Friday, January 18, 2008

Malik promises improved results

Fully recovered from the ankle injury, Shoaib Malik promises a better year for Pakistan cricket starting with a strong performance against Zimbabwe...

Shoaib Malik's initiation in to the captaincy has been a mixed one. He began smoothly in May last year with an ODI series-win over Sri Lanka, and led a young side to the final of the ICC World Twenty20 in September.

Since then, the going has been rougher, with four consecutive series losses (ODI and Test) to South Africa and India cranking up the pressure on him. Talk of new captains hasn't been far away, despite the Pakistan board appointing him captain until December 2008.

But as he prepares to lead Pakistan in their first assignment of 2008, against Zimbabwe, he is hoping a new year might bring new results. "I am more confident now as captain," he told reporters days before the first ODI in Karachi.

"The senior players are supporting me and I'm happy the board has placed its confidence in me. I don't worry about how much time I have. I admit mistakes were made in the last seven months, but this year there will be no repeat."

Poor results bring their own pressure, often putting personal performances out of context. Malik's ODI numbers since taking over as captain aren't bad - from 13 matches he averages four runs more than his career average of 34 - yet he was still asked about a dip in form.

"I don't think my recent record is that bad if you look at it. In my last match in Jaipur, I was player of the match [for an all-round performance]. I just want to make sure that the consistency is there," he said.

Malik also asked for more time to be given to Geoff Lawson, who took over as Pakistan's coach last August, stressing that this was his first international assignment in that role. Though not overtly criticised, Lawson's impact has been repeatedly questioned and some officials have been privately underwhelmed by his contribution so far.

"Bob Woolmer had his own skills, Geoff has his own," Malik countered. "Bob came with a lot of top experience with South Africa and Warwickshire while this is Geoff's first international role. It takes time to settle in to that and we should give him that."

There was doubt over Malik's participation in the run-up to the Zimbabwe series due to an ankle injury sustained in India, but he believes he has now fully recovered. "I am fit. I came through my rehabilitation, passed a fitness test and am doing everything the others were at the camp."

With Australia scheduled to arrive soon - to provide the sternest test yet to his leadership - Zimbabwe offers Malik the perfect platform to chalk up some morale-boosting wins, ideally on the back of some impressive personal contributions. "This is a good opportunity to try out some young talent and to work out plans ahead of the Australia series. You can't underestimate Zimbabwe, but we will put all our efforts in to it."