This is part 2 of the discussion with Geoff Lawson – recent Pakistan Coach – which I had the privilege of having during the 2009 Boxing Day Test…..
This interview was conducted by Pak Awaaz sports correspondent Naeem Mohammed during the Boxing Day Test match in Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Naeem Mohammed: What did you take out of the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup when Pakistan was losing badly (in the final) then almost pinched the game only to lose it at the last moment?
Geof Lawson: Yeah, it was a Final, that’s how Twenty20 goes. As a coach, and even when I was as a player, going into tournaments like that, I just think you can win. I don’t care who you are – you can WIN. Yet there seemed to be this attitude not necessarily from the players but from the public and the press that “Pakistan didn’t get past the first round of the (50-Over) World Cup, they’ve got all these problems, and these guys have retired…” You know, they were just completely written off and yet when you see their talent, you say to yourself, “Hey, these guys can PLAY, we’re a chance of winning this”, so you set about your tactics for WINNING the tournament. I certainly wasn’t surprised about making the final – a lot of other people might have been – but we worked hard on a few little things about Twenty20 cricket. People from outside don’t realize there has been a lot of Twenty20 cricket played domestically in Pakistan so the guys are pretty skilled in 20-over cricket. So yeah, we made the final, it was a see-saw event, with a bit of luck we would have won. We gave a good account of ourselves in every game we played. That was the only game we lost. We had one tie and lost that final off virtually the last ball so throughout the tournament we played really well.
NM: You mentioned Salman Butt before which triggered a thought: How do you rate Imran Nazir? Personally I’ve looked at this guy and thought he could’ve been anything – one of the most talented players I’ve seen. Have you had much to do with him and where’s he at?
GL: Oh yeah…I’ve had a bit to do with Einstein…as we call him! Oh Look, at the moment I reckon he’s one the biggest Twenty20 specialists in the world. He’s very frustrating because he could play any shot in the book, against the fastest bowling, and then just play a stupid shot and get out. He’s been doing that now for a long time. His 50-over record is something like: played nearly 50 games and averaging 24. But when he gets going, he’s fantastic, which is why he’s become probably THE best Twenty20 opener in the World – along with Chris Gayle, of course – because he can hit any attack anywhere you like. He’s in that top rank in 20-over cricket because you don’t have to bat for too long. He’s not doing the job in 50-over cricket or the longer forms of cricket, so fine, he’s become a Twenty20 specialist. He’s a special talent but he just needs to learn to bat for longer.
NM: This might be a simplistic view but when I look at test matches involving Australia, if you disregard the respective playing abilities of the batsmen and bowlers on either side, I always look at disciplines in their running between wickets, their fielding, and their throwing and think that these factors contribute to a difference of 200 runs over the course of a 5 day game.
GL: Oh well, it can. Part of being an international coach is at that you look at every run you save, every run you DON’T make, what could be done better, you analyze EVERYTHING because at that level every run matters, every little thing matters. Even after every one-day game we’d look back and say, “Look, we missed this single, we missed that.” We were missing 30 singles a game in one-day cricket, let alone Test cricket. In 50 overs we’re missing 30 singles??!! That’s going to cost you. I had to say, “When you hit it to mid-off, mate, you’ve got to run. You don’t stand there and enjoy the shot.” I said, “Look at what the Australians do, hit it – run, hit it – run.” Sometimes in getting people to do that, they need to overcome some fears before they can do that. It sounds easy but it’s not that easy.
NM: One of the other areas where Australia is ahead of other countries is in the infrastructure and in the patience afforded to players to allow them to develop. For example Steve Waugh battled through the first 8 years of his test career and then in the following 11 years established himself as one of the greatest players to play for this country. Even someone like Damien Martyn, after his ‘rush of blood’ against South Africa in 1994, wasn’t selected again for another 7 years but then became a key
component of the Australian batting line-up. Is there anything in the Pakistan infrastructure or the way they select teams or nurture teams that could see something similar develop there? It seems that players are given 2 or 3 years in the Pakistan team, if they don’t perform they’re out, they’re never given a chance to go back to domestic cricket and play for 4 or 5 years, put in some solid performances and then come back.
GL: Yeah, talent recognition and development is not done on a merit-based system in Pakistan and that’s the problem. The selectors, they’ll go and pick their favorites and from their own areas and they’re under pressure to do that. But Yeah, It’s quite the opposite in Pakistan. They’ll pick someone and if they fail once or twice, they’re out. They don’t recognize talent and stick with it and that’s one of the reasons why Pakistan are so inconsistent – because players are under so much pressure they clam up. They’re thinking, “If I fail today, I’m out” and that’s not a good thought process. You’ve got to have a clear mind to play well at this game – It IS a mental game – but that doesn’t really happen a great deal in Pakistan, in fact it’s quite the opposite. And that’s one of the cricket cultural things that I was trying to stop. You know, “Don’t change around, have faith in the players, identify talent and leave them there”. Salman Butt is one who suffered from that. He’d make a couple of good scores in the 50-over stuff and then 3 games later he’d be out of the team. (The exchange between coach and selector would be something like):
Coach: “I don’t understand why he’s out of the team, he should be in the team!”
Selector: “Oh no we’ve got someone from Karachi to play”.
Coach: “Well, NO, what’s HE done? He hasn’t scored any runs”
Selector: “Oh Well, he’s so-and-so’s nephew”
I bit of that happened. Quite obviously that happened and you won’t get a consistent team when you continue to do that.
NM: There was a lot of discussion about how Pakistani bowlers were able to get reverse swing and they were always accused of using illegal tactics. You yourself played with some of the greats – even at NSW. What’s your view on the way reverse swing has evolved and is it a legitimate part of the game?
GL: If you study the literature, reverse swing has been around for over a 100 years. Cricket balls haven’t changed much in that time. When reading about what certain bowlers did even in the late 19th century it’s obvious what they were talking about is old-ball reverse swing. Nowadays we have Television and slow-mo replays so people see it a bit more. I first really saw it in Pakistan in 1980 – some flat wickets where it would swing a little bit NEW – not much. Then after 30 overs Imran and Sarfraz would get the ball and within 2 overs it was swinging about 2 feet. Interestingly in those days they used to scratch it up with bottle tops. But we didn’t think it was cheating we just thought, “We need to learn how to do that!” Otherwise it would be 600 versus 650 and that’s not good cricket. That’s why I can’t believe reverse swing is so frowned upon and that ball tampering is like being a serial killer these days. I mean, batsman can jump in front of their stumps and then run down the middle of the pitch – which is illegal – but everyone thinks THAT’S OK but when a ball gets scratched up, it’s a major crime.
NM: We see in AFL these days, there is a box full of coaches and assistant coaches. As the head coach of a national team, how many assistants do take with you for your day-to-day training and preparation?
GL: Well, I didn’t have many. I wanted more. If you want to do the job properly, you need specialist coaches for all the skills. Cricket is a game of very different skills so you need the best coaches for each skill. The head coach makes sure everything runs properly, he’s got the overall experience and knowledge of all aspects of the game plus training and physiology, the whole lot. He has to know all that stuff but you need people to deliver it because one coach can’t deliver all the skills at all the different skill levels. You need specialist coaches to do that. With some countries there’s can a bit of
overkill but we decided we needed a sports psychologist all the time because of the particular problems that we had but they kept knocking me back. I used to say, it’s a regulation thing, we’ve got to have one. Eventually the guy I was talking of, they appointed him and he’s done a good job but I wanted him 2 years ago. To do the job properly, you’ve got have all the skill areas covered thoroughly.
NM: To be successful at international level or any elite level nowadays, how much time needs to be devoted to practicing the skills and how much time needs to be devoted to fitness and strength and conditioning?
GL: For full time players, a lot of everything. They ARE full time players so they should be spending the whole time training or practicing, basically.
NM: Do you think they (Pakistan) are going backwards, by going back to employing previous coaches at the highest level? Do you think they still need to look outside their own backyard for a coach to be successful?
GL: Yeah, well when I was asked, when I was leaving Pakistan, who I think should be the next coach, I said it is ESSENTIAL that you get an overseas coach. It’s essential because that overseas coach would not be under the political influence of people in Pakistan. Otherwise the coach at least has to be employed on merit – and there are good coaches in Pakistan. I said to guys when I was there, “I might be here for 2 years, see how we go…or I might be here for 3 or 4 but it won’t be a hell of a long time so then we’re going to have to bring up some Pakistani coaches who could then take over. That was the plan, and there were some guys there who certainly I thought would make good national team coaches who could learn under me or learn from the people I bring in. To have a local coach who’s been appointed because he’s a friend of somebody or because he used to play, that’s just missing the point. You’re not going to win if you don’t keep up with modern methods. An overseas coach – whatever country they come from – would most likely be strong enough to NOT put up with ‘outside pressure’ but a Pakistani coach most likely wouldn’t be. So that was one of the really big issues (facing the board) so I said it is essential that in the short term you look overseas. I mean that’s why they got ME and now I’m only leaving for political reasons, nothing to do with cricket – we were actually going places as a cricket team, we were getting better, more consistent, fitter – I’d actually guaranteed the board, that I would have them in the 2011 World Cup Final. I didn’t guarantee we’d win it but I said, “If you let me do it my way, I guarantee we’ll make the final”, because I knew what kind of talent we had. If we trained them well they would become consistent high level performers and I reckon we had the talent to be better than everybody else.
NM: You obviously had a great career as player and then went on to coach some very successful NSW teams. Am I right in assuming that the Pakistan job was your first appointment at the highest level since then?
GL: Oh Yeah, because I do a lot of other things – I’m not a career cricket coach – I’m an Optometrist, I’m on the board of companies, I work a lot in the media. Cricket coaching is something I do because I love it. I’ve been coaching elite squads; particularly the fast bowling squads in the NSW system and I also deliver lectures in Captaincy and Leadership, having been a captain for a long time. I still do some specialist stuff for Cricket NSW. So I’ve certainly been involved at various levels for quite a while without actually being appointed as a state coach or specialist coach. These days I’m also lecturing in the Level 3 coaching courses for the Asian cricket council, so I’ve been to Bangladesh recently to deliver those. So it’s a varied life. The great thing is that I can stick with doing what I love and still come to the cricket. It’s fantastic.
NM: If a representative from another cricket board was to ring you and ask you to come and coach their national team, would you consider it?
GL: Under the right circumstances, yeah. It depends what the challenges are. People keep asking me that question. A few international jobs have come up. My name’s been mentioned a few times, which is kind of nice but if I had a choice, I’d just go back and do the Pakistan job.
NM: That’s amazing! Certainly, from what I’ve seen they appear to be a great bunch of blokes with a lot of ability but with too many obstacles and hindrances politically; and I don’t think that’s likely to change in the future, unfortunately.
GL: No…No. It certainly doesn’t look like it.
NM: Geoff, it’s been a privilege and a pleasure. I really appreciate you taking the time out to have this chat. Thanks very much.
GL: Not a problem.