Pakistan v India, Group B, Asia Cup, Karachi June 25, 2008

The pressure is on the home side - Malik

Cricinfo staff

Ramiz Raja feels it's time for Shahid Afridi to return as an opener © AFP

At least in Tabarak Dar's mind there is no question which is the better team between India and Pakistan. Twice, the Hong Kong captain has been asked this and twice he has been emphatic with his verdict. "On current form there is no doubt that India are the stronger side," he said. Many will demur but Pakistan and India potentially play three times in this tournament so an answer will soon be evident.

The pressure in these matches may be receding with familiarity but Shoaib Malik, Pakistan's captain, reckons the hosts will feel the heat a little bit. "A little difference is made from playing so often but in both our countries, crowds want a win all the time. There is a little more pressure on us being at home, but we are confident going into the India game."

It is likely that Pakistan will go in with the same XI and that Malik opens again, though only after looking at the surface. "We want to keep the same side, but it will depend on the wicket," Malik said.

Malik will hope the top-order collapse against Hong Kong was a blip but will also want some contributions from his middle-order, where Misbah-ul-Haq and Shahid Afridi have gone a number of innings without a fifty. Though criticism of Misbah should be offset by his position in the batting order - one fifty in his last 12 innings hides his position nestled most often at six or seven - Afridi's batting form is a worry, with only one fifty in his last 22 ODIs.

"Misbah bats lower down the order but whenever he bats he makes a 30 or 40," Malik said. "He bats in difficult situations lower down so that makes a difference. Anyway no player scores in every match."

Afridi's situation is more complex. Though his batting has been poor, he has almost become a specialist bowler. In his last 22 matches, he has bowled his full quota 16 times, picking up 34 wickets in the process.

Ramiz Raja, the former Pakistan captain, believes Afridi needs a move up the order to regain some confidence. "I've been noticing a difference in the way he bats for quite sometime," Ramiz told The News. "He seems to hesitate a lot. I'm not sure why but that is certainly affecting his batting.

"I think the only way Afridi can overcome this lean patch is by batting up the order. He should be opening the innings. That way he would get plenty of overs and I'm sure that within a few games, he would be in full flow again.

"I believe the team management will have to rethink Afridi's position as his batting is falling apart. He is too big an asset for Pakistan cricket and needs to be utilised properly."