Something seems to be playing on the mind of Misbah-ul-Haq, the man who remains serene in greatest turmoil, who keeps his head when the others are losing their’s.
Misbah wears gloom on his face as he agrees readily for an interview, though his visage remains bereft of cheer or welcome.
Could he be battle-weary? After all, at Kolkata, he had played 351 balls over nine hours for an unbeaten 161. Or could he be world-weary, a philosopher cricketer who perhaps believes that the game’s not enough?
Misbah smiles, even laughs, at this suggestion. He insists that “that’s the way I am, that’s the way I always have been”.
No, there’s nothing wrong with his life — it’s quite good, actually. After his exploits at the Twenty20 World Cup, he has turned his attention to Tests, with greater success. His imperturbable temperament, his form have had people suggesting that he be made captain of a team in turmoil.
“Yeh kudarati hota hai… I guess this is part of one’s personality,” Misbah says, having had his laugh and regained his gravity. “I’ve been always like this, a somewhat serious sort of a person.”
“That’s how I am, always like this, that’s what normal is for me,” he adds, referring to his current frame of mind.
You ask around for anecdotes about the man, and there are none — there is one, actually, one that suggest at criminality. But you’re informed hastily that he went to jail only once, and that too because the man who was driving him and two teammates from Abu Dhabi to Dubai last year was drunk. He and his mates were hauled in with the malefactor, and had to do time in the slammer, though just one night.
That’s about it; a visit to India is full of delights, but Misbah is a serious-minded man who has brought his family along. In the team, he prefers to keep to himself.
But there must be two Misbahs, surely --- one who smashes the ball with fury in Twenty20 cricket, the other who smothers it with indifference in Tests.
Misbah entered the public consciousness in India at the Twenty20 World Cup, where twice nearly beat India single-handedly, including in the final.
There’s something pleasing about a hero with feet of clay --- we see a bit of ourselves in him: a man who’s a superhero with the bat but, at the end of the day, is just human.
And Misbah, off the field, is eminently human, a common man with something on his mind. Perhaps seeing time fly away, the need to make up for lost time, have made him thus.
“There were settled players in the middle-order, I could not get in,” he says. “But I’ve been trying hard… I had an idea that age would be a factor, so have worked very hard on my fitness. Thus I’m very fit and because of that, perhaps people feel that I’m younger than 33.”
But since he’s a novice at international cricket, is he sure he’s 33? For the second time, Misbah grins: “Ji, bilkul!”
A first-class debutant at 24 is unheard of in the Indian subcontinent, but Misbah is not your normal cricketer.
He’s is an alumnus of Lahore University of Management Sciences, a prestigious business school; it was late that he decided that cricket was his metier.
“I decided late that I’d be only happy playing the game,” he says. “I still was not sure, but after I made my first-class debut, things changed.”
Change is something he’s adept at. He has this unbelievable ability to stand at the wicket the whole day, then suddenly smash the ball out of the ground. He possesses dream strokes, times the ball beautifully, has the strength of a giant. Yet, he batted 330 balls for 127 runs at Delhi, 366 for 167 in Kolkata. He has already played 162 for his unbeaten 54 here.
How does he alter his mind, from T20 to ODIs to Tests?
“That’s how a professional cricketer should be, one must change one’s game according to the conditions,” he says. “That’s what I try to do. In Tests, you must be patient and bide your time.”
“And we play a lot of Twenty20, especially during Ramazan,” he adds. “That helps, when I have to go in and start hitting early, hitting unconventional strokes. I don’t think it’s been difficult for me, to adapt to the situation, to the pace of play.”
The play, he knows, won’t last long. He knows that at 33, time’s one commodity he can’t afford to waste. But he’s not really worried.
“I’ve never thought of how many years I have to play, or what I have to achieve,” he says. “Only this, that I must focus on the game I’m playing, on the series I’m playing in.”
Then he returns to fitness. He knew that being a late starter, it was impossible for him to allow his body fail him. Does he work more on it than his peers? “Definitely! I work in the gym everyday, two to three hours, without fail. I’ve been doing this for years,” he says.
He says he wants to live in ‘now’, the hopes and fears of the years ahead don’t faze him.
He says he’s happy playing the game, even though his face may suggest otherwise.