Misbah-ul-Haq shows the art of letting go with fastest century in Abu Dhabi
Misbah-ul-Haq is the sanest man in Pakistan cricket, possibly even all of Pakistan. There is no way of proving this, but he really is.
However, he has had the least-sane career of any Pakistani cricketer, and that is a rich canon that includes Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Ilyas, among many others.
The inability to reconcile those two facts has slowly driven a nation mad – but not, of course, Misbah himself.
So, in many ways, given that if he batted any slower the scoreboard would tick backwards, the most sensible thing for him to do was to equal the record for the fastest Test hundred in history, and break the mark for the fastest fifty.
It transpired on Sunday at age 40, against Australia, weeks after dropping himself from the side for poor form – because, you know, what all Pakistanis need is for their heads to be messed with more.
That wonderful hundred in the first innings felt like a grand release. His hundred on Sunday? It was not an explosion, because he does not do explosions. A retort? No, because he is not a vindictive man.
Maybe it was, as in the first innings, more release and some indulgence, too. He once told a man that the pressure he usually arrives under for Pakistan has prevented him from hitting bowlers he knew he could hit for six, for six.
That is an impression of Misbah that does not fade, that he has perennially looked to be on the verge but has held back, on the verge of greatness, on the verge of breakdown, on the verge of responding to criticism, on the verge of playing that one innings which might silence everyone.
It is an abstinence that is especially evident when he stares at something in a room only he can see, like he wants to say something more but does not, or he wants to smile but does not, or blink but does not.
It is a trait you suspect he has lived with, from when, maybe, his father did not let him pursue cricket and had to wait until his dad passed away.
All the crazy that he has bottled up within, all of it has come out in the form and shape of his career. That is what his innings felt like in microcosm, too, all the crazy coming out, especially those first sixes off Steve Smith.
He said later he could not remember walking out to bat in his captaincy under as little pressure as on Sunday.
This was an opportunity for an outpouring, of four years of restraining himself, of four years of defending, of four years of grim hanging on, of four years with a Test strike rate of 43.05. If ever there is a bucket-list hundred, this was it.
Pakistan wanted quick runs for a declaration, so Misbah was always going to be aggressive. But this was personal.
Into every six was present the ghost of each one of the thousands of similar balls that he wanted to hit for six, but instead stretched forward to defend: the tuk and tuk. Once he had that start behind him, he showed us more of himself as the batsman that only he knows he was, or is, or can be.
He said later he only thought of the record when someone pointed it out to him in the 80s, but he must have known it was on from earlier. He went for it, too, which is even more impressive.
The two shots of the innings came off Peter Siddle post-lunch. Siddle was actually bowling a good spell, finding a little reverse and his yorkers.
The first, in the third over after lunch, was driven through wide mid-on, off the back foot and along the ground. The second was four overs later. Again Misbah was positioned well back, but standing tall, he created the room to loft him over long-on for six, as if Siddle was Smith.
Both said the same thing.
This was a man who was successfully convincing destiny he was its master, a man who had made circumstances his fiefdom. They were shots – and he has played them before – played inside dreams, and here we were in his.
Once he had pulled Mitchell Starc to move to 96 off 55 balls, it had to happen. He was not in control of the shot that brought up the century and equalled the record, but never has he been more in control of the stars.
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Published: November 3, 2014 04:00 AM