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Sarfraz talks of 'out-of-the-box' plans against India

It was the contrast that was most striking.

While India's pre-match media conference - attended only by the captain, Virat Kohli - was dominated by talk of the division between him and his team's coach, Anil Kumble, the Pakistan captain and coach turned up together and talked of the relationship as akin to a marriage.

It is possible that such a move was planned to highlight their opponents' apparent divide. It didn't feel like it at the time, but it is possible. And it is very possible that when Mickey Arthur and Sarfraz Ahmed were listening to each other speak in their respective languages and nodding vigorously in agreement, they had not the slightest idea of what was being said.

But the general impression remained: while much is expected of a tense and possibly divided India, Pakistan are united, relaxed and quietly confident. No one is claiming they are favourites. But they are certainly dangerous.

"The captain-coach relationship is almost like a marriage," Arthur said. "You've got to be on the same page all the time. And if you're on the same page, you get correct decisions and you give clarity to your team. And that's certainly where Saf and myself find ourselves; very much on the same page. I'm really going to enjoy working with him."

"The pressure is on India only," Sarfraz said. "There is no pressure on us. We are standing at No. 8 in the rankings. We cannot fall below this."

They can, of course. They need only look at the example of West Indies to know that. And with context and merit likely to play an ever greater role in all formats of the game, there can be no room for complacency. Qualifying for such competitions - and that includes the World Cup - cannot be taken for granted.

But the first step to progress is accepting that change is required. And after a period of denial, Pakistan are now well aware of that. They know they need to undergo the same sort of evolution in their ODI cricket as England have in the last couple of years. They need to score more heavily, be more potent with the ball and improve their fielding. They need, in every way, to attack more.

They know all that. And with several promising young players beginning to settle into international cricket - notably Babar Azam, Shahdab Khan and Hasan Ali - they have the raw materials to make progress. This tournament may come a little too early in their development cycle, though, with Arthur accepting his team are "a work in progress."

"We knew that we needed to play a different brand of cricket," he said. "And it's changing. Certainly in terms of the brand of cricket we play. We're working on it. It's a work in progress. I'm comfortable where we're at.

"We've worked massively on our ball rotation and our strike rates. It was very interesting to read the other day - I go through the stats quite regularly - that in the last year we've scored the third-most amount of 300s. England are way, way ahead, but Pakistan is number three on that list. And I think that's testimony to the brand of cricket that we are starting to play.

"The team that's going to win this competition is the team that can strike. Gone are the days of just containing through the middle overs. Gone are the days of going at five-and-a-half an over, thinking you're doing a good job.

"You've got to be able to take wickets. We always pick an attack to take wickets. Every one of our attack is going to be able to do something different. We have a left-arm swinger, we could have left-arm pace, we have the swing and hustle of Hassan, we've a left-arm spinner, an off-spinner and we could have a leg-spinner. We've got everything at our disposal tomorrow to allow Saf to pull the strings to make sure we can try to bowl India out, because that's got to be priority number one. We can't just sit back and let them score. We've got to attack them and we've got to look to bowl them out."

Sarfraz agreed. And, intriguingly, offered "new things" on Sunday. "We have made a plan," he said. "On Sunday, you will see us doing some new things, which we have not done against India previously. We will try doing some out-of-the-box things. You will see this team playing differently."

Quite how 'out of the box' they can be remains to be seen. But it is not a phrase that might have been expected from Misbah-ul-Haq, and with a couple of new faces in the team - faces that India will not have seen - it may be that they have some element of surprise on their side.

For all the talk of being "extremely well-prepared and ready to go" (as Arthur put it), for all the talk of "players having role clarity" and "everybody knowing where they fit in," there are some pretty obvious holes in Pakistan's preparations. If a team is really well-prepared, won't it have ensured its players have gained experience at this level before going into a global event against an arch rival? And if a team is really well-prepared, won't it have ensured its players know what to expect from full-house crowds, media attention and this level of competition?

That is patently not the case with this Pakistan side. Shahdab Khan, the 18-year-old leg-spinner, has played only three ODIs, while Faheem Ashraf, the seam-bowling all-rounder who made a wonderful impression in the warm-up victory over Bangladesh, could make his international debut. Whatever their inherent class, this will represent a huge step up in quality. Plunging such players into one of the most high-profile games in the sport is hugely demanding and not especially reflective of good planning.

"If you're good enough, you're old enough," Arthur said. "That's what I always say. And I think Shadab Khan is certainly good enough. He's ready. If he gets the opportunity, I'm particularly confident in his ability to produce for us. And he's a match-winner. He really is. It's so exciting. It's another young Pakistan cricketer on the big stage and that's really great. It's really good for the country and it's really good for cricket."

It may well be. But while you suspect this game comes a bit too early for Shadab et al. history has taught us never to discount Pakistan. And while the Arthur-Sarfraz partnership can survive defeat against India, perhaps the same cannot be said for the Kohli-Kumble partnership if the result goes the other way. All the expectation, all the pressure, all the consequences are weighing down India. You suspect Pakistan wouldn't mind adding to their woes.