Misbah confident, clash with SA Friday
01 February, 2013
In between the growing of Graeme Smith's age and that of the size of his family, his record as the only captain to lead a side in 100 Tests, and Test cricket returning to the Wanderers for the first time 15 months, everyone has forgotten something: Pakistan are also playing.
Misbah-ul-Haq and his team are used to being side-lined though, so they are unfazed by it.
Misbah waited patiently outside the room as Smith gave his press conference, which was dominated by talk of the captaincy rather than any pre-series analysis. He entered as Smith finished; the Pakistan team manager, their coach and Misbah went to congratulate the South African captain. Misbah and Smith shook hands warmly, posed with the trophy and exchanged some pleasantries.
Smith bounded out of the room with the excitement of someone who has a party to look forward to, but Misbah's demeanour was unchanged. Straight-faced and entirely serious, he sat down to address a much smaller crowd about his team's very real hopes of success.
Naturally, the first question he got was about Smith. How does he think has lasted so long in the job, especially as captains tend not to, particularly in Pakistan where it must be a tough task?
The language barrier would have played a role in Misbah's answer, which side-stepped Smith with the deftness of a rugby winger, trying one of those dinky moves to evade defence. "I wouldn't say it has been tough captaining Pakistan, I have really [enjoyed] captaining Pakistan and the guys are responding well to me," he said.
Under him, Pakistan have won nine of the 17 Tests they've played and lost one. Misbah first led the side against South Africa in November 2010 and since then, as a team, they've lost only twice. Misbah was not part of the second defeat, against Sri Lanka in Galle because he was banned for over-rate violations.
Overall, his tenure has coincided with two of Pakistan's more consistent years in all formats. Handy preparation for what Misbah now calls their "biggest challenge." Pakistan have played in the sub-continent, New Zealand, West Indies and Zimbabwe since Misbah took over. Prior to that they faced Australia and England in England, but they have not come up against South Africa at home since 2007.
For visiting teams, the bottom tip of the African continent has been a difficult place to succeed. South Africa have not lost a series at home in five years, since they were beaten by Australia in 2009. Before that, England triumphed over them in 2004. They have never lost to a team from the sub-continent at home.
Now that they are the top-ranked team in Test cricket, attempting to overturn that may seem daunting but Misbah is ready, despite Pakistan playing their last Test six months ago. "It is a good chance for us to improve as a team," he said. "It does play a bit of a role; not playing as regularly as other players but at the same time it develops you as a team. We've gathered, everything is alright and we know what to do."
Pakistan's experienced players will be much relied upon in the series, especially as many of the squad have not toured South Africa before. Younis Khan, for example, will have to be a provider of information and runs and he, too, is prepared for the task. "We are ready for the big rumble. We are very positive. We know that if you want to win against South Africa you must play with a positive frame of mind," he said.
New Zealand, who were the previous team to tour South Africa, confused aggression with recklessness and batting collapses were the theme of their trip. Pakistan bring better skills than New Zealand though, and their promise of intent should not be taken lightly. "This is the way to go; you have to back your ability."
The intent will start at the top with Nasir Jamshed, who is likely to debut in place of the injured Taufeeq Umar. Taufeeq has been a constant for Pakistan, having played in the last 18 Tests, and he scored in South Africa on their last visit but a stress fracture of the shin had sent him home.
Jamshed's good form includes two half-centuries in the warm-up match and Misbah is hopeful this could signal the start of a long career. "He is a really gifted player and has had some very good knocks against top quality sides. With the kind of talent that he has, he can make a difference."
In case that is not enough to get South Africa thinking of the match itself and not the sideshows, there is also the prospect of facing a quick having a height of more than two metres, Mohammed Irfan. Misbah was cagey about whether the lanky seamer will play, and instead only promised that Pakistan, "have got some other surprises as well."