Can Pakistan rattle the cage of pressure?
So they've done it again. Pakistan have pushed themselves into a corner from where they have to win every game if they are to win the series. At such times, for some reason not exactly known to even the best students of Pakistan cricket, it sort of clicks for Pakistan. But even by their standards, a comeback here will be a big task. For the events of the fourth morning of the Galle Test haunt the best of them. It is not easy to forget a match you lost in two hours, after three days of almost dominating the game.
"It's okay when the opposition beats you," Younis Khan, Pakistan's captain, told Cricinfo, "But we lost this match. There are youngsters in the team all right, but this kind of defeat hurts the most. You are in sight of victory, and you just have to take that one final step. We have been doing this forever. In ten years of my career I have seen that we fail to finish matches repeatedly. We just suddenly lose a won match. Bob Woolmer got tired of telling us, 'Finish the matches, finish the matches.' We still find ways to lose. So this loss will stay. It is very difficult to forget it."
That the Galle Test finished in four days means Pakistan had another day for the memories of defeat to affect their preparations. But Younis insists it was taken in a positive manner. "It has had a good impact on the preparations," he said. "Now we are determined to do way better than that. We have to not just win, but win in a manner that washes away the previous defeat. After a match when we had a quarter of the trophy in our hands - and a beautiful trophy, mind you - only winning won't do. We have to win like we did in the World Twenty20, the way we beat New Zealand after losing to Sri Lanka, the way we won the semi-final and final. Only then are such losses forgotten."
The last four days have been well spent. Pakistan would have had enough time to mull over the problems at the top of the order, in facing left-arm spinners - who somehow seem to do well against them - in the fielding department, where two dropped catches on the first morning cost them dearly. They have practiced hard in the Colombo sun over the last three days, and seem to be enjoying the challenge of playing in hot and humid conditions.
"There has been nothing different in the preparations," said Younis. "I only try to get the boys to focus better. The same was the case after the losses in the World Twenty20. I can't give them stick, especially after such a loss. You would have seen over the last four-five days, we have done the normal training routines. I just have to get them to focus better, for longer periods. The bat is the same, the ball is the same, the gear is the same."
A day before this second Test, Younis' demeanour was reminiscent of one of the endearing images of the World Twenty20 that he talked about. At the toss before the match against New Zealand he was asked to comment on the must-win game. Younis couldn't suppress his laughter. One could sense both resignation that it usually is the case, and relief that it somehow works for Pakistan.
On the verge of losing a series in Sri Lanka for the first time, Pakistan start another must-win match tomorrow. The confounding part is, while they are known to crumble under the kind of pressure they faced in Galle, Pakistan are historically known to relish the kind of pressure that they face now.
Pakistan are aware that to win a Test from this position will be a completely different ball game. Test wins are not built on one spell of inspirational bowling, although they can be lost in one mindless session as they would have discovered in Galle. At the pre-match press conference, Intikhab Alam, their coach, mentioned dominating three days against losing in one session more than once. Maybe Pakistan don't want to forget it so easily. Maybe they indeed have it in them to wash it away, like they did the Twenty20 losses. It will be fascinating viewing as it often is, if they do manage to do that.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo