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Misbah puts bowlers on the attack

On the eve of Pakistan's final group game against Ireland, the captain Misbah-ul-Haq roused his bowlers to be more aggressive

Daniel Brettig
Daniel Brettig
Pakistan get together after a wicket, Pakistan v South Africa, World Cup 2015, Group B, Auckland, March 7, 2015

Misbah-ul-Haq - "A win settles down a lot of things normally, and I think now everybody knows their role, especially the pacers are really bowling well"  •  Getty Images

If Pakistan are trying not to let the memories of 1992 lull them into a sense that history is about to repeat, then they have also adopted a strategy that carries heavy overtones of Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and the "cornered tiger" approach.
Lacking a confident or prolific batting line-up, the captain Misbah-ul-Haq and the coach Waqar Younis have instead invested much time and effort into rousing their pace bowlers to be the aggressors and ultimately the victors. After subdued displays against India and the West Indies, a far greater sense of danger has grown through encounters with UAE and Zimbabwe, before a tournament-turning effort against South Africa.
On the eve of their final group encounter with Ireland, Misbah returned to this theme, espousing the virtues of searching for wickets rather than sitting back and hoping for containment. It was not quite Imran telling Wasim not to worry about wides or no balls and go for the jugular, but it was close.
"I think our approach is straightforward, simple for the last three games: go out there, be positive, and especially when you are there to bowl, just try to get wickets," Misbah said. "Try to get the other team out, and that's what we have been doing, and that's what our plan is even tomorrow.
"A win settles down a lot of things normally, and I think now everybody knows their role, especially the pacers are really bowling well. All of them are wicket-takers, aggressive bowlers. And that's what we need if we are not batting well. We need some really good backing by the bowling, and all the pacers are really doing their job getting wickets, putting pressure on the opposition."
Mohammad Irfan, Rahat Ali, Wahab Riaz and Sohail Khan have all had their moments, underlining the remarkable depth of pace bowling in Pakistan. They have encouraged a change in philosophy by Misbah and Waqar, who entered the tournament expecting to play both Shahid Afridi and Yasir Shah, but now find themselves leaning primarily towards pace in a departure from the Saeed Ajmal ascendancy of recent years.
"At the moment all the seamers are really bowling well," Misbah said when asked if Yasir might play against Ireland. "You could say that against South Africa they were very good against pace. These seamers bowl really well, and they're just taking wickets. So it is difficult to drop any of them. What we have noticed playing in Australia is that it's really difficult once you have two spinners on your side to just bowl 20 overs of spin because sometimes you lose that pressure which is built by the pacers, especially up front.
"Let's see. I mean, it's a general perception, but what I feel is the Irish are really good against spin. Some of them struggle against the off spin, the left-handers. But I think overall we notice even when we are playing in Ireland, they are playing spin really well."
Pakistan's building sense of momentum has been created in part by their World Cup draw. The team's mental anguish and hesitance was palpable ahead of the opening meeting with India, and the fog did not lift in time for their second match against the West Indies. But now there is a strong sense of direction and confidence, something Ireland will have to counter in addition to the talents of individuals
"It was just a matter of we were playing against two tougher oppositions up front just at the start of the tournament, and they played better cricket than us," Misbah said. "That was the only reason I think, then after that we got a little, you could say, weaker sides, and we just get our momentum back and get our confidence back.
"So this is always in these sort of tournaments when certainly you are against tougher sides at the start sometimes you just lose your confidence and momentum. But as we get back into a winning situation, the confidence and momentum is back."
Whether the momentum is comparable to that of 1992 can only be known after Sunday, and Misbah was adamant that while his men could take inspiration from history, they must not allow it to push them into complacency. "You could say you could take some positives from that," he said. "We were in difficult situations in 1992, and Pakistan team is always capable of this from really difficult times, difficult situations, and this is a team which can really stand-up and perform very well. So that could be, you could say, a motivational factor for the team.
"But what I believe is it is totally different. You can't just sit and hold that we did it in 1992 so we are going to do it again. It's totally a different story, and we have to perform. We have to go and deliver. Otherwise, just on based that we did it in 1992, so we are going to do it again, it's not going to work. It's not going to help. We have to really pull up our socks and we have to really perform well."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig