Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo
Just days after another sad chapter pushed them further onto the margins of the cricket world, Pakistan glimpse a rare opportunity to make a significant on-field statement. They take on Australia in a five-match ODI series followed by a Twenty20 international in Dubai and Abu Dhabi from Wednesday, a contest Younis Khan believes offers Pakistan the chance to begin another era on a brighter note.
As an indication of just how much Pakistan have faded away off the field in recent years - and Australia's reluctance to tour Pakistan - Wednesday's game will be the first ODI between the two sides since February 2005. In fact, the two sides have only met once in any format since then: at the World Twenty20 in September 2007, when Pakistan trumped them on the way to the final.
Much has changed since then - four players from each side remain - not least the fortunes of both sides, but Younis believed that good performances here may well lead to a repeat of Pakistan's last successful era, which began around the time the two sides last met.
"This is a very big series for several reasons," Younis told Cricinfo. "If we play well - not necessarily win - but play well then we can become like Inzi and Bob Woolmer's sides in 2005 and 2006," he said. "If we perform well - and win - then people will have to take notice because it is Australia. I want to see good moments…after the series I want to be able to look back and pinpoint 7-10 moments where we did really well, with a bowling spell, a bit of fielding, some batting. That will be an achievement."
Pakistan's squad is neither inexperienced nor raw, but undercooked and rusty: since April 2007, Australia have played 45 ODIs against top-flight nations and Pakistan just over half, with 24. But for the players, says Younis, the series is a golden opportunity. "Any guy who takes the opportunity here and does well, it'll be a massive break for them internationally. This is how I am looking at it personally and trying to instill in the team. I am fairly sure they are aware of it. If as a player you take off in this series, nobody will be able to bring you down."
The time to do that, some might argue, is ripe. This remains a transitional period for Australia as ODI losses to South Africa and a shared home series with New Zealand indicates. The absence of Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey, Mitchell Johnson and Brett Lee will be felt but this is, according to Younis, still Australia.
"They are still very balanced and the style of play and their motivation doesn't ever change," he said. "They are the only team in the world where players come in and go out and it makes very little difference. They are still a top side. If we do well, play to our potential and win a few matches, then I really think we can start getting out of this phase and move on."