There will be no compromise on discipline - Intikhab
Pakistan's jaunt to Abu Dhabi for three ODIs against West Indies may not be the most high-profile series in this year's cricket calendar but for the displaced home side, the contest has significance.
This will be Pakistan's first ODI since July in a Test-less year; between the Asia Cup in June-July and next week when they take on West Indies, Pakistan have only played four Twenty20 internationals. They go to Abu Dhabi with a brand new coach and management team and hoping for an upturn in cricketing fortunes.
At a two-day practice camp in Karachi before they depart, the relief at an international assignment was apparent. "Any series is important," said coach Intikhab Alam. "After this India is coming so this is a challenge for the new management."
Ever the poster-boy for optimism, Intikhab wasn't willing to dwell unnecessarily on the lack of international cricket for Pakistan in 2008. "I don't believe in making excuses that we haven't played that often. Okay, we haven't played but we can't look at that negatively and use it as an excuse. This is an important series because when you win and settle down on a combination confidence is built and winning can become a habit."
Pakistan trained energetically, mostly under the guidance of Aaqib Javed, the new assistant coach, whose role may well become more significant over time. Intikhab and the new manager Yawar Saeed held a long meeting with the team in the morning, a start of sorts to lay a new agenda.
"We had a very open meeting today with the team," said Intikhab. "We talked mostly about discipline and how there will be no compromise on that. We also talked about how our aim should be to move up [in the rankings] from six to two or one."
The entire squad has at least benefited from playing in the ongoing Pentangular Cup and as Shoaib Malik, the captain, pointed out later, most have been in good form. Pakistan's squad has five fast bowlers and they, more than others, have felt the benefits.
Umar Gul is fit again and Sohail Tanvir and Rao Iftikhar come in with a good number of overs behind them. Above all, Shoaib Akhtar is approaching full match fitness and the management was impressed by his performances in the Pentangular. David Dwyer, the team trainer, is also working closely with Shoaib, who has played little cricket this year, to have him ready and primed for the India series early next year. And unlike a couple of other coaches, Intikhab has no plans to ask him to reduce his run-up.
"I watched Shoaib Akhtar in the Pentangular in Islamabad and he was very good," said Intikhab. "I had a long chat him as well and he is on board. All coaches have their own thinking on his run-up. He is a genuine fast bowler and his run-up is important. If you shorten it, it might affect his bowling. But we will work on making sure he takes four minutes for an over.
"We have other really good bowlers as well and I'm hoping Mohammad Asif can come back soon as well because he is a match-winner."
Another big winner this week, revealed Intikhab, was used as an unusual source of inspiration in his first proper team meeting. "I asked the team in the meeting today what the miracle of the century was. One said it is Barack Obama getting into the White House. An African-American in the White House, imagine? And he did it with focus and discipline. That proves anything is possible and Pakistan should take inspiration from that."