Pakistan Test captain Misbah-ul-Haq has identified the paucity of 50-over cricket at domestic level as the main cause of the team's current ODI struggles. Pakistan's domestic structure has undergone several changes in recent years and Misbah said the one-day game has been getting the short shrift.
"While a Pakistani domestic cricketer may play at least ten to twenty first-class matches a season, he doesn't get the same match practice in the 50-over format," Misbah told ESPNcricinfo. "I have long been saying that we need to lay greater emphasis on one-day cricket in our domestic system, and play more one-day games, because you can't evolve by playing a maximum of five 50-over matches a year in the domestic circuit."
While Pakistan are the No. 1 Test team in the world, they languish at No. 9 in the ODI rankings. Misbah was clear the discrepancy in the team's fortunes was due to lack of exposure, and not talent.
"We have just one fifty-over tournament and the format is not even played at club level anymore," he said. "Most of the cricket at grassroots level is 20 to 25 overs; this is one big reason that our ODI cricket has deteriorated and we are standing at No. 9. We needed and still need to develop our resources and we can only do so by increasing the number of games in our domestic tournament. The reason we are on top in Tests is because our players are getting enough games and exposure at domestic level. That is the only reason I see.
"Otherwise, these players are talented and they have shown glimpses of their flair, though not consistently. So this talent needs to be nurtured by giving them more games at domestic level. Exposure to a lot of competitive cricket will enable them to polish their skills."
Misbah took over the ODI reins in May 2011 and led the side for almost four years, before stepping down after the 2015 World Cup. Having won 13 of their first 14 matches under Misbah, Pakistan's results took a nosedive with 38 losses in the remaining 72 matches of his tenure. Azhar Ali has managed only nine wins in 25 matches. Misbah, however, insisted that the captain should not be the only one blamed for poor performance.
"In Pakistan, there is a perception that the captain is the only one responsible for everything. Cricket is a team game and every player has to contribute," he said. "We used every possible talent in the country but it didn't work. Whenever you are forced to change, that is because team isn't performing. Unfortunately, in one-day cricket, the boys haven't performed well, like they have done in Test cricket. The bowling, after Saeed Ajmal, hasn't done enough and the batting has never been consistent."
In the search for solutions to the team's ODI slump, Pakistan's selectors have tried well over 40 players since the start of Misbah's captaincy, in a seemingly never-ending transition.
"When the team doesn't perform and keeps losing, then changes are necessary," Misbah said. "But when you start winning then you can back the talent and just go into the future with that. But that wasn't really the case for Pakistan. We tried a lot of players in a bid to find a good combination, but it didn't give results and players were dropped because they never gave us a chance to retain them.
"Nobody wants to carry on with failure and if a player is stuck with his weakness and not improving, regardless of his potential, you have to drop him and move on. This not only good for the team, but also for the player because you can't allow him to play with consistent failure - it is really unfair as it can cost him his career, so you have to be think tactically as well."
Pakistan have 14 ODIs scheduled before the window for direct qualification into the 2019 World Cup in England closes and Misbah has backed coach Mickey Arthur's efforts to make sure they are among the top eight teams by the September 2017 deadline.
"The important thing is that he is trying to bring a structural change from top," Misbah said. "There was connection missing in between and that is being connected. Players' fitness, bowling actions, batting techniques are being taken into consideration before selecting a squad to represent the country. Fitness is a major component and players must realise that."