Misbah puts new spin on pressure
One of the defining features of Misbah-ul-Haq's captaincy has been his attempts to bring in stability and keep out controversy from Pakistan cricket. His press conferences are an extension of that. Unlike other players who usually answer looking at the journalist who asked the question, Misbah prefers to stare straight ahead as he speaks. He stays away from big statements, and rarely betrays any expression.
One of the rare instances that he did was when a journalist brought up his batting against India in last year's World Cup semi-final, a source of much heartburn in Pakistan. "You are reminding me of that, and trying to put more pressure on me?" he asked with a big smile.
Pressure was an oft-repeated word during his press conference. During the World Cup, MS Dhoni had tried to defuse that buzzword, saying "we have changed the meaning of pressure to responsibility."
Misbah used a different tactic. "There is always pressure when India and Pakistan play each other, but it is also a good chance for the players to prove themselves," he said. "The way people remember performances in these matches, if you do well it is a great confidence booster, and gives great satisfaction."
Pakistan have also tried to keep media interactions to a bare minimum in order to ensure there are no unnecessary problems, even skipping the traditional pre-match presser before the game against Sri Lanka (they are not mandatory in the Asia Cup).
The previous time India and Pakistan faced each other, in Mohali, the hype and build-up was so huge that some wondered whether the World Cup final would be a sort of anti-climax. This time around, Bangladesh's rousing win over India, Sachin Tendulkar's 100th hundred and the tight schedule have all combined to prevent Sunday's match from becoming an all-consuming focus.
Pakistan's players have been asked about the India game in pretty much every press conference, and their views were summed up by Mohammad Hafeez. "This is just a game and we will take it as a game and we will try our level best to win the game, that's it."
Hafeez suggested a couple of times that the pressure will be less on Pakistan as they have already qualified, though technically they aren't through yet. A bonus point win for India, and a similar victory for Bangladesh over Sri Lanka will take things down to net run-rate.
What will help Pakistan though is the backing of the crowd. A full house is expected, and the locals will get right behind Pakistan as a win for them will boost the home side's chances of progressing. "We always enjoy playing in Bangladesh and the Bangladesh crowd has always supported us whenever we play against any other country."
The match has been built up as a clash between India's batting strength and Pakistan's bowling might. Hafeez was not too bothered by worries over Pakistan's batting. "It's a blessing for us that all of the players are in good form, like in the first game the openers did the job for Pakistan. Then, in the last game the way Umar Akmal and Misbah finished the game for us, that was a real positive sign that everybody's in good nick."
The only mildly controversial statement in the presser was when Hafeez repeated Mushfiqur Rahim's assertion about India's bowling. "I personally feel that their bowling attack is not in good form at the moment, so we are going to try and exploit that weakness and demoralise their attack."
After slipping up against Bangladesh, India's bowlers will do well to heed Misbah's words when asked about his Mohali batting. "I think as a player it is better to not think too much about your past performances, whether they led to a win or a loss, and it is better to focus on the matches to come; thinking about what happened previously will only increase the pressure."
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo