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Finding Neverland Blog Archive

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.

Monday, August 22, 2016

To London, with Love (Part 4)

London Morning

When summer falls, there is this serenity in the air, as if time has stopped for a while. Mornings are beautiful anyways, but there is something about the summer morning of London that cannot be explained. It is peaceful yet haphazard. It is quiet yet noisy. It is slow yet fast. 

There is so much to absorb that you wonder you will you be able to do that on your own. I go out every morning at different times and every single time the feeling is different. 

Early morning it is serenity, there is silence and for a split second, you are amazed how such a busy city can be so quiet. The best part is the few people going around, and you can tell each one of them is enjoying the same feeling. 

A little late in the morning, you can see people rushing to their offices and schools. All of them speeding themselves up while eating or reading something. 

You leave it very late in the morning, it is evident that the rush hour is over, but you can tell that the city is wide awake now, the business has started as usual. 

But one thing remains constant throughout this time, smile! Yes, people with their smile. 

You be on the roads people passing by giving you a smile. You be on the train, and people abandon their seats for you with a smile. You be on the bus people will let you enter first with a smile. You be in an office, and they will greet you with a smile. You be in the supermarket no matter what time of the day, they laugh.

Yes, I am biased towards London and yes I want to be because it is worth it. I feel as if it is mine, for once there is something good in my life that I can call mine. Proudly, with passion and without worrying about a backlash from people trying to throw something negative.

Just like the morning, a time when new stories start. With every sunrise, new events occur, but still you get the confidence that there will be constants and for me, London and people’s smile are those essential constants.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Story of Younis Khan (Part-12)

World T20 2009 Pakistan Trophy

Seventeen months later, Younis ended the fourth day of a Test against Sri Lanka unbeaten on 306. He became only the third Pakistani triple-centurion, a landmark that had eluded Miandad. Actually it was not elusiveness as much as denial; Imran Khan famously declared with Miandad on 280, and it still stings like it was yesterday. Shafqat is a professor of neurology and studies the complex functioning of the brain, so I guess calling Miandad again constituted research. On the flattest track Karachi had seen for years, a whole day to go and no point to the Test, all records were within sight. Miandad didn't say much. The next morning, when Younis was bowled for 313 and broke neither Hanif's Pakistan record nor Brian Lara's world record, it was Miandad who called Shafqat. "In Miandad's voice, however, there was a certain degree of levity," wrote Shafqat in Nightwatchman. "It seemed the voice of a man who has suddenly been relieved of an onerous burden."

In our interviews the complicated duality that defined Miandad was evident. Younis repeatedly referred to the respect and honour he has earned, yet still seemed in a continuing search for both; repeatedly he pointed to his selflessness and sacrifice as virtues that warranted recognition. They do, of course, only that if we have to be constantly reminded of them, then…

The final, unseemly end of his ODI career was a manifestation of this. He was selected in the ODI squad for the series against England last winter, after more public agitation (of which the Hussaini interview can now be seen as one vital component). Hours before the first game, in Abu Dhabi, he announced it would be his last. Just a few days before, he had told me: "If you look at my career, a player like myself, he should leave the game with honour." All that agitation, it now was clear, just for an on-field guard of honour and a neat little TV package.

Another way to square this is to see it as a truth about the greatest athletes, or a truth according to Kobe Bryant at least. Two years ago Bryant identified with an obnoxious, infamous post-game rant by Richard Sherman, an American football player, about an opponent he had just bested in an NFC title game ("When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you gonna get! Don't you ever talk about me"). With simple yet commanding eloquence, Bryant called it "the ugliness of greatness". Sherman was simply letting out what was inside him and what is inside him is what makes him the best in the first place.

This inner ugliness, the craving and restlessness, the fighting and insecurity, has driven Younis. Along the way, no question, there has been plenty of external fuel. His players conspired against him. He was treated like a suspect in the death of Woolmer. Protestors turned up with donkeys at his wedding. A politician accused him of match-fixing. He was demoted in a central-contracts system that somehow calculated him to be less valuable than Junaid Khan and Mohammad Hafeez. He was banned because as captain he had dropped players. Instead of investigating his accusation that players deliberately underperformed under him, the board punished him for relinquishing the captaincy. And these are just the ones we remember.

Being a great Pakistani batsman is, by and large, a lonely business. They don't come in pairs or threes or fab fives. In the most fortunate times there has only ever been one. It places extraordinary burdens in expectations of success and ramifications of defeat. Many curl inwards in age, to tend to those slights they were born with or accumulated and stored long ago and left festering. Hanif, Zaheer, Miandad, Yousuf - there's an identifiable pattern there, right?

As we ended our final interview in Abu Dhabi, Younis admitted Miandad's record had occupied him, which is a natural admission but also an unusual one in an age when athletes play down the pursuit of personal milestones. He said he had thought a lot about the shot that would take him past it, though did not say whether he visualised the shot he actually played - a six off Moeen Ali. It was placed, unusually, between long-on and deep midwicket, and though he skipped down the pitch, he still had to reach out to it.

Maybe now peace awaits. I tested those waters. He had understood what he had done, but had we? "I think people have not realised [the significance] yet because I am still around. I am still on screen. When I leave, then everyone will understand."

Sunday, August 14, 2016

To London, with Love (Part 3)

London Life

London is like a cold dark dreams sometimes, for me it has been a dream come true, a dream I never want to wake up from.

This city and its people have given me so much. So much in every way possible and every way imaginable without even k.

London and its People have given me the opportunity I wanted the most, to start a new life on my own when everything looked bleak around me. Very few people get second chances in life, I got it, with so many possibilities around that I could not believe. It has given me confidence. Confidence to live life, confidence in what I wanted to achieve in life, confidence of doing things my own way, confidence of achieving all the aims and goals set.

London and its people has made me a better person altogether. I have learnt so much by just being in this city and observing things around me. Be it while walking in a park and seeing everyone, be it talking to people randomly, be it photographing the most random of places and realizing how amazing the world is and that beauty in every way should be appreciated.

London and its people made me see things from a different perspective. From spending a day in the university and being amazed from the way things are done and concurrently actually wanting to study more and learn. To the way you treat people irrespective of their skin color, accent and appearance.

London and its people gave me a chance to fulfill so many of my dreams and wishes. Watching Roger Federer play in Wimbledon, to be there in live concerts to see so many stars, with thousands of people. Visiting so many mesmerizing places. Watching cricket at the home of Cricket. Football at the most wonderful of stadiums. Attending so many wonderful events and festivals. Celebrating the new year eve in the most beautiful of ways.

London and its people have been amazing, never at a single place have I seen majority of good people in this world. Sometimes you feel everyone around you is unreal. I have been able to meet so many amazing people and make so many good friends.

But most importantly.

London and its people have accepted me for who I am. They have never judged me. Not while I am jogging sluggishly on the streets or parks, or when I am doing crazy things. It has never stopped me from being who I am and who I want to be. Every single day since the first day I have felt welcomed from day one and they still do.

Dear London,

You have given me so much happiness. You have restored my faith in humanity. You have installed all the things that I was missing. You have loved me and integrated me as one of your own. With all the imperfections, dear London, I just want to say, you are perfect. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Story of Younis Khan (Part-11)

Younis Khan

Why fight? As we drove along to a hospital in Karachi where he was due to make an appearance, I asked this of Younis. He was sitting, I couldn't help but think, in stiff defiance of the space offered in the back seat of my Suzuki Liana, squeezed awkwardly in the corner against the door. His face must have made the shortlist for Mount Rushmore, so patently is it carved out of granite. And if his eyes were bigger, their indeterminate colour and translucence would make their beauty obvious and undeniable, but they are small and deep-set, hidden within a protruding face.

His outburst to Hussaini about Misbah had caught me off guard. I thought the two got on, as guiding older lights in a progressing side. In a previous interview in 2012, in fact, Younis had only unconditional praise for Misbah. Marriage is one kind of union, as is wartime camaraderie, but 14 century stands? You'd have to have a deep bond with someone to do that right?

Why was Younis fighting now, during the best days of his career, and with Misbah, with whom he had wrought so much success and who is so passive he could make peace break out in the Middle East? And though the question may have been prompted by this episode, I really meant it to apply to his entire career: why do you fight?

"Look, at some point it has to be done, right?" he began, slowing down to emphasise the point he was making, his mouth stretching to accommodate each word, much in the unusual fashion his body does to play shots. The "it" in question, I quickly gathered, meant a general righting of the system. "Somebody has to do it, so why shouldn't I? I tried to do things differently, but I achieved something, right? The 2009 World T20 title, with the same captaincy and the same team.

"But what I couldn't learn, which is in the system, is 'wait and see'. That is why when I became captain, I didn't do what a lot of captains do - 'wait and see'. That is why, with my captaincy, I couldn't grow properly in this system. I said, when you have to do one thing and if it is a good thing, then you have to do it. You can't say, 'Okay, wait, we'll look at it tomorrow.' In this system where Pakistan stands right now, you see… this is why, 60 years later, even now, we are doing mobile registration [he was referring to a belated campaign to register every SIM card in the country]. That is what we are doing, right? Today. This year. In other countries how long has this already been in place?

"If you look at many people now, they survive because they don't do anything. Pakistan is the only country where your survival is good, or you last so long because you don't do anything. Keep going, with your job. What's that Nana Patekar movie? Yeshwant, I think, in which he says, 'I will not say anything now, I will stay quiet. My house, my kids, my money, whatever is happening is happening.'

"It doesn't make a difference to me if I win or lose in the fight. But at least, when tomorrow my children say to me, 'Baba, you talk so big, what did you do?' at least I can say to them, 'When I was made captain, in trying to change things I got kicked out and got a life ban.'

" At this point, it occurred to me that Misbah's legacy, as the most successful Test captain in Pakistan's history while being a man who doesn't fight, a man of the system who does wait and see - it occurred to me that this reality might be eating away at Younis. How could such a man, who doesn't even fight for selections let alone resign over them, be so successful? I put this theory to Younis in as roundabout and delicate a way as I could. He either missed the point or chose to ignore it, but cited Misbah's public and post-hoc unhappiness with the team he was given for the World Cup. Months later, in Dubai, I asked Misbah about Younis' TV comments. He was unconcerned: happens, great player, doesn't matter - exactly the non-confrontational response that might wind up Younis even more.

This period has become a slightly gauche coda to Younis' career. I can't make total sense of the self-congratulatory celebrations surrounding his breaking Miandad's record. There was another felicitation in Dubai when he finally went past it. Yahya Hussaini was the MC.

One way to understand it, or at least frame it within some kind of broader reference, could be through two Miandad anecdotes. When Inzamam came out to bat in his final innings, at the Gaddafi Stadium, he needed six runs to go past Miandad's aggregate. Saad Shafqat, who ghosted Miandad's autobiography and reads the great man's moods expertly, had called him the day before. He wanted to know how Miandad was feeling about his record being broken.

"I'm not bothered," Miandad said.

The next day when Inzamam fell short, Shafqat called Miandad again. Yes, he had seen the dismissal, and no, he didn't get the fuss. "Even if Inzamam had broken my record, he still wouldn't have become Miandad."