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Inconsistency survives against inexperience

"We weren't as bad as that," Shoaib Malik, Pakistan's captain, said after a scrappy but ultimately comfortable win over Hong Kong

Shoaib Malik: "Fawad [Alam] and Sohail's [Tanvir's] batting was a really good sign for us" © AFP
"We weren't as bad as that," Shoaib Malik, Pakistan's captain, said after a scrappy but ultimately comfortable win over Hong Kong. "You forgot my 35?" If it has come to valuing 35s against Hong Kong and not being too concerned at a collapse that left them 161 for 7, then clearly something, somewhere is not quite right.
At worst, Pakistan were poor and at best just complacent, nowhere more than in their top order. It is not a weak batting line-up, but falling for under 200 against India in the Kitply Cup, then scoring over 300 against them in the next game and then imploding today screams out a basic inconsistency.
"You cannot underestimate anyone in cricket. We made mistakes today in our batting but we want to rectify them," Malik said. "It happens in cricket often and sometimes your lower order should be tested."
This cannot be argued with, except it seems to happen more often to Pakistan and that the lower order should really be tested against more testing opposition. Fawad Alam and Sohail Tanvir will cherish their maiden ODI fifties, though their top order will do so more. Their 100-run stand for the eighth wicket was a Asia Cup record, but more importantly rescued Pakistan from an Ireland-style embarrassment.
Malik insisted, however, that a promotion up the order for Tanvir - as in the Indian Premier League - wasn't immediately on the cards. "Fawad and Sohail's batting was a really good sign for us. Sohail is fine in that position. We needed him in the lower order today, but we might see for later matches."
Malik himself moved up the order, to open alongside Salman Butt in yet another combination. As with the last time the pair opened together, Butt went without scoring, but Malik's broader role in the team will come under increasing scrutiny in coming days. The opening pair is partly a problem because of Malik's insistence on having six bowling options, which is in itself a result of his increasing unwillingness to fill in as a bowler. Thus his role as bowler is unclear, as is his position in the batting order.
"Opening is a problem for us, but we'll see," Malik said. "We can experiment in our first two games. We need a sixth bowler definitely, someone who can get through 4-5 overs. My hope is that I do well as opener but we also have Afridi as an option."
Hong Kong could've done with some more bowling options, to back up the admirable Nadeem Ahmed. His four wickets proved again that whatever the nationality, if there is left-arm spin, success is guaranteed against Pakistan. They also could've done with perhaps bowling Nadeem right through his ten overs, instead of taking him off after only seven. Pakistan were wobbling and another wicket would've sealed it.
"Nadeem bowled really well," Tabarak Dar, their captain, said. "But it's a 50-over game and we wanted to use other bowlers as well, to give him a break. One more wicket and Pakistan would really have struggled. We could've gotten them for under 200."
Tabarak was more concerned about the fitness levels of his mostly amateur side. Zain Abbas suffered from cramps twice during his stay, before retiring hurt, though he should be fit for Wednesday's game against India. "We won a few sessions with them, but we need to really work on and improve our fitness. There are positives from this game - our spinners bowled really well. But we need to work on batting through 50 overs. We were tired and we need to work on that."
It will take them time to improve, which fortunately they have. For Pakistan - who face India on Thursday - no such luxury exists.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo