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Paul Nixon column – Don’t give Misbah a hard time for coming up short

Having been left stranded on 99 not out in the first Test against West Indies, this week Pakistan batsman Misbah-ul-Haq was dismissed for the same score in the second Test. There are some who will criticise Misbah for not going on and getting a big score but I can’t help but feel for him.

It’s amazing how that one run makes a difference in terms of how everybody sees the innings and talks about the knock. Alex Tudor is one that comes to mind, being left stranded on 99 not out when Graham Thorpe hit the winning runs!

I got 99 against New Zealand before being trapped lbw in a tour match a few years back and I was absolutely gutted and I remember David Millns making 99 when batting at nine for Leicestershire.

It’s a horrible feeling but it’s worse if you’re stranded and it’s out of your control. That’s what happens when you bat lower down the order and you’re with the tail, you could be eight or nine down before you get anywhere near the landmark.

I remember a game where HD Ackerman was on a huge score and Josh Cobb, batting with him, was in the 90s. Josh told me after that HD kept going down to him after every ball, telling him to keep calm and Cobby said he wouldn’t have made his century without HD.

You sometimes need that experience to see you through but if you don’t make it it can be frustrating. It’s more a personal thing than a team thing but, of course, your boys are rooting for you and want you to succeed.

Captains and coaches have to remember to put the team first at times, too. There are so many times when you have two batsmen with milestones approaching but you know it’s nearing the time to declare.

What you try to do is set your stall out early and tell them there will be a declaration in five overs so they, almost literally, know the score. Team plans are set way in advance but you’ll go through them again at the start of each day.

Of course, they’re not always set in stone and captains do have to be flexible. It’s about helping each individual as well as the team, but the player themselves will understand that team success is the most important.

You have to ask yourself if the player will have his season ruined if we bring him in on 90, or is he strong enough to understand. Sometimes players need that milestone to get that boost of confidence so it’s all about knowing your team.

There’s also the other side of things, when you’ve got past 99 and reached those three figures. So many players are dismissed between 100 and 120, and it’s all about a lack of concentration.

The weight is off the shoulders and there’s a sense of relief. You’ve reached your target you set at the start of the day and it’s very easy to come off it.

Joe Root is one who regularly gets talked about for not making them into big scores, or for failing to convert 50s into tons, but you have to remember that he’s still making very good scores.

It’s harsh criticism and I don’t think it’s fair because this game is based on such fine margins. I remember David Fulton at Kent having a season where he made ten centuries and averaged 90, but he was probably dropped 90 times, too!

He could have ended with half the season he had but the fine margins worked in his favour.

These fine margins are the same for bowlers. Captains have to be careful, as they do with batsmen approaching tons, when they have a bowler with four wickets against his name.

The bowler will tend to want to stay on and make that five-for but a captain has to be strong. No matter what personal statistics are up for grabs, the captain has to make the right call. Two more overs of a tired bowler could see you lose a grip on the game.

It’s a hard thing to do as captain. You’re in the trenches with your mates and you know how hard it is to get hundreds or five-wicket hauls and when it’s close you just want it for each other.

Bringing a guy off when they’re pushing their body to the brink is tough but everybody does understand.

There are more downs than ups in professional sport and we have to realise that.

The greatest want to average 100 but tend to average 50. That means they’re failing half the time, so even the greats fail 50 per cent of the time. The rest of us are going to fail a lot more.

That’s why it’s crucial we celebrate success. A four-for is a great haul, just like a 95 is still an incredible knock. It’s easy to feel just as down for getting out for 98 as it does for getting out for, say, two, but you have to take the positives from these situations.

Yes Misbah, you got close and are probably gutted. But the world won’t judge you for not getting that one extra run, it’s still a brilliant achievement.

This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, May 5 2017

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