Seven years is a long time as it is, but for Misbah-ul-Haq, it probably feels like a lifetime. Seven years ago he came into the Boxing Day Test at the end of a year in which his second coming was grinding to a halt.
He had scored just 261 runs in 11 innings until then and actually been dropped from all of Pakistan’s squads. A day after the exclusion he went back to domestic cricket and made 284, ensuring a swift return for the tours to New Zealand and Australia at the behest of Mohammad Yousuf, who had taken over from Younis Khan.
The response was a pleasant and fluent 65 in the first innings, but even then it felt not like an old man raging against the dying light or going gently into it, but just one coming sensibly to terms with a difficult situation. He was out first ball in the second innings, in the first over of the fifth day, then for a two-ball duck in the Sydney chase and dropped. All over, everyone thought, except that it hadn’t even begun.
He returns this year short on runs again. Talk of an exit is on the agenda, but some way down and not nearly as vexing as it was in 2009. He was one of the few specialist batsmen who didn’t get runs in Brisbane, though the nature of the innings and dismissals are worth noting more than the scores of 4 and 5.
Both times he looked skittish at the crease and was drawn into pokes outside off-stump by Jackson Bird that he has done well to curtail in his third coming. That concluded a run of six innings with just one fifty, against West Indies in Sharjah.
At 42, when these little streaks can roll into something bigger very quickly, it is a concern. But it isn’t anything like the pressure he admitted he was under seven years ago.
“He doesn’t seem worried,” said Grant Flower, Pakistan’s batting coach, though he said it in the knowing way that suggests what he really meant was that nobody can tell whether Misbah is worried or not.
“But he’s always mentally strong and relaxed. He’s got a lot of experience. He’s just going through a bit of a trot but he’s been through these periods before and he’s a class player. He’s got the mental strength and resilience to come back and I’m sure a good innings is just round the corner.”
If there was any admission of worry, it came in deed not words. Misbah hung back for an extra half-hour session of batting in the nets with Flower on Thursday, as Pakistan returned to training for the first time after the epic feats of Brisbane.
It was a fairly gentle return to work but the jauntiness of mood and spirit was impossible to miss. It is not often Pakistan teams in Australia look this upbeat after the first Test.
The other old man, Younis Khan, had what Flower thought was his “best net” for a while and his return to runs will no doubt have assuaged the loss in supply from Misbah.
“He did look a lot better [in the second innings in Brisbane],” Flower said. “Obviously the shot he got out to – at that stage what wasn’t the best. But having said that, he scores quite a few runs with the reverse sweep. You’ve got to find the balance regarding how you go about things. But he’s getting into better positions and today he had his best net practice for ages and he looked brilliant.”
Mohammad Amir appeared in no great discomfort through the three-hour session, though his right knee is still strapped. He also picked up a nasty bruise just above that knee in Brisbane, after being hit by a Mitchell Starc delivery and it was that, more than the knee that, according to Flower, was causing him to be just a little stiff.
Sohail Khan was the only one of the squad not to train. He arrived at the MCG with the team but felt unwell almo
Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo
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