As a matter of principle, Pakistan do not do smooth when it comes to preparations for global events. As they prepare to open their World Twenty20 campaign against Bangladesh on Wednesday in Kolkata, the 2009 champions are, as ever, looking plenty underwhelming.
Shahid Afridi, the captain, has been embroiled in controversy; the team's participation in the event was not even confirmed until last Friday; oddball selections have hampered their run-in.
Except this time it might be best to not expect the old script, where Pakistan suddenly and magically turn things around and confound everyone. Even the generally perky, confident Afridi has played down expectations.
In interviews with The National during the Pakistan Super League (PSL), Afridi said the form of his side was “a worry”.
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The Asia Cup would not have alleviated those worries one bit: Pakistan lost games to India and Bangladesh and did not make the final. Those results are part of a longer decline and a broader in limited-overs cricket.
Indeed they take on Bangladesh as slight underdogs, having lost five successive ODIs and Twenty20s to them. With India, New Zealand and Australia to come, matters are not going to get easier.
The top order of the batting was especially culpable in Bangladesh, though Afridi was talking about the side as a whole when he spoke. “This is not a one-man show. The guys in the side have been playing for quite a while now and it is now time, they need to deliver.
“They are at that stage now where if you’ve been playing for so long but are still inconsistent then it is a big worry. Individual performances are very important and the team needs to perform.
“In this format the team that makes the least mistakes is the one that survives, but the boys are repeating those mistakes and not learning from them.”
Generally, they have been able to call upon their bowling to bail them out and it looks as if that will be their main route to victory in India. Mohammed Amir, Mohammed Irfan and, less consistently, Wahab Riaz form as incisive a pace attack as there is at the tournament.
They sparkled at the Asia Cup but without solid spinning options they did not look as rounded as Pakistan attacks of the past.
“The bowling has always been our strength,” Afridi said, before he left for the Asia Cup. “But I’ve seen for many days now that we are struggling in bowling as well. Our main bowlers, our match-winners have been struggling for a while. Amir and Wahab are our main strengths and Irfan also.”
Afridi will at least be pleased by the form of Irfan, whose lack of wickets concerned him before the Asia Cup. Irfan took five economical wickets in Bangladesh and looked good in the warm-up win over Sri Lanka on Monday as well.
A lot will depend on the youngest of the three left-armers, the irrepressible Amir. Afridi has been impressed by Amir’s return to international cricket after a five-year ban.
“I think we will see what Amir is made of here. That is when you learn about a player, when he is under this kind of pressure and scrutiny. It is a big challenge for him but he has been playing for a while now, in the PSL as well, so maybe not that much.
“He continued his training, he kept practicing while he was out. He kept in touch with the game. He is a smart kid, very sharp and with time he has matured also a fair bit.”
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