At various stages over the last couple of days, Misbah-ul-Haq has worn a look of resignation, and occasionally exasperation. The lack of quality in the Faisalabad Wolves side has been all too obvious - only Misbah and Saeed Ajmal have had any meaningful taste of international cricket - and to see them crash out of the qualifying competition of the Champions League at the first possible instance came as no surprise. (Sunrisers Hyderabad thrash Faisalabad Wolves)
Misbah, who along with Ajmal and Ehsan Adil only arrived in Mohali less than 20 hours before the team's first match, made significant contributions in both matches, but couldn't prevent Faisalabad from slumping to heavy losses. When he fronted up to speak to the media on Wednesday (September 18) night, Pakistan's captain was again in complete command of himself, admitting that lack of exposure was a stumbling block in his team's progress and rueing the lack of international cricket in his country.
Pakistan haven't hosted an international match since March 2009, following a terror attack on Sri Lanka's team bus in Lahore, and Misbah said the absence of matches had had a negative fallout on Pakistani cricket. "Definitely, it has had a huge effect," he said. "When there is international cricket in your country, there is a big positive impact on your cricketers. If there is no international cricket and you don't get to see players in action, if there are no practice matches and opportunities, it makes a difference to your own team and to the players currently playing for the national team. When you are playing in your country, the confidence you gain from performing at home helps when you play abroad."
The Indian Premier League, he said, had been a massive boon for young Indian cricketers because it helped them prepare for the challenges of international cricket. Advocating a similar league in Pakistan, Misbah, who played for Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2008, said: "I think it is very important (to have a tournament like that in Pakistan). I have said it earlier in Pakistan too that exposure and skills will only improve when you play more cricket. The more you play under pressure, the more you will learn to handle it and you will become an expert at handling situations.
"It is unfortunate for Pakistan that there is no such cricket there, which we need to think about quickly. Right in front of your eyes, you can see players from all parts of the world come here to play the IPL; there are different leagues in other countries and you can see a tangible difference. You can see that in Indian cricket - young players are mature by the time they come into international cricket. They know how to handle pressure, how to build an innings, how to respond with the ball under pressure."
Both for the national team and for Faisalabad, Misbah has been forced to don the role of the knight in shining armour, something that sits lightly on him even if the burden can be overwhelming. "Sometimes, it so happens that your team doesn't respond, unfortunately, like this time," Misbah said. "Even in the Pakistan team, the batsmen are struggling and here in Faisalabad, we have mostly inexperienced players, we don't have any big names. You have to take the right decisions with the future in mind. Wherever there are shortcomings, we must try to address them, try and give the batsmen a boost because this kind of form (his own form) can't last forever. When you are trying hard, it is really good for the team if the other batsmen too bat with some confidence. When contributions come in from different players, it is always good for the team. It is important that all players contribute; you can't do anything with just one player contributing."
Misbah said he was disappointed at his team's results - an eight-wicket loss to Otago Volts was followed by a seven-wicket defeat at the hands of Sunrisers Hyderabad - but added that the experience would stand his wards in good stead. "When you lose games, you are disappointed but I think it's a good experience for the team," he offered. "Most of the guys haven't played any international event. By playing in a tournament such as this, they come to know of the demands at the international level. It's a big ask for them to come straightaway and perform here. Any player who plays at this level needs a little bit of more exposure and experience which we don't have, but I think it is a really good experience for them. They can learn about how to improve, how they are going to perform, how they are going to get ready for this.
"There is a mental barrier. When you have not played at the international level, there is bound to be a mental barrier. When you play at the highest level, you cross that barrier and break through. Then slowly, you conquer those barriers. You need some time. The more times you cross the barrier, your ability will improve that much more and you will gain more experience too. It is not a small process. You learn from your opportunities; they have got three matches here, it will help them in the future, I am sure."
Alongside Ajmal, Misbah has been talking at length to the Faisalabad boys. "We try to tell them what the demands of international cricket are and how to handle pressure," he said. "How to prepare yourself for this kind of cricket. Whenever we play, we work hard with them to overcome this. They did that at the domestic level but this is a different scenario, a different platform for them. They haven't had exposure of this level of cricket, so at the moment they are struggling. Obviously, we tell them to improve their skills but the mental side is very important. Saeed Ajmal and I are working overtime with that, talking to them about how to absorb pressure, how to play international players with their skills - just focus on the ball and bat, don't see the names. But again, I think there is nothing like experience. If you don't have experience, you will really struggle."