Less than a week ago, Pakistan were the in-form team having recorded 12 consecutive victories, the joint second-longest winning streak in ODIs. In the five days since, they have crashed to their worst defeat in history against India, received a strongly-worded email from their board chairman criticising the performance, and head into Saturday's final as underdogs.
If the attitude of Geoff Lawson, the coach, on the eve of the final was any indication, Pakistan are charged up and ready to prove they can beat any team, and not just weaker opponents. Lawson was confrontational and even a little snappy as he answered questions from the media. Although he said the result in the first game against India might have been different if the teams had "swapped luck", in reality Pakistan were a distant second in each discipline.
Pakistan's bowlers conceded 29 runs in wides and no-balls against India, an inexcusable offence. In an attempt to rectify those errors, Pakistan's bowlers practised bowling on a strip parallel to the centre pitch at the Shere Bangla National Stadium. Lawson placed markers on good-length areas for both spinners and fast bowlers and they ran in repeatedly during the hottest afternoon of the week, trying to keep it in the zone. Sohail Tanvir was especially accurate, hitting the single-stump target repeatedly.
"As professional players, we've got to work on aspects of our game," Lawson said. "We had a really long session yesterday [Thursday], which was much longer than today. We had a three-hour session yesterday and we worked hard on fielding, had very good centre-wicket practice and things came out alright."
As generous as they were with extras, Pakistan's bowlers did create wicket-taking opportunities with the new ball and India's opening stand of 155 would never had been if the fielders had held on. "We created opportunities in the last game," Lawson said. "Hopefully we'll take our catches. Hopefully Virender Sehwag won't play and miss 20 times, he'll actually nick one. We weren't unhappy with the way we bowled; things just didn't go our way. We created chances but didn't take them, that is our fault."
|We're more concerned with looking after our own performances than what other people think about it. We're not concerned about emails, we're concerned about our cricket performances|
Another problem area for Pakistan, and one PCB chief Nasim Ashraf mentioned in his letter, was the composition of the team. They played only four regular bowlers against India - Umar Gul, Tanvir, Wahab Riaz and Iftikhar Anjum - Shahid Afridi the fifth with his legbreaks. This left Shoaib Malik, who hasn't been bowling because of a dodgy shoulder, with no options to fall back on if one of his bowlers goes for runs, as Riaz did. Batting allrounder Fawad Alam, who bowls left-arm orthodox, is the other spin option but there is no place for him in Pakistan's top seven. Lawson, however, downplayed the importance of spin in these conditions.
"This has been a really good one-day pitch," Lawson said. "It has a bit of bounce for the fast bowlers but the ball hasn't spun much. There's good bounce and it's a terrific pitch to play on. But to suggest that it takes spin more than other wickets is, in my professional opinion, not true. We're very fortunate to have a number of fast bowlers and spinning allrounders."
Pakistan's top-order collapse against India didn't receive much flak after the defeat but the fact that they lost three wickets within the first five overs while chasing 331 effectively ended their challenge. Malik held the middle order together with a half-century but they were dismissed in the 36th over, a collapse which prompted Ashraf to write the "strategy after losing early wickets should have been to bat out the 50 overs. No one applied themselves to build partnerships". Lawson, though, played down the controversy stirred up by Ashraf's letter. "Sometimes people get overtaken by the consequence of cricket matches," he said. "That [loss to India] was uncharacteristic of how we've played recently and the guys know that.
"That's why, when people over-react to those sorts of losses, you tend to dismiss it because you actually know what the guys are doing. We're more concerned with looking after our own performances than what other people think about it. We're not concerned about emails, we're concerned about our cricket performances."
The talk was tough from Lawson and the intensity was evident while the bowlers trained. However, with Ashraf attending Saturday's final, the stakes and the pressure on Pakistan is more than what it is for India.
George Binoy is a staff writer at Cricinfo