New age May 28, 2007

This team needs a coach

Pakistan have an ideal opportunity to appoint somebody who can nurture the talent available and work in partnership with the captain

The question is simple to put but hard to answer: Does the Pakistan cricket team need a coach? Ramiz Raja and Shahid Afridi, an unusual alliance, believe not. Pakistan can do just as well without. Once you are an international cricketer what coaching do you require?

When Pakistan won the World Cup in 1992, Imran's Tigers had the benefit of coach Intikhab Alam. Seven years later, when Wasim Akram lead Pakistan to another World Cup final, Mushtaq Mohammad, another legspinner, was in charge of fielding practice. Yet it isn't clear what either of those two coaches added? Imran and Wasim were all dominant.

Since then Pakistan tried a low-key international coach (Richard Pybus), a low-key home coach (Mudassar Nazar), a high-profile home coach (Javed Miandad), and a high-profile international coach (Bob Woolmer). On objective measures of success, Woolmer was the most successful helping Pakistan gain high positions in the Test and One-day rankings, although the last year of his charge was a disaster. Even Woolmer's malleable personality found obstacles within the team, a problem that Javed Miandad--who I once imagined would be the ideal coach for Pakistan--nurtured all too easily.

Which brings us back to the debate of the moment. You might make the case that an experienced captain with an experienced team could do without a coach, or tolerate one in the supportive role that Intikhab and Mushtaq played.

But this Pakistan team is full of players with plenty of learning to do. Pakistan's domestic cricket delivers raw talent not the finely-honed final product. Indeed many of the players' techniques require work and it isn't clear that they have the capacity to be self-motivated learners or even appreciate good advice when it looks them in the mouth. Woolmer became increasingly frustrated with the inability of this crop of players to improve through experience and advice.

So not only do Pakistan require a coach--or a team of coaches--but the players need to open up their minds and be willing to learn from others. With fewer big name stars to interfere and block the role of the coach, a situation that both Miandad and Woolmer encountered to some degree, Pakistan have an ideal opportunity to appoint somebody who can nurture the talent available and work in partnership with the captain.

In many ways, with few megastars to rub up the wrong way, the time for Woolmer or Miandad in their differing styles was now. Dav Whatmore, a proven team-builder with vast international coaching experience, could have been a sensible choice if a foreign coach was required. But the early chatter about Aaqib Javed has given way to whispers about Tim Boon, a good English coach with unproven international credentials.

The easy decision is that Pakistan require a coach. The harder one is working out who that should be in a country that has a poor tradition of working constructively with coaches. More importantly still, Ramiz Raja and Shahid Afridi will be proven right if the players are unable or unwilling to learn - and that is the biggest challenge Shoaib Malik and his new coach will now face.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here