'I'm very harsh on myself'
Cricinfo caught up with Geoff Lawson, the Pakistan coach, following their loss to Sri Lanka in the final of the T20 Canada. Lawson, who's now completed one year in charge, talks about the team's progress, Pakistan's domestic set-up, his reaction to critics and his role as an ambassador for Pakistan cricket overseas.
Q: In the earlier games of this tournament Pakistan looked a bit fatigued. Do you think that had anything to do with how the game turned out today?
A: No, I don't think that's an excuse. We're not looking for excuses like that. We just needed to play better, and Sri Lanka played better than us today. In Twenty20 cricket there's a fine line between pleasure and pain. If we'd bowled one better over or made ten more runs, maybe we'd have won.
Q: Is there anything that you can take out of a short four-day tournament like this, in terms of measuring how the team is progressing and where it needs to go?
A: It's a bit tough. It's only 20-over cricket and we don't play that again until probably February when we have one game. We leave Twenty20 behind us for a while and we have 50-over cricket coming up against the West Indies in Abu Dhabi and then we have the Test matches in January. Twenty- over cricket, we're quite good at. This [the final against Sri Lanka] is only the second game we've lost in 12 months. We tried to win, we came very close, we played some good cricket, but we didn't quite get there. But there are a couple of aspects. I'm happy with the way we fought back to win the first match against Sri Lanka. It proved that we're never beaten. They may have thought they had the game wrapped up after eight overs, but we got back in the game and that's a good trait, a good characteristic to have in your team.
Q: Is there any difference in how you prepare for a Twenty20 game as opposed to a 50-over game?
A: Yes, it's different. Fielding is a bit different. Not a lot happens inside the fielding circle, most of it happens around the boundary. We concentrate on throwing and high catching, and hitting with the batsmen playing a bit differently. You prepare with a different emphasis in 20 -over cricket.
Q: Your predecessor said that this was the most unfit team he had ever seen. You had some similar feelings and brought in a rugby trainer to help with some of the fitness aspects. Are things progressing the way you'd like them to?
A: I'm very happy with how it's progressing. It's a matter of changing the culture of how people train and how they want to train. Our trainer Dave Dwyer is very meticulous. The guys now have the habits where they will go and train and they don't need him on their back all the time. I think we're a lot fitter than we were 12 months ago, there's no doubt about that. Yes, you always want them to be a little bit fitter, I suppose. But of our core 15 players, the fitness levels are significantly higher and certainly satisfactory.
Q: Besides dealing with the fact that Pakistan hasn't been able to play much cricket this year, you also have to deal with some aspects of cricket that other coaches don't worry about, such as playing diplomat and trying to convince people to come to play in Pakistan and you have to sell Pakistani cricket abroad a little bit. Does that wear you down or divert your attention from the real task, which is to coach the Pakistan team?
A: Yes and no. I'm a big believer in Pakistani cricket and that people should come to Pakistan and play. I honestly believe that it's a safe place to play cricket. Obviously there are a lot of other aspects of the country that people see in the media and they transfer those into the sporting arena, but I still believe that it's a safe place to come to play cricket. We've just finished our own domestic five-day Twenty20 tournament and there were big crowds and people were enjoying their cricket. There were games under lights and you see that sort of scene at Gaddafi Stadium and you wish the rest of the world would see the place and enjoy it. The fans are the people who are really missing out. The Pakistani cricket fans are a passionate lot and they're missing out on watching up close some of the best players in the world.
Q: You actually watch a lot of Pakistani domestic cricket. Are there things you see that worry you or conversely, give you hope for the future?
A: Pakistani domestic cricket is quite good. We're just about to start our Pentangular Series, which is very strong cricket, as is the other first-class tournament, the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. I've actually been quite impressed by domestic cricket. We need to give those guys facilities and some structure through the whole first-class scene to be able to improve their skills and fitness and all those sorts of issues, but there are a lot of very good players in Pakistan.
Q: This whole notion of the Australian approach to cricket - could it really be the Geoff Lawson approach to cricket, given that Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh who are credited with forging that mentality, played under you at New South Wales and maybe some of it was due to your influence?
A: Ah, well, that's a nice thought to have, isn't it! Whether it is or not, I'm not too sure, but one of the main reasons I was employed by the PCB was to bring that sort of attitude to the Pakistan team. I've played the game hard, I've played to win and I've played an aggressive style of cricket. When you have talented players you can do that. The job now is to get over all the hurdles that are placed in your way, to transfer that to the team. We've gotten over a few of those hurdles, but we've got a few to go.
|I pick up the paper and laugh. You can't take any notice of it, you just have to ignore it. It's one of the big issues I've brought up with the players, I've said 'look, you can't let what people say in the press, particularly the Pakistani press, affect how you play the game. You have support from the coaching staff and from the board itself, so play the game. Don't let the media affect what you do and what you say'|
Q: What are some of those hurdles?
A: Well, the fact that there aren't good enough gyms in all the outlying regions. All the players can't follow a high level fitness program. That's a basic thing. It's great in Lahore, Karachi and Rawalpindi, but not everywhere, not even in Peshawar where we have to send some of our players to the Pearl-Continental Hotel gym and pay for it. And if you live in an outlying region, or even Quetta or rural Sind or Punjab you don't have all that access. Within Australia or England, you just take it for granted that the players will be able to train at a high level. That's a fairly significant hurdle, but the PCB are trying to work on those sorts of things.
Q: Speaking of the PCB, they often seem a bit unprofessional. Even at this tournament the former PCB chief (Nasim Ashraf) was here watching the game, when one might think he would keep his distance for a while.
A: I'm not sure how you equate the former chairman being here with being unprofessional. He's lived in Washington and has been in New York, so he came to watch the team. He's a passionate supporter of Pakistan cricket, whether he's the chair or the ex-chair, it doesn't matter to him. He loves to see the guys do well and he's passionate about it. I thought it was terrific for him to come up and see the players and say hello. And since he's not in any official capacity, maybe he can relax a little bit. He's just passionate about the game. He sat on the sidelines and lived every ball and he's representative of so many Pakistanis.
Q: Fawad Alam gets limited opportunities, his strike-rate is pretty high in Twenty20 and ODI cricket and he has a lot of not-outs because he doesn't get to bat that much. Even the match he won for Pakistan here against Sri Lanka with his three sixes, he came in after Kamran Akmal and Sohail Tanvir. Do you feel after this tournament that he has more of a role to play?
A: He's been progressing and he played in the Twenty20 World Cup [in 2007] and was a key player in us winning the semi-final. But he's a young guy, he's been introduced into the team and on just about every occasion he takes the opportunity. In the years to come I think you'll find him up the order and becoming a full-time player. He's one of the young guys we're bringing along and it's great he did what he did against Sri Lanka. He must weigh about 60 kilos, but he hits some big sixes! He's definitely a player for the future, with his batting and bowling and he's probably our best fieldsman as well.
Q: There have been some losses in your tenure, but you've also had success in winning the Kitply Cup and taking the team all the way to the Twenty20 World Cup final where you were one shot away from winning the tournament. In light of that do you think the criticism of you is too harsh?
A: The only criticism I take any notice of is the criticism within my group and my own criticism. I'm very harsh on myself about what we need to do and I certainly don't take any notice of the media. I pick up the paper and laugh. You can't take any notice of it, you just have to ignore it. It's one of the big issues I've brought up with the players, I've said "look, you can't let what people say in the press, particularly the Pakistani press, affect how you play the game. You have support from the coaching staff and from the board itself, so play the game. Don't let the media affect what you do and what you say." And that's how I feel. I just laugh most of the time and just move on. My life is not affected by what the media say.
Q: Any lessons to be drawn from this tournament looking ahead to Abu Dhabi?
A: Well, our 50-overs team will be slightly different, I would think. But there are lots of good things coming out of this tournament. We've already had a discussion about what we needed to do better today and there wasn't much. It's just such a fine line between winning and losing. And we can't judge ourselves as others do, by winning and losing. You judge yourself by continual improvement and your self-assessment of how well you're going. The win-loss column is way down the list of things that are important to us.
Faraz Sarwat is the cricket columnist for the Toronto Star and the author of The Cricket World Cup: History, Highlights, Facts and Figures