Pakistan must look to the future
In a tournament that has invented a host of new clichés, it's an old one that fits this thrilling final the best; it's a shame there had to be a loser. Fortunes ebbed and flowed throughout the 40 overs before Misbah-ul-Haq, having taken Pakistan to the brink with a brave late onslaught, tried to paddle the ball over short fine-leg but couldn't beat Sreesanth.
Misbah might struggle to return home, yet he has been one of the outstanding players following his surprise recall to the team. He finished with 218 runs, third behind Matthew Hayden and Gautam Gambhir in the tournament standings. But he will remember this tournament for twice having the chance to carry his team across the line in heart-stopping encounters against India. In the group match he couldn't score one off the last two balls and here he was a little too clever for his own good after lofting the previous delivery straight for a six. He shouldn't be castigated because without him, Pakistan wouldn't have gotten this close.
There was always the nagging feeling that since Pakistan had proved so consistent during the tournament, something had to give. Although they ultimately came within one blow of snatching victory, for large parts of the innings it was a poor chase facing a target that shouldn't have been beyond them. Previously calm and collected hunting down runs, they couldn't find the balance between accumulation and aggression during their first 15 overs.
The decision to promote Kamran Akmal to No. 3 was not only strange but an unnecessary change to the order. He'd scored 44 runs in four previous innings with very little chance to find his groove. A final wasn't the place for an experiment. "If we lost a wicket in the first six overs we were always going to use Kamran," Shoaib Malik said.
However, the real turning point was Imran Nazir's run out in the sixth over. He blazed his way to 33 off 14 balls, but appeared to aggravate his groin injury (which needed a runner in the semi-final) and couldn't beat Robin Uthappa's throw from mid-off. The chase really came off the rails when Irfan Pathan removed Malik and Shahid Afridi in his second over, Afridi carving an expansive and ill-judged lofted drive into the hands of mid-off.
It's a great achievement for Pakistan, when we started
this tournament we weren't considered one of the favourites but we
managed to make the final. When they [India] won the toss and batted we aimed
at restricting them to 160 so we were successful at our plan, but
unfortunately we lost too many early wickets which is why we fell
short - Shoaib Malik
However, Malik said that reaching the final was a fine effort from his young team. "It's a great achievement for Pakistan, when we started this tournament we weren't considered one of the favourites but we managed to make the final. When they [India] won the toss and batted we aimed at restricting them to 160 so we were successful at our plan, but unfortunately we lost too many early wickets which is why we fell short. The Indian bowling was good and they restricted our top order, especially RP Singh who swung the ball and got key wickets."
And he didn't think that Pakistan had succumbed to the tension of the final: "We have played well throughout the tournament and even played well today, it wasn't the pressure that was a factor we just lost wickets at bad times."
However, many positives have come for a young Pakistan team which should serve them well over the coming months. Umar Gul was again outstanding, collecting 3 for 28 and removing the key scalps of Yuvraj Singh and Mahendra Singh Dhoni. It is unclear whether Shoaib Akhtar has a future in the team, but in Gul, Mohammad Asif and Sohail Tanvir, they have an attack capable of causing problems to most teams.
The fielding, too, has improved under Geoff Lawson, but his challenge now is to maintain an upward curve and try and ensure the team finds consistency in the long-term. "The guys have put huge efforts into their practice and along with the training camps we had that is why we are much fitter," Malik said.
Their next cricket is against South Africa, with a rapid turn around into their Test series which starts in Karachi on October 1. Even though Malik had lost the final, he showed he hadn't lost his sense of humour. "It will be a bit difficult going straight into a Test from Twenty20, but we will have a meeting and will tell the guys, please it is Test cricket."
But on the horizon looms another gripping contest with India and if it follows the pattern of their two meetings in this tournament, it will be compelling viewing. Only time will tell, but despite their last-gasp defeat Pakistan could look back on their two weeks in South Africa as the first stepping stone to a brighter future.
Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer on Cricinfo