Misbah-ul-Haq still carries a calm demeanour off the field, just like he did during his playing days. It’s been two years since Pakistan’s most successful Test captain retired from cricket at the age of 43, and Misbah still continues to lead by example.
His leadership skills helped lift Pakistan from the depths of the spot-fixing saga in England in 2010. Now, in what he calls his second and most important innings, Misbah is on a much bigger mission.
Misbah has joined hands with Pakistan Children’s Heart Foundation (PCHF) to establish Pakistan’s first hospital dedicated to congenital heart defects (CHD) among children.
Despite his busy schedule these days, the former middle-order batsman, who played 75 Tests and 162 one-day internationals for Pakistan, still follows cricket like he did growing up in Mianwali.
On a recent visit to Doha to raise awareness for the hospital, Misbah, like any cricket connoisseur was excited about the ongoing World Cup, which began in England last Thursday.
In this freewheeling interview, Misbah gave his predictions on which four teams will make it to the semis. He also spoke about Pakistan’s chances, on why he considers India’s Virat Kohli as the best batsman and his opinion about single league format for the World Cup.
Which are the four teams you think will reach the semi-finals at the World Cup, and who you consider as the favourite to win the title?
For me, the three teams to qualify for the semis are England, India, Australia. The fourth team? I don’t know honestly. It could be any team because there is not much difference between them.
England have been tipped to end their World Cup drought this time. What makes them favourites this time?
I feel the most important thing for England is the way they are playing in home conditions. In the last two years they have beaten every opposition at home. The quality they have in their batting line up makes a huge difference to their favourite status. They have top class batsmen in their side and also they have players till No. 11, who can contribute with the bat. Then there is Jos Buttler who can finish off games for them.
Previously, they have struggled to play against spin, but now they have players who can handle the spin bowling. They also have good spin bowlers. Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali have done well for them recently and that adds a lot to their bowling. Now they also have (Jofra) Archer and Mark Wood back in the team, and with (Liam) Plunkett and (Chris) Woakes the way they have been bowling, I consider England as the favourites to win at home.
Having said that, there is an another factor called pressure. And it will be interesting to see how England handle the pressure. The pressure of not winning the World Cup is big enough, so when you reach the semis and final, you have to cope with the pressure factor and if England can successfully do that, they will be worthy winners.
What to do you make of India’s chances?
India are my second favourites to win the title. They too are a powerful team, considering their recent performances and strength in batting and bowling. I don’t think India ever had such a rich bowling resources in the past, especially in seam bowling. They have No. 1 bowler in the world in Jasprit Bumrah and they have Bhuvneshwar (Kumar), who can swing the ball with new ball and he can bowl yorkers too in the death overs. Mohamed Shami is also there and is a different kind of seam bowler. Then they have wrist spinners Kuldeep (Yadav) and Yuzvendra (Chahal), who are attacking and wicket-taking spinners. There is some sort of mystery too in their spin attack. I think they have a balanced team and they know how to win the big tournaments and play in knockout matches. That will be an added advantage for India.
Australia have found the form at the right time, having won their last nine matches, including the opener against Afghanistan. Do you think they can spoil England’s home party?
My third favourite is Australia, who are always a force when it comes to World Cup. When a team has won five World Cups before and they have players who have experienced that triumph, it makes them one of the contenders. David Warner and Steve Smith are back for Australia and they both are dangerous players. Australia’s confidence is also high, having recently won the series in India and in the UAE against Pakistan. When it comes to handling the pressure in big events, I think they are the best.
Pakistan lost to West Indies badly in their opening match. Do you think they can bounce back?
Pakistan are mentally very down this time. They need a little bit of spark, the kind they had when they won the Champions Trophy in England in 2017. They started off badly, but after winning one match everything clicked for them and their confidence level and efficiency went up. So I feel they have to do well in the first three matches, otherwise it’s going to be very difficult for them to reach the semis.
I think Pakistan came second to England by a small margin and because of their own mistakes. They missed simplest of chances while fielding, which I think is not acceptable even at Under-13 level. Pakistan’s bowling has always been good, but it’s the batsmen who have done well recently. If we can improve our bowling and fielding, then I think Pakistan has a good chance of making it to the semis.
There has been much debate over the single league format at the World Cup, with only ten teams playing tournament. What do you make of it?
I personally like this format, because it allows a good team to make it to the last four. Otherwise if there is a first round and then you have to come to the Super Eight, it’s always difficult if a team loses couple of matches and suddenly the top team is out of the tournament. And you don’t want that. I think it’s the best possible format and I always liked it. In the single league system, a team plays against all the other teams, and only four best qualify for the semis. It minimises the chance of a fluke, and only the best and most consistent team can win the tournament.
India’s Virat Kohli has been the stand out batsman in the last few years. What do you attribute his success to?
You can see how passionate Kohli is about the game, and that is why he works so hard on his game, skills and his fitness. When he is on the ground, he is competitive because he is passionate, the hunger is there and he wants to win every time. That passion gives him everything; that is why he is disciplined and more hard-working. He wants to be there till the last ball is bowled and wants to score big in every game. After scoring so many runs and centuries, he still has the hunger and passion for the game and wants to do better than last time. That’s the difference between him and others.
Do you think Kohli is a product of fierce competition in Indian cricket?
It varies from individual to individual. Some individuals are naturally different from others and their upbringing also plays a role in it. I think that fighting spirit is helping him. He always sets higher standards for himself in every series. Another component for Kohli playing well is because his basics are very strong, which is very important. If you look at his game, he just trusts his technique and plays normal cricketing shots even while playing T20. His consistency is far better than other batsmen. Other example of that is Pakistan’s Babar Azam. In all three formats the way he is performing, Babar is like Kohli technically, very sound and always wants to score runs.
In this March 21, 2013, picture, Pakistan’s Misbah-ul-Haq plays a shot during the fourth ODI against South Africa in Durban. (Reuters)