One would normally associate a lounge bar with the lighter moments of life. Replete with revolving strobe lights, magnum-sized speakers and the DJ's platform lording over the wooden dance floor, the setting was ideal for weary beings to sink into the satin-upholstered sofas and soak in the ambience while giving much-needed respite to taut nerves. Instead, we had a couple of hard-boiled Pakistan camp members striding into the venue at a city hotel on Thursday with the intent of laying forth their plans for the battle against India.
The spotlight rested squarely on Pakistan coach Geoff Lawson and captain Shoaib Malik as the press bombarded the duo with queries in an attempt to gain an insight into the minds of the two men key to the team's fortunes against India.
'Akhtar is a team man'
One of the first questions posed before the young skipper was on Pakistan cricket's 'problem child', Shoaib Akhtar. A slight smile playing on his lips, Malik replied in the negative when asked whether the fiery paceman's inclusion was a cause of worry for him. "He is a team man and we are on good terms so I don't foresee a problem." The more articulate Lawson was more pointed in his reply. "Shoaib has got a sensible haircut and he looks quieter and that's a good beginning," the coach said in mirth, before issuing a warning: "He could well be the most powerful force."
Asif yet to recover
New-ball bowler Mohammad Asif is yet to recover from the right elbow injury that has kept him out for a while. Lawson, while admitting "we'll miss Asif", was quick to point towards the "quality replacements" in Umar Gul, Rao Iftikhar Anjum and Sohail Tanvir.
Talking of the criticism the team copped after losing the ODI series to SA, Lawson remarked, "Had we won in Lahore, we would have started favourites. It's all about handling the pressure, so it's better to finish as favourites than starting off with the tag."
Malik has veterans like Mohd Yousuf, Younis Khan and Shoaib playing under him, but the skipper dismissed talk of possible strife, terming them "very nice and cooperative". On Rahul Dravid's omission, he remarked, "If India think they need to stick with youngsters, it's good for us!"
Bigger than the Ashes
A day before leaving for India, Lawson called the series "bigger than the Ashes". Having arrived in India, he explained: "The rivalry assumes national proportions and I am looking forward to the tension. The teams are evenly matched, and that'll add to the excitement."
A fresh series
Misbah-ul Haq's mistimed scoop may have handed India the T20 title and Afridi's sudden rush of blood allowed South Africa to snatch victory, but both skipper and coach were quick to jump to the players' defence. Dismissing the prattle of a revenge series, Malik quipped, "The T20 final is history and we are here to play a fresh series." Lawson while applauding the middle order, called for the top order to shape up, saying that "we have learnt a lot from our mistakes".
Team India's aggression
Asked for his view on the recent ill-tempered ODI series between India and Australia, Lawson said: "We played a very hard series against the Proteas but not a hard word was spoken... We hope this series is played in the same spirit."