Adelaide, Australia: Misbah-ul-Haq has played a lonely hand at times in the World Cup, steadfastly protecting his wicket in the belief that every run he scores could make a difference for Pakistan.
The Pakistan captain top-scored with 76 in a heavy opening loss to defending champion India, and was out for seven in the 150-run loss to the West Indies.
His 73 against Zimbabwe was crucial in a low-scoring game that got Pakistan back on track at the tournament, after batting first and winning by 20 runs. He followed that up with 65 in a win over the United Arab Emirates and 56, again the top score for Pakistan, in a 29-run win over South Africa in a rain-affected match that restored confidence within the team.
Misbah produced the kind of innings that exemplified the steady defense — sometimes criticized — that he has needed since being elevated to the captaincy in the wake of the spot-fixing scandal that rocked Pakistan cricket in 2010. Three Pakistan players were convicted of taking bribes from a bookmaker in a test match at Lord's in London and were handed suspensions.
Having Sarfraz Ahmed back at the top of the order against South Africa and Ireland helped ease some pressure on the 40-year-old Misbah, who is now preparing for a quarterfinal against four-time champion Australia that could either end or prolong his career in the limited-overs international game.
Veteran allrounder Shahid Afridi, who led Pakistan to the World Cup semifinals in 2011, is also considering calling it quits as he approaches the mark of 400 ODI matches.
"It's very simple. You just take it as a game, as a normal game," Misbah said of his approach to the knockout stage of the tournament. "If you just think about this game further than that, you are putting yourself under pressure, and I'm not going to do that, even Shahid is not going to do that."
Misbah is the leading scorer for Pakistan at this tournament, with 316 runs at an average of 52.66 putting him among the top 10 batsmen overall. Many of those runs have been scored under intense pressure with a faltering top-order above him.
He's yet to score a century in 161 ODI games —his best is an unbeaten 96 — despite amassing 5,088 runs at 43.48 and hitting 42 half centuries in ODIs and posting eight centuries in the test format.
Afridi hasn't contributed as much as he'd have liked with bat or ball — with four scores in the 20s and two wickets — but his presence on the field and his experience is invaluable for a rebuilding team, and both players will be difficult to replace.
"I'm pretty satisfied with what I had and especially Shahid," Misbah said Thursday. "The biggest satisfaction is that we gave everything to our team and country. Whatever we've got, we just put our efforts together for the country, and that is the biggest satisfaction.
"Obviously, this World Cup is still not over, and we'd really like to do good in this tournament, especially trying to win tomorrow's game and go further," he said. "That's what you could say is our desire and dream is."