A terrible day at the office
Perhaps it was just that the shock of it was too much, but Shoaib Malik's press conference after Pakistan's heaviest defeat (in terms of runs) was surprisingly - and happily - free of rancour.
There was no screaming and shouting of accusations - not questions - generally associated with such losses, no ultra-defensive responses from an ultra-sensitive captain. About the only concern from it was how unperturbed Malik seemed by Pakistan's loss, eager to wash it off as just a bad day at the office.
A bad day might mean you turn up to the office late, get told off by the boss and spend the rest of it in an unproductive sulk. An equivalent for what Pakistan produced today would be not turning up at all, then calling up the boss, telling him he's an incompetent idiot and expecting to turn up the next day, job still safe.
Malik's men were an unthinking mess today, the day it mattered most. Even in the only period - the first 15 overs of their fielding - when things, fortune apart, seemed to go their way, they were wasteful. Salman Butt let a chance from Tillakaratne Dilshan go through him at point when he was on 1; it has happened often enough to make a nonsense of Malik's equally unthinking defense of it.
Today, and many times previous, he has repeated that anyone can drop catches and that everybody does it. The points he misses, or chooses to ignore, is, one, others doing it doesn't make it right that you continue to do so. Two, Pakistan still miss more than most.
From there on, the day got worse. The middle overs of Sri Lanka's batting were bereft of threat as Malik, Shahid Afridi and Saeed Ajmal neither stopped runs nor took wickets. It has been a recent pattern, and though Afridi generally provides a handy run-controlling option, he rarely looks like unlocking a strong middle order.
"Whenever a batsman is settled in and gets a good start, the bowling automatically becomes defensive in that period," Malik said. "To get someone out then is difficult if the start is a decent one and the aim is to bowl as many dot-balls as possible in that time."
A re-jig in Pakistan's batting order as they began their chase didn't help the situation. Younis Khan opened instead of Salman Butt, apparently because Butt had been off the field for the last two overs of Sri Lanka's innings. Thus, he couldn't come out to bat until that time had passed and it wasn't revealed whether he had to so urgently go off the field as to disrupt team planning or whether they just had not thought about it.
In any case the chase was not going to be an easy one, given the target and the conditions. The first overs of both innings were crucial; Mahela Jayawardene praised his openers for fighting that period out before opening up. Malik was left to rue his top-order not surviving it, crashing to 30 for 6. "The first ten overs were difficult given the conditions, but they were crucial," he said. "The lights were on and the ball was swinging and seaming around. The overcast weather didn't help either."
The end result was Pakistan again producing an inconsistency against a strong team that boggles the rational mind. Not to worry, Malik assured everyone. They are on the job, though the nuts and bolts of the plan were absent. "Overall, I think consistency is a problem with Pakistan, but we are working on it. Any team can collapse on a given day. You can't decide about players and teams on just one match. Every day is a new day and we will work to improve in all three areas."
Eighteen months into his captaincy, a similar mantra to explain each loss, perhaps it's time Malik got started.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo