England v Pakistan: Misbah-ul-Haq wins hearts and minds with age-defying display

By Tom FordyceChief sports writer

On a day when a man in a yellow jersey ran up Mont Ventoux in cleats, perhaps it made sense to see a 42-year-old cricketer dropping to the Lord's turf and banging out 10 press-ups as the packed stands rose to him.

Few debuts at Lord's take in a Test century. Fewer still Lord's debuts take until a man's fifth decade. But Misbah-ul-Haq, the great redeemer of Pakistan's strife-torn cricket side, has never believed in the shackles of the past.

Pakistan's first Test in England since the spot-fixing debacle of 2010 was supposed to be all about the return of fast bowler Mohammad Amir. With England yet to bat and cloud cover due to close in over north London in the next few days, it still may be.

For now Misbah's unbeaten 110, in his side's battling 282-6, has won back a few more hearts and minds after six years in which he has arguably been the most impressive captain in world cricket.

If it's hard to imagine one of his predecessors, Inzamam-ul-Haq, managing even one push-up ("Inzi? Are you on your knees?") then one must go back still further to find the last man of Misbah's age to make a Test century, England's Patsy Hendren and his gnarled innings against Australia at Old Trafford in 1934.

Up at Troon, Phil Mickelson is leading The Open aged 46 years and 28 days, coming within a lipped-out putt of the lowest round in major history. But golfers do not have to deal with balls coming at them at close to 90mph, let alone the schisms and scandals that have made up Misbah's daily diet as skipper.

He was 36 when he took over his nation's Test captaincy, a tattered tourniquet applied to what could have been fatal wounds. After the terrorist attacks on the Sri Lanka team bus in 2009, no international side would tour Pakistan. After the spot-fixing at this ground a year later, few appeared likely to host them either.

Chris Froome and Phil Mickleson
Chris Froome, 31, was forced into an unusual 'run' a kilometre from the finish line, while 46-year-old Phil Mickleson carded the joint-lowest round in majors history at The Open

From this mess, from a team of itinerants, mavericks and misfits, Misbah has forged a side that have pulled off series wins over Australia and England, reached a World Cup semi-final and won more Test matches than those of his storied forerunners Imran Khan and Javed Miandad ever managed.

He has seen his most effective bowler, Saeed Ajmal, first banned for a suspect bowling action and then neutered by the remedy prescribed to cure it. His key spinner, Yasir Shah, has just returned from a three-month doping ban. Amir's longest spell since Lord's six years ago came at a somewhat less celebrated London venue, the Feltham Young Offenders Institute.

Yet Pakistan are still going, and Pakistan are still threatening, not only at their adopted home in the UAE but now back at headquarters. Brendon McCullum was rightly lauded for transforming New Zealand's approach and end-game, but Misbah has had less to work with and far more to overcome.

Like McCullum, he has led from the front. Eight of his 10 Test centuries have now come as skipper, another record for his nation. In the 33 Tests before he was made captain, he scored 1,008 runs at an average of 33. Since taking the reins 43 Tests ago he has averaged 58.54.

Unlike McCullum, he has often done it the old-fashioned way. On Thursday his first 50 runs came up off 81 balls. His second took a further 73. By McCullum's skewed standards, by the way Test cricket is routinely played these days, that is shot-making in slow motion.

It was also perfect for the conditions. Just as he did against England's attack last winter, Misbah showed patience when the seamers were threatening, and then accelerated when they were replaced by muted spin.

From Moeen Ali's second over after tea he milked 16 runs in five balls, two conventional sweep-shots being followed by a pair of equally sweetly-hit reverse ones.

Team-mates gave their wickets away. Mohammad Hafeez top-edged a half-asleep pull when motoring along on 40. Younus Khan crashed a leg-stump half-volley straight into mid-wicket's hands after making 33 untroubled runs.

Misbah was patient against England's seamers before taking the attack to the spin of Moeen Ali, including playing some effective reverse-sweeps

Misbah, entirely in character, would not forget his responsibilities.

It's not that he can't attack. In Abu Dhabi 19 months ago he hit South Africa's attack for the fastest fifty in Test cricket, then went on to match the 56-ball century record set by the dashing cavalier Viv Richards in 1986.

Unlike Shahid Afridi, another great talent unable to stand under the burden of captaining Pakistan, Misbah has chosen his moment to cut loose. Former England skipper Michael Vaughan compares him to another bearded old-timer, Italy and Juventus midfielder Andrea Pirlo; who needs to sprint when you can stroke the ball around with all the time in the world?

After Misbah's unexpected physical exertions on the Lord's outfield, you might also see echoes of the endurance of Jo Pavey, selected this week for her fifth Olympic Games at 42 years and nine months.

Misbah's little display came courtesy of a two-week fitness boot camp laid on by new Pakistan head coach Mickey Arthur and his fielding coach, Australian Steve Rixon.

If this is truly turning a habitual weakness into a strength - Inzamam was as likely to voluntarily attend a boot camp as he was to cartwheel to the crease - then it also lays down the gauntlet: if Misbah can do this, shouldn't Younus - comparatively fresh-faced at 38 - be starting to practise his burpees?

For now Misbah can content himself with the knowledge that his innings has given his side a significant foothold in what could yet be a very tight series. That, and the fact that while he will shortly become the oldest Test captain since Warwick Armstrong in 1921, he is still only half the Australian's 22 stone in weight.

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