Younus Khan is convinced his youthful Pakistan side can reach the summit of the world rankings within two years, as long as they do away with all the controversies which so frequently beset them. Khan arrived in Dubai yesterday ahead of the Cool & Cool Cup series against New Zealand, still in harness as the captain, even though he had offered to quit earlier in the month after the politicians questioned his integrity.
The Pakistan Cricket Board threw out his resignation and backed him to lead the side until the 2011 World Cup, by which time, Khan insists, his side should be at least among the world's top three. "My gut feeling is that, in a couple of years we will be the top ranking team," he said. "If we focus on every single tour, we will be in the top three. It will be a big achievement for me and for my country.
"I am lucky I am playing for Pakistan. It is not possible that I am going to be captain for the whole of my life, but I am happy that I am here and representing my country. It [the recent furore] started when the sports committee called me. It was hard for me to go there and answer their questions. "It is OK if they are questioning me or my top players on my performance. That doesn't just happen in Pakistan - it happens in every single country. It was in my mind that if I couldn't answer their hard questions, I would quit.
"But I had no problem with my team, no problem with the country or my countrymen." When the New Zealand team touched down in Dubai, their captain, Daniel Vettori, suggested Khan could teach him a thing or two about crisis management. While Khan has been having his leadership battle, the Black Caps have had to deal with their own problems following the conclusion of the Champions Trophy. They are touring the Emirates without a coach after Andy Moles stepped down, apparently as a consequence of player power.
Despite their problems, Khan is sure the New Zealanders will pose a threat during the three One-Day Internationals and two Twenty20 matches in the UAE.
"It is all a matter of what kind of leaders you have," said the Pakistan captain. "Vettori is fantastic and a lot will depend on him. They also have [Indian Cricket League] issues where their players weren't there and suddenly they are back.
"But this is international cricket. It is not always possible to play in your own conditions. Sometimes it is hot, sometimes it is cold. Sometimes you have your best players in the team, sometimes not. This is what international cricket is all about."
Meanwhile, the woes of the injury-plagued Australians worsened with their lead strike bowler, Brett Lee, ruled out for the entire series against India with an elbow injury. The captain Ricky Ponting had admitted that Lee's absence was crucial in the team's 99-run loss in the second game at Nagpur that allowed India to draw the seven-game series 1-1.
Lee will return home while Tim Paine and James Hopes are also ruled for the next match at Ferozshah Kotla stadium in New Delhi. There was also some controversy yesterday morning when the groundsmen watered the practice pitches before their arrival thus cancelling out their session and leaving Ponting furious. "Everyone in the world except the groundsmen knew that we were coming for training and when we came it was completely unusable. By the time India will arrive, the wicket will be fine and it's a disadvantage for us," Ponting said.
* With agencies