Pakistan's batting failed to step up for a second successive game against India. On Sunday, they were only a shade better than in their previous meeting, in which they had made 162. A target of 238 hardly challenged Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, who flattened Pakistan's attack with centuries in a 210-run opening stand.
Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur has put the team's batting failures down to a 'confidence crisis' within the team, but insisted the hard knocks from the Asia Cup would help the players learn as they build forward.
"They're suffering a confidence crisis at the moment, there's a little bit of fear of failure in the dressing room, there's a bit of a reality check for exactly where we are as a cricket team," Arthur said. "In terms of the worst performance, nine wickets, it's got to be up there but we're on a journey, we'll get better and stronger than this."
Arthur cited the example of Fakhar Zaman to underline the confidence crisis theory. Fakhar has looked far from settled when India have tried to attack him by bowling at the stumps, and has failed to provide his usual freewheeling starts. At the end of the first Powerplay on Sunday, he had limped to 12 off 31 balls.
"We know cricket is a confidence game," Arthur said. "Look at Fakhar Zaman, he's an incredible player, he's an X-factor player and we expect him to take the game on at the top of the order, but he's doubting his game a little at the moment. We've got to just ride the wave with him. If we do that, when he comes out, he'll be a better player for this. We've banked the work, the work is all done."
Arthur's second concern was Pakistan's bowlers and their deviation from set plans. Mohammad Amir has been wicketless for five straight ODIs now, stretching back to the tour of Zimbabwe in July. He's now bowled 35.4 overs since taking his last ODI wicket, and this barren spell even led to his being left out of the game against Afghanistan on Friday.
He was specifically brought back because Pakistan were playing India on a fresh surface with slightly more pace and carry compared to the other surfaces in this tournament, but his returns weren't any better: 5-0-41-0. Shadab Khan too was rendered ineffective on the same surface where India's wristspinners, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav, bottled up Pakistan's middle order and finished with combined figures of 4 for 87.
"There was inconsistency in lines and lengths, and it's disappointing," Arthur said. "We went into panic mode. Once they got in, we started searching for wickets. The way you get wickets is, you've got to build pressure. We didn't stay with our plans long enough. Our plans was to hit the hard lengths, hit top of off with our seamers, and then have the ability to put them under pressure in the middle. We've got to attack to take wickets, it didn't happen and we weren't patient enough. There were plans but they weren't executed for long enough."
Arthur was effusive in his praise for Jasprit Bumrah's death-bowling skills. Bumrah took 2 for 15 in his four-over spell at the end of the innings, nailing his yorkers perfectly, and Pakistan only managed 38 off their last seven overs.
"We had an optional session the other day," Arthur said. "We sat there for 20 minutes and I watched Jasprit Bumrah at the nets next to us, executing yorker after yorker after yorker, and he put that into practice here. In our review, we definitely will be showing our young bowlers his execution in the death overs, it was very good."
The Pakistan coach also disagreed that Sarfraz Ahmed's captaincy was a reason for India walking home unchallenged. He explained that the decision to bat first, on what is increasingly looking like a chasing ground, was a collective one, taken only because the confidence crisis he referred to earlier could have hurt the batsmen while chasing, particularly against India's spinners.
"I have heard from the outside how we should've bowled first here, bat first there, but honestly, we look at how best we can win," Arthur said. "We believe if we can get runs on the board and strike with the new ball, we can put India under pressure. We don't want to expose our middle order against their spinners in a run chase, it's going to just get bigger and bigger and bigger and our batsmen are going to get under pressure even more."
One of the solutions to the confidence crisis, he insisted, was to repose faith in the captain and allow him time and space to develop as a leader. "He's great, his captaincy is growing," he said, when asked if pressure was weighing Sarfraz down. "I've had the privilege to work with two outstanding captains (Graeme Smith and Michael Clarke), he's the third. He's a learning captain, the only one I've seen having a balance between on the field and off the field. Yes, we sit and debrief after every game in terms of tactics, he's developing into a very, very good captain for Pakistan without a doubt."
There's a silver lining for Pakistan yet. They still have a chance to make the final against India by beating Bangladesh on Wednesday. Arthur prescribed some fine-tuning of skills and mental make-up to help them bounce back.
"It's a confidence thing. Certainly in terms of the amount of work these guys have put in, it's second to none," he said. "These guys work every day on their catching, but the minute one goes down, it's kind of like a disease. It catches off and catches on. It takes one good catch, one good innings or a five-for to turn it around and we will get the confidence back then. We've got to trust the skills to come out in the end. We've banked the work. It's time for that to pay off."