Pakistan have the advantage - Misbah
Misbah-ul-Haq, the Pakistan captain, has said that his side's recent exposure to Asian conditions compared to the other teams in the Asia Cup will play as important a role as coach Dav Whatmore's inside knowledge.
Few people are better qualified to coach a side in the Asia Cup than Whatmore, a man well-versed with the teams in the tournament. Born in Sri Lanka, the Australian has regularly shown an affinity and ability to work in the subcontinent.
His first major international coaching assignment was guiding Sri Lanka, a team regarded as minnows even in the early '90s, to the World Cup back in 1996. Then came an even bigger challenge in 2003 - of moulding the also-rans of Bangladesh into a competitive side. In four years under his charge, there continued to be many heavy defeats but memorable highs as well, including the shock win over Australia in Cardiff and the wrecking of India's 2007 World Cup campaign.
This was followed by a few years at India's National Cricket Academy in Bangalore, and coaching stints with the India A and Under-19 teams, including Virat Kohli's World Cup-winning one in 2008. Two seasons in charge of Kolkata Knight Riders imparted him more knowledge of the ways of Indian cricket.
Now he completes the subcontinental quartet by taking over as Pakistan's head coach. His first opponents are Bangladesh, the side he led in his previous international job. Misbah, though, said that another factor will be as crucial as Whatmore's inputs.
"He is contributing, but I think the main thing is we are playing a lot of cricket against Bangladesh," Misbah said. "We just had a series here [in December], we know each other, we know the strengths and weaknesses of each other. He can give us some input, but the players already know each other well."
Coaching Pakistan is one of the most exacting jobs in cricket, even for someone with Whatmore's vast experience, but he seems to have begun well. Misbah said the initial interactions between coach and team had been positive. "The sessions we have already had, it has gone well. The players are professionals, the coaches are also professional. We have to just gel together quickly, understand each other quickly. I see it going well."
Misbah highlighted several reasons for the Pakistan team to be confident of its chances in the tournament despite coming in after a 0-4 drubbing in the one-dayers against England previous month. "When we played some time back here, the team played really well in these conditions," he said, referring to their clean sweep of Bangladesh in both the Tests and one-dayers three months ago.
Over the past three months, India have been playing in Australia, while Sri Lanka have been touring South Africa and Australia, places where the pitches are vastly different to the ones likely to be served up in the Asia Cup. "We have a bit of an advantage in that we have been playing in Asia recently," Misbah said, before qualifying his statement. "But India and Sri Lanka have played a lot of tough cricket, and will return mentally tougher from there."
Misbah also urged his players to remember the team's outstanding record over the past year-and-a-half, instead of focussing on the recent limited-overs defeat to England. "Every game, every series is a different ball game," he said. "If you look at the series before, we have won six in a row and never lost a series. So this is part of the game. We were playing with one of the top sides in the world. What we want to do is just forget the one-day series, look forward and just play what we were playing before that series."
Another advantage for Pakistan is that, unusually, they seem the most settled team of the tournament. Bangladesh's prime minister had to step in to resolve a row between their chief selector and the board, Sri Lanka are still tussling with their board over payments due and have a mere four days between the end of their previous series and this one, and India have had a torturous tour of Australia which was plagued by rumours of a rift between senior players.
Today's press conference began with a stern reminder from Pakistan's media manager that the questions should pertain only to the Asia Cup. He needn't have bothered. Given the off-field issues bothering the rest of the teams, Pakistan's build-up has been smooth and controversy-free, with the appointment of the experienced Whatmore the only source of headlines.
Edited by Abhishek Purohit
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo