The future is uncertain for Geoff Lawson and Shoaib Malik © AFP
Ahead of what has suddenly turned into a critical final, for Pakistan at least, the pressure on Shoaib Malik and Geoff Lawson has been cranked up by the PCB even further. Cricinfo has learnt that the performance of captain and coach is under intense scrutiny; though heads are unlikely to fall should Pakistan lose to India in the Kitply final in Dhaka, the Asia Cup in Pakistan later this month has been set as a deadline of sorts for Lawson, as well as Malik.

The development follows a scathing email Nasim Ashraf, chairman of the board, sent to the team management in the aftermath of their 140-run defeat to India earlier in the week - their heaviest defeat ever to the arch-rivals.

The match was Pakistan's first proper test of the year, coming on the back of series against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. In the email, which was leaked to the press, Ashraf blasted the team strategy, their body language, the wicketkeeping and various other aspects of the performance.

Senior board officials echoed the concerns, telling Cricinfo that the Asia Cup is likely to be the last chance for the Lawson-Malik combination to prove themselves. "There should be pressure on them both, not just Lawson," one official vented to Cricinfo.

"Malik is not doing his job. His team selection is way off. To give you one example, everyone knows we are struggling with openers. Instead of picking a pair of specialists and grooming them, he insists on using Kamran Akmal, who is patently the wrong choice. His 'keeping is so poor he shouldn't be in the team anyway."

Akmal has had a miserable couple of years behind the stumps, shelling chances in every country he has played in. On Tuesday, he dropped Virender Sehwag, though he tried claiming the catch, an act which earned the wrath of Ashraf. Malik has publicly backed him through his tenure, even going to the degree of calling him the second-best wicketkeeper-batsman in the world after Adam Gilchrist.

Malik's own tenuous position in the team is also the subject of another official's ire. "The captain doesn't realise his place in the team is as an allrounder. He saves himself from bowling; he is not a specialist batsman and he must bowl. If he doesn't, then he has no place in the team."

Though criticism has swirled around Lawson almost since he arrived, this is the first time any board official has actually put down a deadline. Lawson was appointed on a two-year contract last year, but time is now running out.

"We have decided to give him till the Asia Cup," the official said. "If Pakistan doesn't do well there, he will be gone. He has been very, very unimpressive since he came. As an ex-bowler, he hasn't even been able to resolve the issue of extras and has done little else for the side. Players are not happy with him and we aren't either."

Ironically, Lawson was thought to be the players' choice at the time of his appointment, his seemingly 'softer' approach winning him the nod over the sterner Dav Whatmore. Since he succeeded the late Bob Woolmer, Pakistan have lost Test and ODI series to South Africa and India. He has also had run-ins on several occasions with the selection committee and though he had the chairman's backing until recently, that support too, it is believed, is now gone.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo