Geoff Lawson (left) with Misbah-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s coach and captain respectively, during the 2007 ICC Twenty20 Cricket World Championship in South Africa © Getty Images
Geoff Lawson, the former Australian pace bowler, was coach of the Pakistan team between July 2007 and October 2008, before he was sacked when the government changed and Ijaz Butt took over the Chairmanship of the Pakistan Cricket Board. Lawson was also head coach of Australian state side New South Wales in the two years up to his appointment as Pakistan coach. He also coached the now defunct Kochi Tuskers in the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Lawson who described his stint as Pakistan coach as enjoyable spoke to PakPassion’s Saj Sadiq about the recently-concluded Test series against South Africa and in particular about the lack of preparation ahead of the series, the subsequent criticism of coach Dav Whatmore from some former players, Umar Gul’s form in South Africa and the performance of the young Pakistani fast bowlers in the series.
Excerpts from an interview:
PakPassion (PP): A three-nil defeat for Pakistan in the Test series against South Africa. Your thoughts on the Pakistani performance and how Dav Whatmore will have reacted to the series defeat?
Geoff Lawson (GL): First of all, South Africa are a very powerful side; they’ve destroyed a lot of teams recently, they smashed New Zealand and were too good for Australia. They are the No 1 Test side in the world and have an outstanding seam bowling attack and that is what won them the series against Pakistan.
At times Pakistan showed some fight, they hung in there and showed some promise, but South Africa was just too strong in the end. The last Test was probably the most disappointing for Pakistan as they had a chance to bowl out South Africa for much less than the 400 they eventually scored, as the pitch was doing plenty. However, the bowlers couldn’t find the consistency when bowling at the South African lower order.
Dav will be disappointed; all coaches obviously are when their team is beaten. But he’s got plenty to work with, particularly the fabulous fast bowlers and a couple of young batsmen doing the business in South Africa. So, yes, the coach will be disappointed but there were enough things from the Pakistanis for Dav to be enthusiastic about and to look ahead to the next series.
PP: There has been some criticism of Pakistan’s preparations ahead of the Test series in South Africa. Were you surprised with Pakistan’s lack of warm-up games, particularly given they had not played any Test cricket for more than six months?
GL: Yes, I was surprised. The international calendar is extremely busy these days. A lot of teams seem to go into series without too much preparation. The Australians did the right thing in sending some players to India ahead of the main touring party, but even then they never got to grips with the spinning track in the opening Test.
With Pakistan not having played Test cricket for so long, they should have arranged three warm-up games in South Africa before the first Test match. I’m not quite sure of the scheduling issues or what the PCB had in mind but purely from a cricketing perspective, you would need three warm-up games preferably of two to four days in length to allow everyone to settle in and get the batsmen used to the pitches and the bowlers to bowl the right lengths. What happened though was that the bowlers, due to the lack of warm up matches, bowled too short and most of the batsmen never adjusted to the conditions.
PP: You can speak from first-hand experience regarding the pressures of being coach of the Pakistan cricket team. Do you think Dav will be feeling the pressure after the whitewash in South Africa?
GL: Dav’s a very experienced international coach. He’s had pressure whilst working previously in Bangladesh, within the Indian system and I’m sure he’ll be OK. Like any coach he’ll be disappointed that Pakistan didn’t win and above all they didn’t play to their potential, but I don’t think he’ll be allowing the “outside influences” affect what he does. I’m sure Dav will be looking ahead rather than back.
Whatever pressure there is on Dav will be coming from within Dav himself. He’ll want to do a better job and make Pakistan a better side. I don’t think he’ll be taking too much notice of the noises made towards him from outside of the Pakistan Cricket Board.
PP: Dav Whatmore has been Head Coach now for nearly a year and has at least another year left on his contract. Surely he should be given the opportunity to at least see out his two-year contract?
GL: I was in a similar situation where I wasn’t given the opportunity to complete my two-year stint as coach of Pakistan, even though we were doing pretty well and had done a lot of good things. Twelve months is a long time in international cricket and Dav’s got some really impressive talent to work with so I think it’s only fair that he’s given the chance to at least see his two-year contract out.
It takes time to develop players and to get used to the system, particularly when you are not from Pakistan. It takes a little while to be successful and it doesn’t happen overnight. Pakistan has also played some pretty tough series over the last 12 months and I’m sure it would be the right thing to do from a Pakistani cricketing perspective to let Dav at least see out his two-year contract.
PP: What can the Pakistani cricketing establishment and the players themselves do to ensure they are better prepared to play Test cricket in places such as South Africa and Australia in future?
GL: It’s not all that easy. Conditions in your home country are what they are. All you can do is to get to the away venue as soon as you can and ensure that you practice as much as you can. Home advantage is about spinning tracks in India and quicker bouncier pitches in South Africa and Australia.
South Africa are playing brilliantly and to their strengths at the moment and that’s why they are so good at home. Outstanding sides like South Africa also win abroad as they did in England and Australia. There’s no easy solution though for teams such as Pakistan as most teams are bouncing from one series to another and there is very little opportunity to play against the county or provincial sides in warm-up matches. Also you are going from one format to another in such a short space of time so it makes it very difficult for the players to adapt quickly.
PP: Umar Gul seemed to be out of sorts during the Test series. Did you spot any technical issues with his bowling or is it a case of him just being out form?
GL: I expected Gul to do very well in South Africa. He’s been terrific for a long time now and it’s not as if he’s been out of form lately. However I get the feeling he’s burnt out; there’s been a lot of pressure on him as the experienced bowler, as the leader of the pace attack. As a result he’s looking jaded and in need of some time away from cricket as everybody does from time to time. There haven’t been many experienced quick bowlers around him of late and Gul looks tired. Perhaps he needs a month or two away from the game to recharge his batteries and to re-energise him both physically and mentally.
PP: What did you think of the inexperienced Pakistani pace bowlers such as Mohammad Irfan, Rahat Ali, Junaid Khan and Ehsan Adil in South Africa during the Test series?
GL: They showed some promise. At times they looked good, but they need to be more consistent and that will come with more experience. It’s not just bowling as an individual that is important; you have to be able to bowl as a unit and as a team.
You need an experienced pace bowler to help out the younger pace bowlers and show them the way. As usual with Pakistani pace bowlers, they showed a tremendous amount of talent and they can all bowl great deliveries, overs and spells but it’s all about consistency over the course of a Test match. The difference between the Pakistani and South African bowling attacks was that the Pakistanis took some wickets with great deliveries but they couldn’t maintain that dominance and that’s what cost them.
PP: There’s been some criticism of Misbah-ul-Haq after the series defeat in South Africa. Do you think it’s justified?
GL: It’s harsh to judge Misbah just on the South African Test series as the opposition bowling was of the highest calibre. Misbah is a very smart cricketer who has got the best out of what he has. He’s heading towards 39 years of age and that makes it pretty tough. He’s survived on his instincts and his cricketing intellect and he’s been a great leader. Yes they will have to find a new leader eventually but he’s done a terrific job. His best days were probably when he wasn’t given the opportunities at international level that he should have been given. However, he’s done brilliantly to hang in there at his age, especially given that really there’s only Sachin Tendulkar who is playing Test cricket at a similar age to Misbah.
(Saj Sadiq is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net)