'It's bigger than the Ashes' - Lawson
Geoff Lawson, Pakistan's coach, believes the side "would have been better off" for their tour of India had they beaten South Africa in their recent home one-day series. "Five overs of bad cricket spoiled our good work in the series, but it gave us lessons which we need to learn and work hard on the India tour, which will be tough," he told AFP.
"Having toured India on a number of occasions I know people follow an India-Pakistan match with extreme passion and at times it is a bit more than the sport, bigger than the Ashes, so I look forward to it."
The tour begins with a five-match ODI series, beginning in Guwahati on November 5, and Lawson felt the team could learn from the disappointing loss at home. He also felt both Pakistan and India were on a learning curve, with the newcomers making their mark. "The exciting thing is that new stars are replacing the superstars in both the teams. There are a couple of exciting newcomers, so all in all it's good progress for both the teams," he said. "India have a balanced squad with a combination of good spinners and fast bowlers and Pakistan match them. I think a good bowling spell, a great innings or a few good catches can make the difference in the one-day series."
Lawson commended the captains of the two teams - Shoaib Malik and Mahendra Singh Dhoni - for their "fresh ideas" that could only boost their sides. "Both have brought their teams forward and are doing great work, performing well and both are learning as captains."
Like Lawson, Malik felt his team needed to lift themselves. "I do not think we will go to India with any negative thoughts in our mind. Our players are capable of handling the pressure," Malik told PTI. "The Indian tour is going to be a challenging one as they are also rebuilding their team. But we have learnt a lot from the series against South Africa."
Malik, whose team choked while chasing 234 in the series decider at Lahore, admitted they failed to press home the advantage. "Our finishing has to improve, that is for sure," he said. "We controlled 90% of the game against South Africa but in the 10% that really mattered we were not good enough."
He refused to blame any of his players, however. "I know we tried hard but you have to give their bowlers some credit too. I will not tell any player to stop playing his natural game but, yes, we just need to be responsible at times. We will continue to play positively in India as well."
Shoaib Akhtar's comeback was welcomed by both coach and captain. Akhtar took four wickets in his final ODI against South Africa, returning after serving a 13-match ban. "He is a big asset to the team when he is fully fit and he showed he is hungry for success by bowling very well despite making a comeback after such a long time," Malik said. "It is great to have Shoaib back for the Indian tour."
Kamran Akmal, included in the ODI team despite his poor recent form behind the stumps, was backed by his captain. "Anyone can drop catches, even Jonty Rhodes dropped catches," Malik said. "But we know Akmal is a bit down and we need to sit down and talk to him and boost his confidence. We know he can be a key player for us in India."
Pakistan will play a warm-up one-dayer against Delhi on November 2.