In recent times, very rarely has the Pakistan cricket team been welcomed home by a shower of rose petals. It was different on Monday. When the team flew into Lahore from Dhaka, the Asia Cup runners-up received a very warm welcome. So what if Misbah-ul-Haq's men did not win the title, they had defeated arch-rivals India and that was reason enough to call for a celebration.
India and Pakistan run into each other in less than two weeks' time as the main round of the Twenty20 World Cup starts in Bangladesh on March 21. Misbah has already started playing mind games, saying the pulsating one-wicket win against India in a group match at Mirpur on March 2 is tonic enough to look former T20 world champions India in the eye. (Imran Khan, Shoaib Akhtar praise Pakistan for beating India)
The clash against India, Misbah said, put Pakistan in the right frame of mind for the world Twenty20. "Winning against India was important because people have a lot of expectations and have lots of interest in it. With such performances, the morale of the team is very good. In this condition, we definitely have a chance (at the World T20)."
With Shahid Afridi in dangerous form with the bat and Fawad Alam showing some wonderful temperament in the middle during the Asia cup, Pakistan will be a heady cocktail for Indian to handle in the T20 format. India, of course, have an equally adept, if not better mix of T20 specialists. Thus, the March 21 contest should be a cracker. (Shahid Afridi admits feeling the pressure to perform against India in Asia Cup)
Misbah is counting the positives from the Asia Cup. Although Pakistan lost the final, the massive turnaround from 18 for three against Sri Lanka in the final will give them a huge dose of self-belief. Pakistan had lost their top three by the fourth over, before Misbah and Fawad Alam staged a recovery with a 122-run stand. Misbah made 65 off 98 balls while Alam went on to remain 114 not out off 134 balls. Pakistan reached 260 for 5, before Sri Lanka eased home with close to four overs to spare after scoring heavily off the Pakistani pacers.
"Losing the final was a disappointment, but overall it was a very good tournament and we move on with a lot of positives," Misbah said. "I think the team put in a lot of hard work, the way we won matches. As a team the performance was terrific, but at the same time no doubt it is disappointing that we didn't win the tournament," the skipper said.
But all said and done, beating India in the group stage pales into insignificance the pains of losing a final. No wonder why, a India-Pakistan clash is the mother of all battles.