Friday, August 26, 2016

Summit in Six Years

Written by: Misbah ul Haq

I started the journey as Pakistan captain in quite a dramatic fashion and the knowledge that today we are the number one team sounds very dramatic, too. 

It is an unbelievable feeling to know that in six years we have reached the summit; a feeling of immense pleasure and satisfaction.

The fighting spirit showed by this unit is unprecedented.
In the past there have been instances when we have succumbed under pressure after heavy defeats but we have changed this trend now. 

The recent England series is a prime example.

After winning at Lord's we suffered a heavy defeat at Old Trafford but came back strongly and dominated most parts of the Edgbaston Test. We could not win it but came from behind at The Oval to square the series 2-2. 

The match at The Oval was a real test of our characters.

Personally it was a very important match for me – had we lost, it would have been my last match in England, so I was desperate to go out on a high. 

In hindsight, a fifth Test would have been wonderful for the series. I even jokingly suggested to Alastair Cook that we play a decider, to which he said, 'You must be wanting it at Lord's or The Oval?', and my response was, 'No, we can beat you at Old Trafford and Edgbaston, too'. 

Before the Oval Test I talked to the team. I told them August 14 was approaching and if we could win this match on the country's Independence Day it would be a huge gift for the people of Pakistan, who are so emotionally attached to cricket.

I am glad that we fought well and made it a big occasion for the people of our country. 

The possibility of becoming the number one team for the first time also added to our energy. 

It is a huge achievement to be at top of the world. It is just like winning a World Cup for your team, therefore everyone in the team wanted to touch the summit no matter whether it was for a day or a week or a month. The number one tag was in the minds of all the players and it motivated us a lot.

The challenge now is to maintain our ranking and for that we will have to do well in the upcoming series against West Indies, New Zealand and Australia. 

The tours to New Zealand and Australia will be difficult.

New Zealand has a very balanced and an improved side and it really requires an effort to get the better of them at their home. 

Australia we all know is an extremely difficult place for the visitors. It will throw new challenges at us. 

In England you encounter swing and seam whereas in Australia you need to counter pace and bounce and since their batsmen are used to that pace and bounce we find them scoring at high rates. 

Having said that, our team has the potential to win matches in Australia, too, just like we have done in England.

How it all began 

A month before Pakistan's series against South Africa in the UAE in 2010 I received a phone call from the former PCB Chairman Ijaz Butt's secretary. 

The message was that the Chairman wanted to meet me.

It was intriguing as not only I had been dropped from the previous series, I was also left out of the 35-member preliminary squad. 

But after the call I sensed an opportunity coming my way. 

The Chairman wanted to keep the meeting confidential and as it has been reported in the media recently it was arranged in a clerk's room where I was offered the captaincy. 

I kept it a secret too and, owing to the state of affairs at that time, did not share it even with my family. 

The Chairman told me that he didn't have many options, and since I had the experience of leading the A team, he was thinking about giving me the captaincy. 

He asked my views about it and I told him that if he thought I was capable of doing it I would try my best to fulfil the responsibility, and so I accepted the offer to lead the team. 

A week later, while I was in the Faisalabad team's camp for the domestic T20 tournament, the news came that I had been recalled to Pakistan's ODI and T20 squads which caught everybody in the camp by surprise.

The following day they were more surprised when it was announced that I had been appointed Test captain. 

Nobody was expecting that.

The Pakistan team at that time was in shambles.  It had just lost three of its finest cricketers, was without a captain and home, and standing at number six in the rankings. 

Everything was completely out of shape.

I knew handling the team in these circumstances would be a massive challenge but the thought in my mind was that if the Almighty had given me the opportunity to lead the team, He would assist me to make it a better unit, too. 

Almost every match and series for us has been memorable.

The standout feature of this team is its fighting spirit; we made comebacks in the situations where many teams would have failed to cope with the pressure. Not only we have performed but we have improved with every new series. 

For me the biggest series win in these six years for us was clean sweeping England 3-0 in the UAE in 2012. The series had a lot of hype and England was number one team at that time. Winning that series 3-0 instilled a lot of belief in us and added a lot to our fighting spirits. 

When I talk about the fighting spirit I think of clinching victories from the jaws of defeat. 

To bowl out England for 72 and defend 144 in Abu Dhabi is a very memorable match. 

To chase 300 in two sessions on the fifth day against Sri Lanka in Sharjah was another special match and who would have thought we would chase 377 against Sri Lanka at Pallekele in the fourth innings?

That's why I feel the way the players have carried themselves in the difficult situations is highly commendable and that is a sign of world-beaters.  

When we came to England there were talks about the home team winning it 3-0 or 4-0 but against all odds we squared the series 2-2 and proved our worth. 

We aim to prove it in the next series, too.

The onus is on us stay at number one.

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