Misbah-ul-Haq has raised the possibility that he may leave international cricket, even as soon as before the third and final Test of Pakistan’s series against Australia.
Pakistan’s most successful Test captain was speaking in the immediate aftermath of a dramatic and demoralising final-day collapse at the MCG – which ended in a defeat by an innings and 18 runs – and a day during which concerns over his own lack of runs came to the forefront once again.
Already struggling for Test runs, Misbah lasted two balls, sweeping both, the second straight into the hands of Nic Maddison at short fine leg. That brought to a grand total of 20 runs in his last four innings, and would seem to have pushed him to the brink of calling it a day.
“I think I need to think about it,” he said, when asked what the immediate future held for him. “I always believed that if I couldn’t contribute to the team then it’s no point staying there. This is a point where I need to think about that, even before the next game [in Sydney] and after the series. Next couple of days I will think about it and decide what to do. There is no point in hanging around and doing nothing. I haven’t decided [about Sydney] but let’s see.”
The conversation around Misbah’s retirement has been a long-running one. It began in earnest after he led them to a series victory in the UAE against England in the winter of 2015. At the time, the prospect of a series against India kept him from retiring. But when that did not materialise, he decided to stay on to lead Pakistan in a clutch of difficult away series this year.
He did well in leading them to a 2-2 draw in England, arguably the high point of his six-year tenure and, crucially, also a series in which he performed with the bat. Since then, however, Pakistan have lost a series in New Zealand and now in Australia – a run of five successive Test defeats that includes a dead-rubber loss to West Indies in the UAE.
“I was thinking about my retirement long ago, even when I was playing against England in Dubai,” he said. “I was thinking then that we had possibly Tests against India, so I would play that and that’s it.
“But then we had difficult tours like England, New Zealand and Australia, I thought that is not right time. I’ve been there for last six-seven years, developing this team. I have to face these difficult series. That is why I hung around. Even at that stage my plan was not to play for another two-three years. I have to think about that, haven’t finalised it.”
What might play a key role in any decision he makes is the nature of some of his dismissals through the year. Though he has built up a reputation over the course of his career both for odd and untimely dismissals, a rush of poor decision-making in the last six months or so has left him questioning his batsmanship.
At Lord’s in the summer, he slogged Moeen Ali second ball in the second innings to deep midwicket. That, ultimately, didn’t prevent Pakistan from winning the Test. But in the second innings in Sharjah, against West Indies, he pulled a long hop straight to deep backward square leg off his sixth ball, when Pakistan were in some trouble.
In Christchurch in November, with Pakistan effectively 26 for 4 and Misbah relatively settled, he top edged an attempted hook off Tim Southee straight to long leg. Today came the second-ball sweep and he admitted that his thought process as a batsman is “not right”.
“That is what has happened with me,” he said. “Quite a few innings now in which the shot that isn’t on, or the wrong shot for the wrong time… I don’t know, as a cricketer, as a batsman, it is hard.
“Especially when you are not scoring regularly, when you go in [to bat], making the right decisions becomes a bit more difficult. Maybe that is happening now. What I feel I should be playing like, I am unable to play that way.”
Misbah’s future is not the only one that will come under scrutiny. Younis Khan, his great partner in Pakistan’s triumphs, fell two balls before Misbah for 24. That left him averaging 15.75 from the two tours down under.
“It hurts you because as a senior player you have more responsibilities,” Misbah said. “Whenever you don’t perform, you don’t come up to your own expectations and [those] of all the fans and team, that is disappointing. You don’t play a game for those sort of failures, you want to stand up and perform in these pressure situations. That is disappointing and it hurts a lot.