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March 14, 2013
What seems to be keeping Misbah-ul-Haq from panicking is the faith that Pakistan can only get better after Bloemfontein. Given what he called their overall "mediocrity," in the first match, even just a more spirited display will prove him right.
But to achieve that Pakistan will have to do more than simply up their motivation levels. They will have to get their selection right because that was one of the primary reasons they were shut out of the contest last Sunday.
Pakistan went into the match with only two quicks who, as Misbah said, "gave us a very good start in the first eight overs." Umar Gul and Junaid Khan moved the ball off the seam and beat the bat but after them there was little else.
It was not long before Pakistan discovered leaving out a third quick on a South African surface was the equivalent of touring the subcontinent without a spinner: it just does not work. Their slew of spinners were unable to make breakthroughs or keep the run-rate down even though have established themselves as the team's strength.
"South Africa played really well against them on a pitch where it was gripping and turning. Our bowlers did not find the right length," Misbah said. "Offspinners are our strength and we could not get Colin Ingram out."
As a consequence, even someone as cagey about starting XIs as Misbah was forced to admit his team is considering an obvious change. "We might need another fast bowler after looking at the last game," he said ahead of the Centurion match. Mohammad Irfan may come into contention on surfaces that will offer bounce or Wahab Riaz could be used.
Either way, Pakistan will have to sacrifice either one of their frontline batsmen or one of the two allrounders. Shahid Afridi found his boom-boom in the latter stages of the first match which puts Shoaib Malik in the firing line. Other suggestions would be dropping Younis Khan and even considering finding a way to make room for Umar Akmal in the team.
Misbah acknowledged that changes have to be made in the batting but ruled out sweeping personnel swaps. "Just because we lost one match, does not mean we have to make a lot of changes. If we do that players could lose confidence. At the moment, we've got a few batsmen who are still waiting for their turn. They are good enough to be in the side but the combinations we are looking at are keeping them out."
Instead, the alteration will come in approach. Pakistan will look to create more run-scoring opportunities and turn around both the strike and their reputation as middle-overs' stagnates.
"We need to be more aggressive, rotate the strike and take a few chances so we can push the fielders a little bit back in the circle. We need to improve that because when we play dot balls in the innings it creates pressure on the batsmen who are playing and the batsmen coming in," he said. "The batsmen need to show a little more responsibility and we also have to understand the opposition's line of attack. Most of the time, they are bowling back of a length so we have to be able to play that.
Allan Donald has promised South Africa will send down more yorkers so Pakistan will know they have to watch out for that as well. What they should also be wary, according to Misbah, is the moments in which the opposition could take the game away from them because that affected their morale.
"Once they got us on the back foot we lost a bit of confidence," he explained. "The most important thing in one-day cricket is wickets. When we didn't get wickets, automatically and slowly, it drained us." That goes back to the opening point. If Pakistan can play with more energy they will better their Bloemfontein showing and repay Misbah's faith. If they get their selections right as well, then they can have an eye on winning too.
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