Defeat far from terminal for Pakistan

So Pakistan have lost to India in a World Cup once more. This is not a new experience. History shows that it need not be a terminal one either, for in 1992 the tournament was won after just such a defeat, and in 1999 the final was reached in spite of another.

More pressing is an issue of team composition that both Misbah-ul-Haq and MS Dhoni cited after India went to six from six in Cup encounters between these two nations. Warm-up victories over Bangladesh and England allowed Pakistan more than 11 players, and thus the luxury of not facing the problem that confronted them squarely against India - their lack of an allrounder making it difficult to field a strong enough batting line-up when ODI fielding restrictions call for five competent bowlers.

It has been a common issue among many teams over the past year or so. India's captain Dhoni has bemoaned the length of his side's tail for almost as long as they have been on tour in Australia. But the balance of Pakistan's squad is such that specialists in one discipline or another must be sacrificed depending on the conditions over their six World Cup pool matches and whatever else lies beyond them.

In Adelaide, the captain Misbah and the coach Waqar Younis elected to leave out an opening batsman in Nasir Jamshed to allow the inclusion of an extra spinner, the bouncy Yasir Shah. To accommodate this, Younis Khan was moved up from his pet middle order spot to open the batting, while the temporary stumper Umar Akmal donned the gloves. Umar and Younis are fine players, but they were unable to make the move work. Misbah acknowledged the team's state of imperfect compromise.

"With these restrictions in the field, now we're not actually getting the balance right because you need a fifth bowler," Misbah said. "That's why sometimes you have to sacrifice another batsman. Let's see in the coming games, we'll think about that."

As Dhoni observed, this sort of thinking is not something Pakistan have had to do too much in the past. Abdur Razzaq was for years a vital link in the chain. Before him of course there was Wasim Akram, and before him, Imran Khan himself. Part-timers such as Amir Sohail and Ijaz Ahmed were also useful operators in the days when batsmen were less brazen and fielding restrictions less Spartan. But now they have to find a way to keep their batting strong enough without losing precious overs of quality. It is too much to expect Shahid Afridi to be relied upon at No. 7.

There was one chink of light on Sunday afternoon, in the form of Haris Sohail's slow left-arm spin. Dropping onto a length, he spun the ball enough to coax an edge from Virat Kohli, albeit one that Umar could not pouch. Haris looks good enough to hold down the fifth bowling spot in the right circumstances and conditions, and if he could do so it would take enormous pressure off others, whether they be bowlers, batsmen or selectors.

Misbah advised his men not to get too hung up about another defeat to India, for it has not brought about their elimination or even close to it. Instead he wants Pakistan to look ahead. "The way we played in the last two games I think we can really go on and win the coming games," he said. "The confidence is not that much down. A lot of positives even today in the death overs the way we bowled.

"We need to improve a little bit on taking wickets on a regular basis in the middle overs, and then we need to really bat well. It's important for us to concentrate on the games that are coming. If you keep on thinking about the game that is gone now it's really difficult for you to perform well. So I think we really need to win the coming game and perform well. That's the only way to stay in the tournament."

It is not really worth spending too much time on the whys and wherefores of Pakistan's defeat. Unless it is to ponder how the 11 might be better balanced against the West Indies on Saturday.