The statistics didn’t matter that day, November 16, the third day. The stadium was jam-packed. It was like a tense holiday across the country. People were glued to their TVs. The nation watched Tendulkar as if it would never see him bat again. That was what it in fact was. He had just played his last innings wearing the India cap. He had taken the final bow. On his home ground. Tendulkar had tears in his eyes. Mumbai wept along. His Mumbai. Where it all began years ago. What more does a person want?
Enough has been written about the sentiment over home ground, home series, home crowds, home support. How these elements spur a cricketer. How a cricketer can do anything more right than bat or bowl great and win a Test on his or her home ground. Ask Tendulkar.
But to be deprived of all things "home"? Not for a day or a week or a month or even year but eight, long, years? While you go on making and breaking records on foreign soil? While the cricketing world showers you with encomia? While the day approaches when you are playing your final Test, that too as captain of your national team on a soil not of your home? Ask Misbah-ul-Haq.
The United Arab Emirates has been his and his team's "home" since 2009 and the Pakistan Cricket Board organizes all of its international matches in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.
I think no cricketer has faced so much misfortune as Misbah that while the world said he was among the best captains of the game ever, he himself could never play in his home country, Pakistan, as captain.
He captained Pakistan 56 times, eight times more than his distant relation Imran Khan, but the pitches in Pakistan were blind to this fact. His supporters, his relatives, his fellow countrymen never saw him play as captain on home soil. They will never see him either.
It was under his captaincy, in August 2016, that Pakistan achieved the pinnacle in Test cricket – first rank in world standings – for the first time since 1988. Again, no thanks to any match won on Pakistani soil. (In fact, it was ironical that Pakistan displaced India as the top ranked nation after the final test match between India and West Indies ended in a draw due to rain).
Ever modest, Misbah took this calamitous truth in his stride. In his goodbye speech at Windsor Park, Dominica, after a thrilling win against West Indies on May 14, 2017, he said wryly: "I'm happy with what I've had in this career."
Misbah had nothing to do with his bad luck. Terrorism was responsible for it. It was a terror attack on a bus carrying the visiting Sri Lankan cricket team to the Lahore stadium on the third day of the second test on March 3, 2009. The attack left seven dead and seven Lankan players injured. Pakistani cricket grounds went barren since that day and till date as international teams never bothered to tour Pakistan, expressing concerns over security of the players.
In these eight years, the Pakistani team has been playing on "rented" home grounds in the UAE. No Pakistani cricketer has since that day in 2009 played a match at home, though many of them, like Younis Khan, conquered cricketing hearts the world over.
If there's someone who's had worse luck than Misbah, it's young fast-medium Pakistani bowler, Mohammad Talha. A promising fast bowler, he was selected for the ill-fated Lanka series in 2009. He was on the bench in the first test. He took a couple of wickets in the second Test. And that’s it. He has never played a Test again! Worse still, he was in Pakistan's 2014 ICC World Twenty 20 tournament squad but sat out on the bench for the entire tournament!
Misbah's exile from his home pitch is of recent vintage. Think of those cricketing greats like Barry Richards and Graeme Pollock and Ali Bacher and Mike Procter and Lee Irvine and Clive Rice and Vincent van der Bijl. There were batsmen like Hylton Ackerman Sr, Henry Fotheringham and Ken McEwan, pace bowlers Garth le Roux and Stephen Jefferies, leg-spinner Denys Hobson and wicketkeeper Ray Jennings.
The poster boys of South Africa's whites-only cricket in the 1970s sat out their entire lives after the 1970 anti-apartheid movement that cancelled that year's South African tour of England and made them cricketing pariahs till 1992.
Just before the cricketing ban, Ali Bacher had led a successful team to a 4-0 whitewash of Australia. It was Bacher’s first series as captain. It would be his last. Richards made 508 at an astounding average of 72 in that series. Pollock was still better, getting 517 runs at 73.
Of course, they didn't have anything to do with the apartheid policy, but their presence in a cricket team which did not have a "black" representation was enough to troll them. The world would never know what cricketing heights they were capable of capturing. They themselves never knew. Forget about playing an international Test on their home ground, they would not be allowed to play a Test anywhere in the world!
Even after all these years, the South African board does not touch them with a bargepole. Richards told British daily The Independent in 2015 about what they lost: "There are quite a few CSA functions throughout the year but we're not invited to any of them. I know through the breweries that there was some talk of an invite but nothing ever materialised – there's a bit of 'them and us'. It's sad but that's the way it is. Our time has come and gone. It's not worth losing a lot of energy about – if they want to behave like that then that's fine."
First Published: May 16, 2017, 2:36 PM IST