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Asia Cup 2018: As Pakistan exit, Sarfraz Ahmed, who wears a crown of thorns, faces the heat

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On Tuesday, as Pakistan were training at the ICC Academy in Dubai ahead of their Asia Cup Super Four fixture against Bangladesh, Inzamam-ul-Haq seemingly became the team’s unofficial mentor. The Pakistan chief selector had landed in Dubai the previous evening and was on a confidence-boosting exercise at the nets. Apart from a team discussion, Inzamam also had a long chat with his nephew Imam-ul-Haq.

As it turned out, Imam played the lone ranger against Bangladesh, scoring 83, but got out at the wrong time due to poor shot selection. Pakistan lost the win-or-bust contest and went out of the Asia Cup. They won only two matches in this tournament. They lost to India twice. The Champions Trophy triumph last year felt like a distant memory. An acrimonious press conference followed, with skipper Sarfraz Ahmed at the receiving end of the ire. His defensive captaincy had let Bangladesh off the hook and he finished with 68 runs from five matches. In fact, the captain has contributed very little with the bat since his match-winning half-century against Sri Lanka in the Champions Trophy. “Sarfraz, you might feel bad, but your on-field performance has been poor, both as a captain and with the bat. We lost in New Zealand. We lost to India here. So how do you assess yourself?” a reporter asked. Another went to the length of advising Sarfraz to take a few weeks’ break and come back refreshed. The Pakistan captain didn’t ask a counter-question, although he looked a little irritated.

Sarfraz owned up responsibility. “I didn’t perform well and this is the reason why the team lost. I should have performed better. I accept my failure,” he said.

Cricketers and coaches in India and Pakistan are used to knee-jerk reactions. Sarfraz is under pressure as also team coach, Mickey Arthur. The skipper insisted on not pressing the panic button and urged everyone to back the squad. “Wholesale changes will not work,” he said.