London (AFP) – Mohammad Amir may be the centre of attention in the build-up to the first Test against England at Lord’s, but Thursday’s match is also a milestone for Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq.
Selection rows and fall-outs with previous Pakistan regimes mean that experienced batsman Misbah is now making his first Test tour of England at the advanced age of 42.
It was six years ago that Amir, new-ball partner Mohammad Asif and then-captain Salman Butt tarnished the reputation of Pakistan cricket with their involvement in a spot-fixing affair that saw the trio conspire to deliberately bowl no-balls during the 2010 Lord’s Test against England.
All three were given five-year bans and jail sentences.
The intervening period has not been easy for Pakistan, who have had to get used to playing all their “home” matches in the United Arab Emirates because of security concerns arising from an armed attack on Sri Lanka’s team coach in Lahore in 2009.
But under Misbah’s shrewed guidance Pakistan have become tough to beat in the UAE and a competitive side abroad, traits reflected in their third place in the current world Test rankings — one position above England.
Indeed they have yet to lose a Test series in their adopted home, with England beaten in two of those campaigns for an aggregate 5-0 scoreline in Pakistan’s favour.
An experienced batsman who has had a calming effect on the players around him, Misbah has overseen the reintegration of Amir into the side.
Having coped with the understandable interest in Amir making his return to Test cricket at Lord’s, the scene of the crime, Misbah had no problems in fending off enquiries about how long he intends to keep playing for Pakistan.
“My retirement has been discussed every series,” Misbah told reporters at Lord’s on Wednesday.
“I could have retired after the UAE against England (last year) — but we’ve been playing together for six years.
“I decided I need to be here in a tough series for Pakistan, and I really want to do well here.”
– ‘Good confidence’ –
Misbah has a fine Test record, with nearly 4,500 runs at an impressive average of nearly 49 in 61 matches.
Yet for all his experience, there is still something special about playing a Test at “the home of cricket”.
“There are no nerves (yet),” said Misbah. “That’s something you always wait for.
“It’s a big occasion — everyone wants to play at Lord’s, just to perform well here and get the respect of every spectator and supporter.”
But for Misbah it is the health of the Pakistan team, rather than personal goals, which remains his priority.
“If you analyse what we did in the last six years, it’s overall discipline, belief — consistently playing the same team,” he said.
“We missed bowlers — but Yasir Shah came in, and they’ve been outstanding.
“With the batting line-up, it’s discipline”.
He added: “Luckily, we played most cricket in UAE, have got used to conditions and made the most of it.
“It’s given us good confidence, and that is really helping in Test cricket.”