Lahore: Pakistan's Australian coach Geoff Lawson said he was looking forward to the challenge of touring India and that clashes between the great rivals were "bigger than the Ashes."
Pakistan fly out to India on Thursday to play five one-day internationals and three Tests. It will be only the fourth Test series between the cricket-obsessed neighbours since they resumed sporting ties in 2004.
"Having toured India on a number of occasions I know people follow an Indo-Pakistan match with extreme passion and at times it is little bit more than the sport, bigger than the Ashes, so I look forward to it," Lawson told AFP in an interview.
The former paceman, who played in five Ashes series between Australia and England in the 1980s, took over as Pakistan coach in July. He replaced Englishman Bob Woolmer, who died during the World Cup in Jamaica in March.
Lawson, 49, said Pakistan "would have been better off" for the India tour had they beaten world number two team South Africa in their recent home one-day series. Pakistan also lost the Test series, one-nil.
South Africa won the one-day series with a sensational 14-run victory in the fifth and final match in Lahore on Monday. Chasing 234 to win, Pakistan were cruising nicely at 199-4 before losing their last six wickets for 20 runs.
"Five overs of bad cricket spoiled our good work in the series, but it gave us lessons which we need to learn and work hard on the India tour, which will be tough," said Lawson, who took 97 wickets in 21 Ashes Tests.
Lawson said both Pakistan and India had progressed well after their disastrous showings in the 50-over World Cup in the West Indies, in which both were knocked out in the first round.
"India played tough cricket on their tour of England and both Pakistan and India did well in the Twenty20 (world championship)," said Lawson of September's event, which India won by beating Pakistan in the final.
"The exciting thing is that new stars are replacing the superstars in both the teams. There are a couple of exciting newcomers, so all in all it's good progress for both the teams," said Lawson.
Lawson predicted a close one-day series between the arch rivals, which starts with the first game at Guwahati on Monday.
"India have a balanced squad with a combination of good spinners and fast bowlers and Pakistan match them. I think a good bowling spell, a great innings or a few good catches can make the difference in the one-day series."
Lawson praised both Pakistan's Shoaib Malik and India's Mahendra Singh Dhoni as captains of Pakistan and India.
"Both bring fresh ideas, which is great for their teams and you need that. Both have brought their teams forward and are doing great work, performing well and both are learning as captains."
Lawson said the return of paceman Shoaib Akhtar, after ending a 13-match ban for hitting teammate Mohammad Asif with a bat last month, is a good omen.
"Akhtar realises it is his last chance. If he is fit and at the peak of his form then he will be a dominant force in the India series."
He described coaching Pakistan -- a talented but often fractious side that has been constantly embroiled in controversy over the past 18 months -- as an adventure.
"It has been very busy because when I came we had the Twenty20 (world championship) followed by the South African series. There was a lot of day-to-day work and other cricket matters to be done," he said.
"Time flies but I have been able to set a good relationship with the team and look forward to the important tour of India. It has, so far, been exciting and adventurous."