Lawson hopes for glimpse of future with Twenty20 vision
Pakistan's preparations for the inaugural Twenty20 World Championship have been unusually well-planned. A gruelling summer of conditioning camps in three cities as well as a glut of practice Twenty20 matches indicated a seriousness of purpose unseen in other countries. But it all means little until they play their first actual match.
"We can prepare strategies, try and find the right balances, work out plans and play any number of practice games," Geoff Lawson, the Pakistan coach, told Cricinfo just before the team's departure for Nairobi, where they play a series of warm-up matches against Bangladesh, Uganda and Kenya.
"But that can only take you so far," he said. "Until the first match happens, we won't really know what to expect. We've got an excellent opportunity to play some matches in Kenya now and fine-tune our plans and get our combinations right."
The relative freshness of the format - there have only ever been 16 international matches - means teams start on a more equal footing than they might in a 50-over tournament. Pakistan have only played two internationals (won one, lost one) but were one of the first to organise a domestic Twenty20 tournament - with the fourth edition scheduled for this December - which has proved a wildly successful revenue-earner and has meant their players are familiar and comfortable with the format.
"Most of the players in the side have played it and have good experience of it," Lawson said. "Shoaib [Malik, captain] has an excellent grasp of the tactics in this format. He has been successful at leading domestically as well, so that will play a part."
Fortune, too, will play a role. "We have some explosive players but I think everyone understands that luck will play some part in this game too. Everyone wants to win and to do so, any side will need an element of luck."
It helps also if you have a pace attack "at least the equal of any other side in the world". Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Asif and Umar Gul are simultaneously fit and available for the first time since they came together and despite the popular perception that the format is skewed heavily in favour of batsmen, pace, Lawson feels, might make a difference.
"See, good cricketers are good cricketers in any format, 20 overs, 50 or a Test. And pace bowlers are good to have in any format. We have three or four very good ones, they are looking healthy and their roles will be crucial in South Africa."
Lawson has been with the side for just over a week, familiarising with the players and overseeing the final training camp in Lahore, but Talat Ali, the manager says the signs are already positive. "He had good interaction with the players, the body language between all of them is very positive," said Ali. "There is a definite change in the atmosphere and the way the team is and that is a good sign."
Lawson himself has been impressed by the squad's capacity for hard work. "I'm very happy with their attitude and the way they have responded to the training regime. With David [Dwyer, fitness trainer], we've given them some real tough, heavy workouts and full-on sessions. But they want to do it and that is impressive."
There is still considerable work to be done, however, for a side Bob Woolmer initially thought the poorest he had seen in terms of fitness. "We've looked at lots of areas in terms of their fitness. They have definitely improved, but they still have a long way to go. But we're on that slope [of progress], which is good."
How far up that slope Pakistan is, will begin to reveal itself now. They open the four-nation tournament with a match against Uganda on September 1, before taking on Bangladesh the day after. They wrap up preparations by playing the hosts Kenya on September 4, before flying out to Johannesburg for the real deal.
Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo