Misbah says India game 'like a final'
So important is any game between Pakistan and India in its own right that there may be a temptation to allow the result of Saturday's game at Edgbaston to obscure the evidence of all that has gone before.
If, for example, Pakistan prevails, there may be those who conclude that the issues with their batting line-up that have dogged them throughout this tournament have been solved and no changes are required.
Equally, if India win, there may be those who conclude that the Pakistan bowling line-up is inadequate and more changes are needed.
Neither conclusion would be correct. When Pakistan bow out of the Champions Trophy on Saturday night, they must do so knowing their batting has been exposed as hopelessly lacking at this level. There must be no attempt to mask that and no attempt to snatch at miracle solutions. The road to improvement will be long and painful, but only by accepting their failings will Pakistan embark upon it.
Misbah-ul-Haq knows all this. Pakistan's captain knows that he has a bowling attack the rival of any team in this competition and a batting line-up that has been found wanting. And while his comments on the eve of the game were as calm and measured as ever, there was a theme to them that suggested that several Pakistan players, notably Imran Farhat, Shoaib Malik and perhaps Kamran Akmal could all be playing their last games. Well, their last games for a while, anyway. Little is permanent in Pakistan cricket.
"After this performance, clearly everybody can see where we need changes," Misbah said. "The batting is an issue. We need to think about that and how we go further in the future.
"Changes should be done very sensibly. You see what you need in the team and how you can improve your batting line-up, especially. You can't just take decisions in a panic situation.
"The biggest plus for us is our bowling line-up, especially the fast bowlers, and we've got two of the best spinners that are really performing well. And it's good to see Nasir Jamshed scoring runs. There are a few things which really are going well in this tournament."
Even Misbah's time may be ebbing away. It is not that Misbah's personal performance has dipped - quite the opposite, really - but more the issue that, after this event, the next global limited-overs tournament is the 2015 World Cup. As Misbah will be well past his 40th birthday by then, it seems unlikely he will still be playing so there is an argument to suggest now is the time to make the change and allow his replacements time to grow into the role.
For the time being, though, Misbah is urging his team not to worry themselves about the future and to enjoy the opportunity of playing such a high-profile match against India. While Pakistan, at their best, play brave, positive cricket, in this event they have looked timid and diffident. Misbah is hoping they can rediscover the confidence and joy that has typified the best of Pakistan cricket.
"Players should not worry about that selection," he said. "They should not worry about what's going to happen. You should think every game is your last and just try to give your best shot. They should take this match as an opportunity, go out there and just prove how good they are.
"There's no pressure on us now. It's one game. It's a chance for us to prove ourselves; to go there and just get something back. We should just express ourselves and go and try to win.
"It's still a very important game. Everybody knows that India against Pakistan is a huge game in terms of viewers. It's an important game for both teams and both teams want to win that game. Whenever we play each other it's like a final for everybody.
"But, even if we do win, the disappointment will remain somehow. Every team wants to win the ICC Champions Trophy. It's the second biggest tournament in the world."
As things stand, Pakistan are scheduled to travel to the Caribbean before the end of the month, for a series of games against West Indies. While rumours abound that the tour could be cancelled or rescheduled, it seems fair to presume that, the next time Pakistan play, several of the old guard will have been replaced.
While Misbah's role as a player may be coming to an end, he has shown the foresight and vision to suggest he could have a role in the administration of Pakistan cricket in the future.
Following Pakistan's defeat against South Africa, Misbah argued once again for more Pakistan players to travel abroad in order to gain experience of playing in different conditions and against different opponents in order to broaden their games. It is an idea that makes a great deal of sense.
"If you want to really improve your nursery of batsmen, you have to plan," Misbah said. "One suggestion is that you send your players to Australia, South Africa and England to play first-class cricket because whenever the Pakistan team comes to England, South Africa or Australia, they struggle because of the different conditions.
"And we can arrange more A team tours. These are areas we really have to look at otherwise it will just keep on happening."
Whatever happens at Edgbaston on Saturday, Pakistan would do well to heed Misbah's words.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo