October 27, 2008

A soft target, an old hand

Geoff Lawson was a convenient whipping boy, but it just may be that Intikhab Alam is the right choice for Pakistan at the moment

Why Lawson alone, maybe Shoaib Malik as captain must be held accountable too for Pakistan's decline © Tigercricket.com

Though the manner of it should not have pleased anyone, the sacking of Geoff Lawson, it is safe to say, has done just that. An easier target hasn't been seen round this way since Pervez Musharraf stepped down earlier this year. As all the country's ills were thrown onto Musharraf's shoulders, so too all the cricketing ones have been on Lawson's.

He made a convenient scapegoat, did Lawson. Spiky, aloof, without a laptop, picking fights with the media: what did he even do? Results weren't great on the field, but Pakistan was also hardly on the field during his tenure.

Five Tests he helmed in 15 months, in none of which was remotely the strongest XI available to him. There were a few more ODIs, 28 of them, but 13 were against the might of Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Hong Kong; Pakistan may be weak right now but not that weak.

So there were no Test wins and nine losses in 15 ODIs against established teams, but really, how much time was he given? Barely had he started than he finished.

And why stop at just the coach? Has Shoaib Malik played no role in this decline? His time might be coming too. He is contracted to lead till the end of this year, when a review will take place. If it is an honest review, only one outcome should emerge.

Many will point to Lawson's example as final proof, were it needed, that foreign coaches just don't work in Pakistan. Is there really something to this? This country is going through a strange disorientation currently, where it doesn't really feel part of a global community. Travel across borders has never been greater around the world, except in Pakistan: not many come here and not many from here are readily or easily welcomed around the world.

US forces fiddling in Pakistan territory (and they have historically acted as if they run it); an impending bailout by that poster child for foreign interference, the IMF; the xenophobia that floats to some degree in most countries - all this perhaps has implications for how Pakistan views and interacts with foreigners. At best there is awkwardness with them; at worst hostility, as there was with Lawson and Bob Woolmer just before he passed away.

If the whole country feels it, why won't the cricketers? They are supposed to be worldlier, these cricketers, from all their travels, but if there is one thing that recent Pakistan sides haven't been, it is particularly worldly. Perhaps it is just simpler to conclude that the three foreigners Pakistan has tried so far didn't work. Still, you can't help wonder what Dav Whatmore, who lives within the faultlines of culture and nationality, would have done.

Maybe the appointment of a local, in this environment, isn't the worst thing. An increasing number of people in Pakistan will welcome Intikhab Alam first because he is local.

Since 1998, Pakistan have tried seven coaches. Many conclusions can be drawn from that about Pakistan cricket. One conclusion, not often drawn, is that perhaps Pakistan can do without a modern-day coach. Maybe the concept just doesn't click with Pakistan players

In cricket's narrower world, however, Intikhab is an intriguing choice because he's not really a coach. Rather, he isn't what cricket in 2008 identifies as a coach. He is more a manager in the old style, more Barrington than Buchanan; a calm, cheery man more adept at handling men and their egos and organising practices. Fancy fielding drills, video analysis and strategies, in or out of the box, might not be so forthcoming.

In 1992, he was the coach-manager of Pakistan's World Cup-winning side. If it detracts from him that that was a different time, it should be happily recalled that he kept men as different as Imran Khan and Javed Miandad together on the same page. His modern experience is mixed: a short stint with Pakistan in 1999-00 ended, ironically, because it was thought a "proper" coach was needed. Of his two seasons with Punjab in the Ranji Trophy halfway through this decade, one at least was a success.

Who's to say that he isn't what Pakistan needs? More and more people are sensing that he is (even if Javed Miandad was reportedly the board's first choice). Pakistan, after all, knows a thing or two about the breed. Since 1998, by which time the concept of a cricket coach was well established everywhere, Pakistan have tried seven of most kinds and colours. None have been outstanding successes, some have been outright failures. Many conclusions can be drawn from that about Pakistan cricket. One not often drawn is that maybe, just maybe, Pakistan can do without a modern-day coach. Maybe the concept just doesn't click with Pakistan players.

Certainly, senior PCB officials have kept this conclusion in mind while making the choice. Just because it hasn't been attempted lately doesn't mean it is a flawed idea. It might work, it might not; though it shouldn't be forgotten in all the fuss about coaching that having a decent captain and team might help too.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jawwad on October 29, 2008, 15:31 GMT

    Did the players not pick Lawson over Wathmore? I seriously think Intakhab is great choice. Force captainship on Younus. Let Shoaib Malik be the alllrounder that he is. We will be OK.

  • Hassan on October 28, 2008, 8:13 GMT

    Pakistan Cricket would start again from scratch under a new management and coach. I wish PCB was not part of our government and was a separate institution this way our cricket wouldn't have struggled with our politics. Hopefully PCB chairman Ijaz Butt makes some decision that make little sensein the future. Appointing Intikhab Alam as a coach is an example of unthoughtful decision. Relationship between our premier fast bowler Shoaib Akhtar and Intikhab Alam are not that great because Alam commented about Shoaib personal life in the past. Pakistan wont have the luxury to work with a coach who is familiar with the laptop way of coaching. PCB just keeps on falling behind everytime instead of making progress. I just pray to Allah that whatever our board does just pays off so our team doesnt suffer. I would like to see Pakistan compete against Aussies, Indians and all the other major teams like they used to, doesnt matter whose the coach everyone wants to see Pakistan winning.

  • Umair on October 28, 2008, 7:18 GMT

    I'm feeling very sorry for Mr.Lawson..he tried his best.Pak team dressing room atmosphere by media reports is worst ever.Shoaib malik must step down as a captain...shoaib and afridi perfomance is a big question. Team Depend upon Muhammad Yousuf,Younus khan and Misbah..Pak team need an energetic calm captain and Probably Younus suitable for that position, but always he said in interview, he needs perfomance given player not those players who likes off the field activities.he also mentioned if he select a players, no one say that he choose a player from peshawer,karachi,lahore team etc, he say we are playing for pak not for provinces. PCB must give him complete charge if he accepts the role of captain.

  • Kevin on October 28, 2008, 1:13 GMT

    Hi, I am shocked and sad not on the sacking of Lawson but the way it was done. This shows the style of management Mr. Butt has. Even if he was guilty, first he should be given a fair amount time to explain himself and then bring all information to the public and let them decide. It is not the responsibility of coach to bring foreign countries to Pakistan to play or stop terrorism. Jeff Lawson was one of the most successful bowlers Australia has produced. He tried his best to improve the image of Pakistan here in Australia. I have watched his last interview where he mentioned that Pakistan is his second home town and he appreciated the people and cricket team. He was also the one who went to Australia and NZ and tried to convince teams to play Champions Trophy in Pakistan. We should not forget that last coach Bob Woolmer who was one of the most successful coaches in the world due to politics was failed and we had the worst performance in world cup.

  • Stephen on October 28, 2008, 1:02 GMT

    World cricket needs a strong Pakistan, and I think I speak on behalf of all Australians when I say we'd love to see Pakistan back and firing on all cylinders. Maybe the best combination would be Intikhab Alam to be overall coach for the big picture issues and to have an assistant coach to run them through the drills, etc.

  • S on October 27, 2008, 20:35 GMT

    I have always seen Pakistani cricket state as a valid reflection of the country's overall situation. Things are usually unpredictable but people have talent and make it work. The bottom line is that Pakistani team (and the country) currently has a leadership crisis, whether it is suppose to come from the captain or the coach.

    Dont forget that Intikhab was a succesful coach/manager when Imran Khan was captain, and as a captain he had the authority and took responsibility of his decisions, whether a successful one or not. I feel that PCB is mostly responsible for this mess as they have failed to identify clearly the goals for the team and the coaches, and when things dont work, they find the scapegoats.

  • Rahil on October 27, 2008, 19:49 GMT


    I am disappointed by your article. Having read many of your past articles, I expected a more systematic approach from you. Your logic seems to be a bit circular. And you have completely ignored what late Bob Woolmer was able to achieve with Pakistan. Unfortunately, Pakistan never seem to get it right when it comes to appointing and keeping captains/coaches.

    A coach's importance to success of a team is just about equal to a captain's. The sooner Pak realize this the sooner they will be back on track to success.


    // Rahil Khan

  • Saima on October 27, 2008, 18:52 GMT

    I think it's time now for Pakistan to give encouragement to sports other than Cricket. Atleast, maybe we'll be able to find some good results. There are only 10 test playing nations and we stand at 6. So, what's the hell going on....We all know what Shoaib Akthar did in Canada. Shahid Afridi is a proven failure, but still we are stuck with him....

    In the end ... I want to say, Better give the money to WAPDA, so power generation problem can be resolved. We can't be number 1 in coming years.

  • praveen on October 27, 2008, 18:12 GMT

    From the time Lawson took up the assignment as coach, I was not convinced that it was a good decision. The craze for foreign coaches must end. What sub continental teams need is a good manager and reliable support staff - physical trainer, physio therapist, fielding coach, bowling coach etc. The talent is there, the discipline and dedication must be inculcated through training.

  • yasir on October 27, 2008, 16:58 GMT

    While we cannot blame the wrong things on Lawson, we cannot hold him in account of many positives either. Pakistan, for now at least, need a coach that can handle players and their egos. Intikhab is very capable of doing that as we saw in 1992. Butt is doing a great job by waking Pakistan up to some seriousness. Before Butt, it was like a joke. Maybe our board and players were watching one too many drama serials and were handling issues as if they were bound to end happily no matter what happened. While Butt is making all these positive changes in Pakistani cricket, we need one more change... A more affirmative captain. We can find him in Shoaib Malik if he steps it up by alot, or perhaps in some one else. We should try again to get Younis Khan to take the stage or maybe even Misbah.

    If Butt allows the players in Lahore Badshahs to play again for Pakistan, many of Pakistans problems in finding genuine openers and other players would easily be solved.

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