India v Pakistan, 4th ODI, Asia Cup, Dambulla June 20, 2010

Afridi praises team unity

For the second time in this Asia Cup, Pakistan went down after running the opposition close. Defeat against India eliminated them from the competition and stretched their losing streak to nine, just one short of their worst run, which came in 1987-88.

Their captain, Shahid Afridi, remained optimistic that the team would soon turn the corner. Pakistan came into the competition after a fresh round of churning in their set-up, with recalls for hard-to-manage players like Shoaib Malik and Shoaib Akhtar. Afridi felt the big plus from the matches so far was the united dressing room, unlike on some of Pakistan's recent tours.

"The state from which we are emerging, a new captain, some new players, keeping that in mind, this is a good improvement," Afridi said after the match, praising his players for their effort. "Hopefully the results will also start to improve. Consistency is not there in our performance, we showed a fighting spirit as a team, there was a unity on display, these are good signs."

Another bonus for Pakistan was the fitness of Shoaib, who looked less haggard than in the tournament opener, and delivered a testing spell to the Indian openers. Afridi felt Shoaib's workload needed to be carefully monitored to extend his career. "Shoaib bowled well in the first spell with the new ball," he said. "I think he can prolong his career till the 2011 World Cup, because we are playing a lot of Test cricket before that and I'm not giving him a chance against every team; like the game against Bangladesh day after tomorrow, he is resting."

Pakistan's tried out yet another opening combination against India, bringing in Imran Farhat for youngster Shahzaib Hasan, to partner vice-captain Salman Butt. The pair saw off the new ball, adding 71 in the process, and with No. 3 Shoaib Malik picking off the singles with ease, Pakistan looked set for a bigger score than the 267 they ended up with.

"The sort of start we got, we should have scored somewhere between 280 and 290,"Afridi said. "But they bowled well, especially their fast bowlers."

Afridi explained the rationale for bringing back Farhat after giving Shahzaib only one chance. "Early on it's not easy to attack on this wicket, Shahzaib is an aggressive player and has to change his game a lot here. I thought Farhat is more of a straight-bat player who takes his time, so we went with him."

After the dead rubber against Bangladesh on Monday, Pakistan embark on a taxing assignment in England, where they have full series against the hosts and Australia. "There is some tough cricket coming up, we will be playing Test cricket after a while, the problems of the past are not there anymore, and we are playing as a unit, let's see how it goes."

Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo

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