Shoaib Malik, Pakistan's under-fire captain, has dismissed speculation that rifts are emerging in his side after losses to India and South Africa under his leadership. Malik, who was appointed captain after the World Cup, has been retained as leader until December 2008 by the Pakistan board, despite the poor start to his tenure.
Pakistan has been rife with talk that two camps have emerged in the team, one supporting Younis Khan's push for captaincy and the other behind the incumbent Malik. This was, Malik said however, just talk.
"It hurts to end the year on a disappointing note with defeats in India. But there is no truth in rumours of differences within the team," he said. "The team has been playing as a unit and that is why we managed to draw the last two Tests in India. The seniors have been extending full co-operation and I am happy with my position as captain."
Malik pointed out that injuries to key players, particularly in the fast bowling department, cost Pakistan heavily through the tour. "It made a big difference to our performance because our bowling lacked bite. In the one-day series we fought hard and it was a close rubber. In the Delhi Test one bad session cost us the match.
"I try to take some positives out of the criticism. But everyone should realise that no captain likes to lose and neither does any team want to end on the losing side. But the fact is we lost in India because of some unseen problems."
Malik also defended his performances as a batsman while captain: he has scored one Test fifty in six innings since he took over but is averaging 38.33, higher than his career average, in 13 ODIs with three fifties.
"Every professional cricketer when he is on the field is under pressure to perform and the same is for me. And I don't think my performance as a player has been that bad as captain. But there is a need for me to be more consistent," he admitted.
The new year, Malik hopes, will bring a change in fortune for his side. "I am hopeful that we will have a better year in 2008. The team has potential and is united. We just need to lift ourselves in some areas particularly in the fielding.
"We will try some new players against Zimbabwe to check the depth of our talent but the Australia series would be our real test and we need to be well prepared for it."
Malik missed the last two Tests against India because of an ankle injury. That injury, he said, had still not healed fully. He has been advised to keep the plaster on and rest for at least another week. His next assignment doesn't begin until January 26, when Pakistan take on Zimbabwe for the first of five ODIs.