Pakistan v UAE, World Cup 2015, Group B, Napier March 3, 2015

Misbah hopes confidence can prop brittle top order

With Nasir Jamshed, Pakistan may need to take more of a leap of faith © AFP

"What can you do?" Misbah-ul-Haq asks, presumably rhetorically. "I mean, you have to just think positive."

Misbah could moan. He could moan about the schedule that sees his team play three games in three different cities in seven days. He could moan about the absence of his star bowler - Saeed Ajmal - and his right-hand man - Mohammad Hafeez. He could moan about the fact that his team never get to play at home or that, aged 40, he remains one of the best and fittest fielders in his side. And he could moan that his top order is so brittle that an opening partnership of 11 against India remains their best opening stand of the tournament to date.

He could moan, too, that his reputation ensures that for some, if Pakistan lose it is his fault and if they win it is despite him. To borrow a phrase from another cricketer who divides opinion: It's not easy being Misbah.

So Misbah probably would moan if he thought it would do any good. But he knows it won't, so instead he hopes to fill his misfiring batsmen with confidence - confidence that logic suggests they have little to possess at present - and trust that it inspires them. It's not a foolproof tactic but, as he says, what can you do?

"Sometimes you've got four, five poor innings and suddenly you just have a hundred," Misbah said when asked about his top order. "It's like that, and our batsmen are capable of that. Even in the top order they are capable of doing that."

The use of the word "even" is revealing. While most teams rely upon their top order, there is almost an expectation with Pakistan that the middle order will have to rebuild after early failures. And if it seems reasonable to expect Ahmed Shehzad - with 16 scores of 50 or more in 61 ODIs innings - to rediscover his form sooner or later, it may be necessary to take more of a leap of faith with Nasir Jamshed, who has scored two runs in three innings (including the warm-up game) since being called into the squad and certainly isn't compensating with his fielding.

But Misbah knows he must work with what he has. And he knows, at this late stage, that it is too late for technical adaptations or new recruits. Confidence is the only weapon left and he hopes, on what promises to be a fine batting surface, that his batsmen may yet find some fluency.

"We are looking forward to just giving them a lot of confidence," Misbah said. "And they are working hard in the nets. Let's see this pitch; they might be feeling a little bit more confident in playing here.

"These are the only things that you can just share with the guys and just give them confidence and just be positive all the time. It's a new innings, it's a new game."

Misbah has more grounds for confidence in his bowling resources. Having seen his bowling attack save Pakistan from defeat against Zimbabwe, he hopes they may prove similarly effective against UAE on a Napier surface on which 10 scores in excess of 290 have been recorded in ODIs in the last decade. New Zealand scored 369 here against Pakistan only a month ago.

Balancing the Pakistan side has been an issue for some time. If they go into a game with a full bowling attack, it weakens the batting to a worrying degree, but if they pick the extra batsman, it leaves Misbah struggling to fill all 50 overs. For now, though, it seems he has concluded that including five bowlers is preferential and believes that, in doing so, it renders Mohammad Irfan - who is conceding runs at a rate of only 4.40 per over in this World Cup despite bowling in the Powerplays - more effective.

"If you see that the pitch is more suitable to batting, you need to have five bowlers," Misbah said. "I haven't seen the pitch yet, but at least there is one thing that is working well in favour of us and we should stick to that strength: And that's bowling.

"Irfan has bowled really well. But in the first two games, the opposition knew they just had to see him off. They knew that after 10 or 15 overs, they wouldn't see him again until the Powerplay.

"But in the last game it was different. We had four frontline seamers and the opposition knew they had to score runs [against Irfan]. Now he knows he has the back-up bowlers, so he just went all out. That really helped."

The irony of Misbah's position is, however, that while he tries to inspire confidence within his team, he is continually attempting to dampen expectations of the team's supporters. While some seem to think Pakistan can go on the similar sort of run enjoyed by the 1992 side - who won five games in succession to lift the World Cup despite an uncertain start to the tournament - Misbah knows that such expectations could be unhelpful if the worst happens.

"It's a totally different scenario [to 1992]," he said. "Obviously we can take some of the motivation, but we can't just think that we did it in 1992, so we're going to do it again.

"We have to perform here. And then against South Africa. And then against Ireland. These are very important games for us. If we are unable to perform in one game, we could be out of this tournament. We have to do it. We have to if we want to go into the next round."

What can you do? You have to just think positive.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo