When a side is in the doldrums, with losses piling up, confidence crushed, and a whiff of scandal in the air, it is not enough in international cricket to have an inspirational captain or coach. You need both at the same time.
Take a recent English example. When Nasser Hussain succeeded Alec Stewart as England captain on 24 June 1999, he inherited a team that was a national joke. But his extraordinary alliance with Duncan Fletcher laid the foundation for the team that would become the world's best. In tandem, Hussain and Fletcher defeated defeatism, and converted a bunch of whingers into winners.
Something similar is happening in Pakistan. The remarkable Misbah ul-Haq, who turned 38 this week, has rescued a team afflicted by corruption scandals and terrorism with such verve that they go into a seven-week tour of Sri Lanka this week as the best side in the sub-continent. They have won seven of their last nine Tests (as England can testify) and 16 of their last 22 one-day games.
And after successful partnerships with first Waqar Younis and then, in an interim capacity, Mohsin Khan, he now has in Dav Whatmore, who took over team affairs after the series victory over England, an outstanding coach with whom he could plausibly make Pakistan the best Test side in the world within two years.
Misbah's is one of the more unlikely stories in the game today. As recently as 2010, the man from Mianwali in the Punjab considered burning his kit after being dropped from a 35-man squad. At the time Pakistan's captain was Salman Butt, an oleaginous spot-fixer. When Butt's criminality was exposed, the selectors took a huge gamble in bringing Misbah back as captain. He rewarded them with their first victory in a Test series since 2006, and restored discipline to a Pakistan dressing room which is traditionally madder than a box of frogs, not least by calling on his degree in business.
It surprised no one when Waqar said the new confidence of the players was down to Misbah. Geoff Lawson, a former Pakistan coach, was gushing: "He has a statesman-like demeanour, which so many Pakistan captains lacked," Lawson said.
Now Misbah has a coach who shares his professionalism. Whatmore, who masterminded Sri Lanka's 1996 World Cup triumph, says: "I don't think anybody can dispute [Misbah] brings incredible leadership qualities to the party." This formula has the potential to presage a new era of Pakistani greatness. Given the ignominy visited on the side less than two years ago, that we can even hope for such a thing testifies to the quality of these two leaders, leadership being something Pakistani cricket has had precious little of.
- More about:
- Alec Stewart
- Bribes And Corruption
- Duncan Fletcher
- Frogs And Toads
- Nasser Hussain
- Sri Lanka