Pakistan head coach defends himself after coming under scrutiny over the past few months
Misbah-ul-Haq believes the 2-0 series win over South Africa was like “a breath of fresh air” for a Pakistan team which had until then been low on confidence, and also hoped that it puts an end to questions about his own performance as head coach.
Misbah still has one and half years left on his contract with the PCB, but as losses began piling up, his position came under scrutiny. He and his staff were the subject of a review by a board-appointed cricket committee after they returned from a dismal tour of New Zealand, where they lost the Tests 0-2 and the T20Is 1-2. They gave Misbah an ultimatum. The results in the home series against South Africa would decide his future as head coach.
On Tuesday, having done what was demanded of him, Misbah faced reporters in Lahore opened up about what it has been like for him over the past few weeks.
“Obviously with all the uncertainty, it definitely brought in pressure and I don’t want to go to the right or wrong side of it but sometimes you don’t really have to focus on end results,” Misbah said. “There are so many other factors, the circumstantial ones but people start making noise after a series of picking up only the defeats disregarding the work behind it. Playing away isn’t difficult .. there were performances and I am not saying that I am not taking responsibility for bad performances. If I am being appreciated after winning then definitely I am answerable to the defeats as well but you have to take the circumstances in account as well to judge someone.”
Since Misbah’s appointment, the PCB has made several big decisions, such as removing Sarfaraz Ahmed as captain and dropping him from all three formats. Azhar Ali took charge of the Test side while Babar Azam was chosen to lead in limited-overs cricket. However, after an unsuccessful tour of England last year, Ali was stripped of the captaincy and Azam was made captain across formats.
Misbah was facing trouble as well. It is understood that the board had come close to sacking him after the New Zealand tour, potentially replacing him with coaches from the High Performance Centre in Lahore.
Pakistan captain Babar Azam and his team-mates pose with the series trophy AFP via Getty Images
“There should be continuity and if we are here for three years for instance then the assessment should be after the given time frame,” Misbah said. “Try to wait, sit back, there will be ups and downs. It will never be only victory or only defeats. Things need to be seen in perspective. It’s a process, with a new team and players you have to follow up on the development of the team and players. For results it takes time and sometimes it takes a little more time as well but taking abrupt decisions based on frustration and disappointment doesn’t help. Change is important but only if it’s for the sake of betterment.”
Pakistan have now risen to No. 5 in the ICC Test rankings, their highest position since 2017. They were largely in control of both Test matches against South Africa, wrapping up the one in Karachi within four days and fighting back with great skill on the last day in Rawalpindi.
“It’s like a breath of fresh air and it was important as the team was very low in confidence and overall people were angry,” Misbah said. “Playing at home plays a big part in giving boys enough confidence to do well. The series and matches were tough and performances came from difficult situations that showed the character of the team. Winning is one factor but the way an inexperienced team dealt with ups and downs made one hell of a difference. There were tough situations and there were stages when we could have lost hope but every time they showed determination and came out well. We had seen glimpses in New Zealand as well and all of it shows that team is moving in the right direction. Credit should be given to these players for winning against a top class team.”
Pakistan’s dismantling of South Africa was so efficient that Misbah is confident this team can be successful no matter where they play. “We were hopeful of showing more fight in England but unfortunately the first defeat in Manchester which still hurts was a setback,” he said. “We should have won that Test match and the series. We weren’t able to have those finishing touches and even in New Zealand we were dropping crucial catches and something was always pulling us back. So these are the things we managed to rectify. I think we’ve also settled on a good team combination with Faheem (Ashraf) providing us with balance. There is still a need for improvement in certain departments but we are brimming confidence right now we are in a better position to win away series.”
And finally, Misbah made it a point to praise Azam’s efforts in leading Pakistan and took pains to explain that it is the captain – and no one else – who is in charge of the team.
“In cricket, the role of captain is very important and if he isn’t fully in-charge and has confidence in his playing XI then it will be difficult for him. Obviously when we make someone captain then we have to empower him and trust in him. We know that he makes a decision and we help him and at the end of the day you (as coaches) aren’t in the field for every ball or over but he is and as a captain he has to run the show. Babar is young and with such a big series he did well utilising the resources and that is what we want.
“It isn’t like a war for power between a captain and management on who will make decisions. He is too young but handles everything nicely. It’s for the sake of betterment we let him grow and our job is limited but decisions we make are with consensus. We plan sitting together and he is the one taking the team to fight in the field. I am happy the way he is developing and with time and more cricket he will get the confidence and he will keep on growing bigger in his role.”
Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo’s Pakistan correspondent