, former left-arm spinner Khalid Qureshi recalls Justice Cornelius, an early driving force in cricket administration, telling him in the early 1950s to "bring tall, broad players, six footers from Mianwali and make them fast bowlers". Six decades after Cornelius' scouting advice, Mianwali would produce not a fast bowler but Pakistan's most successful Test captain.

Misbah-ul-Haq Khan Niazi was born in May 1974, in Mianwali in Punjab's darkness. It was a cricketing darkness as well, with no major centre within even 200km of the city, and the closest minor centre, Sargodha, more than 100km away. Misbah grew up in a land where hardly anyone dreamed of being a professional cricketer.

Faisalabad is a unique city, very much the capital of Punjabi juggat-baazi - a combination of heckling, swearing and general piss-taking. And the crowds at the cricket reflect this

"The culture there wasn't such that you thought about playing for Pakistan," he says when we meet in Lahore, in his typically dry monotone. "There was nothing like that in Mianwali. The cricket there isn't the sort that you could say would produce great cricketers. Forget Pakistan, they hardly ever produced first-class cricketers. Over there it is just for fun. You played because it was your passion."

Misbah was blessed with the sporting gene - his mother was a star athlete at Lahore College for Women University, his father a former field hockey player. Yet though his mother always encouraged his sporting passions, his father often did not. He would tell his only son, "All my class fellows became doctors and engineers, and I ended up being a teacher only because of all the time I spent playing hockey." Misbah's mother was a primary school principal, and a heavy focus on education was only natural. "I am the youngest in the family and the most nikamma [useless]. At that time in Mianwali, education for girls wasn't the norm, but my parents always focused on education. I have two older sisters, one ended up doing a Masters in Physics; the other is a medical doctor."

Padhoge likhoge banoge nawab, kheloge, koodoge, ho jaoge kharab is an old maxim demonising sport, prioritising education. This was even more pertinent in Misbah's case, his father keen for his son to avoid his own mistakes. Misbah seemed destined for higher education and a corporate or government job. But in a delightful twist it was when Misbah was in college, in Faisalabad, that he watched his first international match.

Faisalabad is a unique city, very much the capital of Punjabi juggat-baazi - a combination of heckling, swearing and general piss-taking. And the crowds at the cricket reflect this. The atmosphere was charged when Pakistan played South Africa in an ODI in 1994, and Misbah, one of the spectators, was in for a shock.

Foes and fans: no modern Pakistani cricketer has polarised opinion quite so much

Foes and fans: no modern Pakistani cricketer has polarised opinion quite so much © AFP/Getty Images

"The sort of people that came to watch that match, oof! No one was interested in the cricket. We had bottles thrown at us. That day I learned that 90% of people that come to stadia in Pakistan come to shout abuse. I mean, who even understands cricket here? They don't go to see the match. They just go to have fun. It's not like England, for instance. The people over there are a 'respectable audience'. Even in England most of our fans only come to abuse us.

"It comes back to what your background is. This isn't a groomed society. In groomed societies having fun is not the same as making fun of someone. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of people here who enjoy cricket, and others who have fun, but there are those whose only source of fun is to throw shoes at others. It all comes back to the education you have.

"Having an education, or just having a background of reasoning, makes you think logically. Everything is about logic, whether that is batting or anything else. There is an evaluation process to everything: that if I do A or B here then C will happen. As long as you don't have the habit of thinking logically then you rely solely on talent and you just play every ball without context. This (points to his head) isn't tuned as long as you don't study, you don't learn problem-solving. I'll look at a problem differently than someone without education would."

There can be quibbles with his line of thinking but it explains a lot. Here is a captain of a national side playing the most popular sport in a country where a sliver of the population has college degrees, a country that tends to rely on inspiration over perspiration. Here is a rational man in an irrational place. A man who wants to be prepared. A man who works out in the gym and doesn't smoke. A man who frets over his diet. A man unlike most of his countrymen.

"I am the youngest in the family and the most nikamma"

Occasionally a different Misbah has peeped out, a more Pakistani, we might say, Misbah. Once, while he was in FSc (higher secondary), in a tape-ball match against a team from Bahawalpur in Lahore, Misbah, a "finger" bowler who relies on the carrom ball, was no-balled repeatedly. An altercation followed. Backing him were seven or eight guys, opposing him a dozen. Jamshed Niazi, a cousin and childhood friend, says, "The ground was next to a road where there was a gola ganda [ice lollies] stall. We should have run away, but instead Misbah ran to that stall, grabbed two bottles, broke them on the pavement, and with broken bottles in both hands charged towards those against us. And all we could do was laugh as every one of them fled. That is the only time in my life I've seen him get angry."

In a different country, or a different time, Misbah might have ended up in another sport. He loved both hockey and football, but ahead of his first taste of live international cricket in Faisalabad, his teenage years coincided with the flowering of the sport in Pakistan. He was 11 when Javed Miandad hit that six in Sharjah, 17 when Pakistan won the World Cup. He grew up at a time when the popularity of the game skyrocketed. And cricket won him over. The verandahs and backyards of his grandparents' and his own home became international venues as he imagined pitting himself against the best in the world. It was on these verandahs that he picked up his first cricket lessons, and it was here that he might well have stopped playing, in 1988, when his father died. It was only thanks to his mother that he continued to pursue his passion.

And so Misbah graduated to the tape-ball circuit that had exploded in Karachi and across the country in the late-'80s and early-'90s. While tape-ball cricket is often credited for Pakistan's assembly line of fast bowlers, it is criticised for creating batsmen who can hit but cannot bat. Yet it was in this format that Misbah honed skills that would serve him well in his international career.

T is for tuk: Misbah is derided for his cautious batting even if the rest of Pakistan's batsmen give their wickets away through extravagant shots

T is for tuk: Misbah is derided for his cautious batting even if the rest of Pakistan's batsmen give their wickets away through extravagant shots © AFP

"From 9th grade to FSc [between the ages of 14 and 18] I played a lot of tape ball," he says. "I would go to places like Layyah and Bhakkar. Those cities had grounds near the railway station, so you would play the match and return to Mianwali on the last train, usually getting home at three or four in the morning. And when you got there, you would sneak into your home, jump the wall and climb into your bed as quietly as possible so as not to wake anyone up.

"That was the time I learnt how to sleep standing up in the train. You would hold on to the railings, often the ones at the carriage doors, and you would be so tired you would doze off. I am surprised I never fell out of the train."

The circuit became his life and he its star. "In his life there were only two things, his red bicycle and his bat stuck in the rack of that bicycle," remembers his cousin Jamshed. "He would play as he does now, control one end and take us home. The only difference between then and now is that he would always, always I tell you, finish the game. I guess we provided him with better support than these guys do nowadays."

In 1992 a happy confluence of events gave Misbah's pursuit a serious push. First he completed his FSc exams, the results of which, in Pakistan, usually take up to six months. This first time that academics weren't his priority were also the six months following Pakistan's World Cup win. His passion reached a peak. "The guy who ran Mianwali Gymkhana knew me and he needed players for his team. I used to play straight even in tape-ball games, so he thought I could translate that to hard-ball cricket. And when I started practising there, suddenly tape ball wasn't as fun anymore.

"I would go to places like Layyah and Bhakkar, play the match and return to Mianwali on the last train, usually getting home at three or four in the morning. I learnt to sleep standing up in the train"

"You know what Mianwali is like. Even that club had four or five guys who all bowled fast and each of them was over six feet. And they would bowl like the West Indian bowlers of the time, bouncers all day long. We used to practise on a cement pitch, and I really liked the challenge. In hard-ball cricket you at least have the margin to stop the odd ball. You can play it along the ground. In tape ball if you miss even one ball your team-mates start heckling and say, 'Why aren't you hitting sixes?'"

It is a feeling he would get used to for the bulk of his international career.

E ducation, earlier his biggest obstacle to pursuing his passion, now provided avenues for him to become a better player. First he went to Faisalabad for his undergraduate studies and, on a competitive all-Pakistan circuit, became a tape-ball legend, gaining a reputation for playing long innings even in this shortened format. ("If there was a 12- or 14-over match I would go in as the opener and play till the end. And that is where I learnt to hit - straight and over midwicket, especially.")

In Lahore, where he did his MBA, though he studied at the Institute of Leadership and Management, most of his time was spent in the dorms and grounds of Punjab University (where his cousin studied and lived). "I spent all my time playing tape ball on those grounds. My bowling was decent enough, and my hitting, well you know (shrugs with a knowing smile). They used to say that you ought to play for Pakistan and I would laugh and say that I am just a tape-ball player. No one has ever been selected for the national team based on their tape-ball skills, have they?"

Unlike most Pakistan captains, Misbah has not been a leader who has sought more power

Unlike most Pakistan captains, Misbah has not been a leader who has sought more power © AFP

Until 1997, when the 23-year-old Misbah completed his studies, the focus was on a possible nine-to-five career. He got a job at "some textile mill" and signed a six-month contract. "There was a lot of pressure on me to get a job at that time. But I delayed the start as the cricket season was starting. I had started playing Grade II cricket by that time. And when the season started I scored a couple of hundreds in the first couple of matches. So I thought, might as well give this a chance."

He never joined the textile mill, instead making waves in the domestic game as he graduated to first-grade cricket and the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. According to former Pakistan batsman Bazid Khan, a contemporary, Misbah went from "an unknown guy who was famous for being the cleanest hitter of the ball in the domestic circuit" into one of the more consistent run scorers on the domestic circuit. In four years.

Over the next decade Misbah seemed set for a typical Pakistan career. He was selected, dropped and recalled, set to go the same way as many promising batsmen before him. A string of consistent performances earned him a debut against New Zealand in March 2001, and though he couldn't hold down a place over two years, it was here that he learnt what was needed to be an international player. He returned again in 2007 for a 30-month period with some memorable moments - including the whole of the World T20 in 2007 and a maiden Test century in India in December 2007 - but he was nothing more than a stop-gap before the next induction of youth. He was dropped after Pakistan's disastrous tour to Australia in 2009-10, and though he played the World T20 in the West Indies, it seemed he was done for good. That summer he even thought about quitting cricket, perhaps convinced that his passion alone was not enough.

This was not the first time Misbah had considered leaving the game. He thought about giving it up as a teenager when his father passed away; when he was studying for his MBA; and again in 2000-01, in 2006 and in 2010. In the last instance he was in England for a hernia operation and Najaf Shah, a former Pakistan A team-mate, says he was asking around about real estate in England, with an eye on his post-retirement life.

Here is a rational man in an irrational place. A man unlike most of his countrymen

That was the summer the spot-fixing scandal rocked the cricketing world. "I was in England for the operation when I got the news, and I was just shocked. I had no idea that this sort of thing still happened. It just felt weird."

Shorn of any realistic options for the Pakistan captaincy, Ijaz Butt, in perhaps the only intelligent moment of his PCB chairmanship, called Misbah and said he was thinking of making him the Test captain.

In a sense, Misbah the captain was never destined to win hearts and minds. Another Niazi from Mianwali had birthed a cricketing orthodoxy too strong for anyone to challenge. Imran Khan never lived in Mianwali - he was always the "Lion of Lahore" - but in a country where patronage and family name count for so much he is associated as much with Mianwali as with Lahore. Mianwali is where he built a university. Mianwali is where his political party won its only seat in the 2002 national elections, and where he won one of his three seats in the 2013 elections. But beyond the tribal name and the fact they ended as Pakistan's most successful Test captains there is little else Imran and Misbah share.

Misbah's captaincy is in many ways a rejection of the teachings of the Imran school. He believes in the domestic game, which Imran derided. He believes that a player has to prove himself in first-class cricket, while Imran swore by the power of youth and raw talent. Misbah leads by calmness, by committee, by performance and without saying too much. He attacks not with a sledgehammer but with a choke. He is pragmatic, not dogmatic.

"Ten years after I leave, who cares if anyone in the press box was with me or against me?" © Associated Press

Misbah has even opened the bowling with spinners in Tests, the most un-Imran move in a land of tearaway bowlers. "Ninety percent of openers are prepared to play fast bowlers and leave the ball," he says. "They have their reflexes sharpened, they are on the edge. That is what the opener has done all his life. When we started opening the attack with [Mohammad] Hafeez, especially in Tests, this was not common. People used to do it in ODIs, but Tests? And suddenly you've got a spinner who is at you all the time. He only has one ball per over that actually spins, the rest are straight at you. You have to play every ball, right at the moment when you are thinking about leaving most balls alone."

The conditions his teams have played in, and the resources at Misbah's disposal, have played a role. His first series as captain was Pakistan's first after the loss of Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif. Umar Gul never fulfilled his red-ball potential, and fitness concerns around Mohammad Irfan and Junaid Khan meant that Misbah was left with a third-string pace attack. Instead of trying to impose what had become de rigueur, Misbah adapted. So what if the five best pacers of his time weren't available? He would turn Pakistan into a side led by spin.

Hockey and football contributed to his remarkable fitness but it is his experiences in another sport that provide a better window into his captaincy. Misbah excelled in snooker - a sport that, in the late '80s and early '90s, was mostly played by Pakistani laundas, teenage boys with nothing better to do. There is even a picture of a fresh-faced Misbah holding a trophy from 1992, after he became a district champion. Misbah stopped playing after that victory but a friend of his says that if you make the mistake of beating him at snooker, he won't let you rest. He will force you to play again and beat you. And only then will he leave you alone.

In snooker the early exchanges are about gauging the opponent; where you don't strike till you see a clear opening; where the consequences of every action have to be considered two steps in advance. It is a game where safety is a virtue and calmness prized, where one streak of consistency can overturn any deficit, where it is not over until it is mathematically over. It is the game Misbah was born to play. It is a game Misbah still plays in his head on the cricket field.

"The only difference between then [tape-ball days] and now is that he would always finish the game. I guess we provided him with better support than these guys do nowadays" Jamshed Niazi, Misbah's cousin

During the World T20 in 2014, Misbah was hired as an analyst for Ten Sports' coverage of the tournament. "For him, every ball was something he needed to see," says Zohaib Hussain, a Ten Sports anchor. "The only time he stopped watching was when he had to pray, but even then after he was finished praying he would ask me or someone about every ball: who played the shot, what happened, was it a slower ball - he wanted to know everything. He knew about everyone too, and he read the mind of the fielding captains to perfection. Even as Netherlands were bowling their seventh over he would know who would bowl their 15th over, for example, and he would nearly always be proven right. We would joke that he ought to be a bookie."

Where Misbah is most un-Imran is perhaps in his puzzling inability to grasp the kind of total and complete authority Imran exercised. Pakistani fans are used to their captains fighting for more power than they deserve, not being content with what is on offer.

Two unflinching responses from our conversations shed some light. "You have to ask yourself," he says, "have I been the captain because they supported me, or because they had no alternatives?" Later, when he talks about his post-retirement plans, he reveals the off-field pressures. "The PCB has asked me to help them after retirement a few times. Zaka [Ashraf] did, so too did [Najam] Sethi. They want me with them after my retirement, and all I say is (he says this disdainfully): 'Yeah, sure.' Here I am thinking: 'The only reason I am leaving cricket is to be rid of dealing with you guys. Why would I want to work with you?'

"I am not against anyone but what I believe is that you should work where they allow you to work. What I want is no interference and to be judged on my results. Instead what I get is everything on my plate and I still have to report to this, this and this guy. I have to ask everyone before taking a decision. So why would I work for you again? And people say to me, so easily, 'Oh you should just snatch that authority.'

The trophy Misbah currently cherishes most is the one Pakistan got after beating Australia in UAE in 2014-15

The trophy Misbah currently cherishes most is the one Pakistan got after beating Australia in UAE in 2014-15 © Getty Images

"People who say that don't understand Pakistan. The culture here is that even if you are the whistleblower, it is of no use. They'll call you bitter instead. You'll be the bad guy. And then they will throw you out and say, 'We don't know what his grievances were.' Nobody will care. Everyone will stay quiet and forget about you. That is how things work here."

So what will he do? Will he become a bloated ex-cricketer like many of his predecessors? "No, no, I'll keep continuing to train. I like being fit. I guess I'll stop doing nets and stuff but I'll still train every day. Beyond that? Well, my family will have to get used to having me around. That is a bigger problem for them than it is for me certainly. And the rest of the time I'll just watch cricket, I guess."

His drawing room in Lahore doesn't have a trophy cabinet. There are rectangular cavities in the walls where some trophies are placed, but that barely covers a third of his collection. Instead there is a table placed to one side, almost out of sight, on which rest many of his accolades. They mesh together in a metal clutter of unimportance.

Misbah's captaincy is in many ways a rejection of the teachings of the Imran school

All except one. Across the room, on another table, is just one trophy, the one he received for the series win against Australia in the UAE in 2014. It has replaced the one from the England whitewash in 2012. Only the latest achievement, it seems, needs to be celebrated - everything else is consigned to the forgotten past. The room is shiny but sedate; it speaks of a man who refuses to acknowledge his legacy, somehow tricking himself into believing that the best is yet to come.

You can hardly blame him. He is 40 and should have been long finished with cricket. The years of wear and tear have, after all, damaged far greater players. Instead, after a terrible summer of 2014, Misbah bounced back. Within a month of dropping himself from the ODI XI, his team routed Australia, with him leading from the front.

On the third day of the second Test, in Abu Dhabi, the press box was home to some heated debates after Misbah refused to enforce the follow-on. This, some argued, was the perfect embodiment of Misbah's defensiveness, which was ill-suited for Pakistan. The following day, after Misbah equalled Viv Richards' record for the fastest Test hundred, he walked into the press conference to a standing ovation from the assembled press corps. Here, in the space of 30 hours, was the complete Misbah experience.

It is hard to guess how Misbah will be remembered. On the one hand he is the captain with no power (at least in his mind) and one who is accused of letting games drift - making him the perfect exemplar of the way the world is leaving Pakistan behind. On the other, he is the lone combatant, someone who believes that finances, infrastructure and even talent are secondary to belief and perseverance.

"The PCB has asked me to help them after retirement a few times. Here I am thinking: 'The only reason I am leaving cricket is to be rid of dealing with you guys'" © Associated Press

"Ten years from now no one will read anything about me. They'll just see my record. And they'll think, 'Oh, so this guy played only in his 30s and still averaged 50? Oh, he averages 44 in ODIs and won this number of games for Pakistan? Oh, this was his record in won matches and successful chases.' That is all anyone will care about. Ten years after you leave, who cares if anyone in the press box was with me or against me? My legacy will be in my numbers."

He may be remembered differently in the popular imagination, though. Like in the opening scene of the 2014 film, Na Maloom Afraad (the phrase literally means "unidentified persons", but it has become associated with the militant wings of political parties that battle for Karachi), where an old man in a dirt-ridden apartment watches a cricket match on TV and curses Misbah, pleading for him to stop his tuk-tuk.

"Ten years from now no one will read anything about me. They'll just see my record. My legacy will be in my numbers"

It is a nickname he will forever be associated with - the sound made by his forward-defensive shot, the first tuk for the ball hitting the bat, the second for it hitting the ground dead. And like so much else in the popular imagination this image of Misbah batting slowly took hold during a big India-Pakistan match. ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball commentary for the World Cup semi-final in Mohali in 2011, when Misbah made 56 from 76 balls as India won by 29 runs, tells a story:

You can't blame Misbah's slow start for Pakistan's failure. He was always there to hold the batting together while other people hit out around him, but there was nothing substantial from the top order. Where Pakistan must really be disappointed is in their fielding. How much of a difference could it have made if they had held all their catches?

Yet, again, it was Misbah who was made the scapegoat.

The defeat in Mohali clearly haunts him, though it is not what happened during the game that irritates him most. "I don't think I felt much pressure during the match. It was only after it that I really felt pressure," he laughs. "Jo kare wohi bhare? [Blame the one who performs?] Sachin scored 80-odd and ended up with the same strike rate as me, and he was the Man of the Match. I scored 56, and even in that I wasted the last ten or 12 balls because I couldn't even take a single, because I was batting with the last man." (Misbah scored just a single run off his last eight balls).

And then he pauses as if thinking of how to say what he wants to say without breaking into prolonged cussing, and in his explanation of one innings ̶ one that is the subject of such strong emotion ̶ is the best window into his logic.

"Sometimes what happens in Pakistan is, no one sees what the conditions or the pitch is like, that the pitch is sticky and the ball will reverse, the fact that it was easier to hit out against the old, soft ball than to take singles. All we needed was to protect ourselves till the last ten overs. Even after all that, we needed just 85 [84] off the last ten. If only we had been willing to bat and battle. But over there everyone was getting out, even the Powerplay was useless. Well, whatever, it happens. No point wasting energy over it."

Poster boy: Misbah stands for method amid the madness that is Pakistan cricket

Poster boy: Misbah stands for method amid the madness that is Pakistan cricket © AFP

It is perhaps the only time in our conversations he has appeared defensive. A couple of hours later I bring it up again, the pressures around such a match and what he felt like when he was blamed. "Sometimes what happens is that the picture created is weird; the truth is something else, and what is portrayed is something else. And everyone goes along with it as if it is the truth."

The truth will win out, or so he believes. He just thinks he doesn't need to say it out loud.

A man of reason, of logic, of numbers; it is no wonder Misbah never connected with fans like someone of his accomplishments should have. Yet, as is the case with most Pakistani greats, his legacy will likely become greater as the years pass. Every passing month the name-calling and the rancour between the diehards and the detractors will become a fading memory. And what will remain is the fact that he was never supposed to be a cricketer, let alone a captain and a towering wall against a tide that could have swallowed Pakistan cricket. History will remember a boy from Mianwali who fell in love with cricket, adored it, ignored his father's advice, pursued it, worshipped it, and finally conquered it.

Hassan Cheema is a sports journalist, writer and commentator, and co-hosts the online cricket show Pace is Pace Yaar. @mediagag