Pakistan v South Africa, 1st Test, Karachi, 5th day October 5, 2007

A Karachi welcome for Geoff Lawson



With Shoaib Malik unavailable, Geoff Lawson had to face the music after Pakistan's loss to South Africa © AFP

Pakistan don't often lose in Karachi. This was only their second loss in 40 Test matches and if Geoff Lawson wanted to know what sort of reaction a Karachi loss generates, he got a taster at a tense, fractious post-match press conference.

For a start, he shouldn't have been there. Shoaib Malik, captain in his first Test, had a flight to catch, so Lawson took his place amid much derision. Immediately he was fending off queries as to Malik's whereabouts. Eventually he was asked whether Malik, "didn't turn up because he was embarrassed at such a loss?"

"I didn't ask him if he was too embarrassed to come," Lawson shot back. "That is an extremely offensive question. Show a little respect to the captain of Pakistan." Welcome to Pakistan.

The story of this Test match was scripted in Pakistan's team selection and strategy, which shunned traditional wisdom, sidelined their strength in pace, and opted instead to spin South Africa out. Graeme Smith said he was surprised at the strategy, given Pakistan's fast bowling strength. "I don't think they realised how well we play spin."

Dale Steyn and Andre Nel, in their wildly contrasting styles, showed that pace still has a place here, but Lawson insisted the strategy was correct. "We had three fast bowlers in our squad and we looked at the pitch and decided on the combination. It was the right combination. The pitch was slow, but ultimately it provided a good Test. It was almost a fantastic Test."

But there seems an eternal optimism to Lawson, if a spiky one, and that will be a handy trait to fall back on. He was essentially correct in assessing that Pakistan fought back well enough, though firmly behind the eight-ball as they were, it was futile. Not having played first-class cricket since January didn't help (though it didn't hurt South Africa) and switching from Twenty20 took some time, but Lawson wasn't using them as excuses.

"We showed some ticker, some heart," he argued. "The lower-order batted well in that first innings. We showed we're not going to fold and are tough to beat. The rub of the green didn't go our way, distinctly. If we had a bit of luck here we could've done well. We're not very far from where we need to be. Two dropped catches might have cost us the Test.

"There are a lot of positives to take. [Abdur] Rehman took eight wickets, [Danish] Kaneria bowled well, Misbah-ul-Haq batted well. Coming off Twenty20, we showed we're fit enough to play Tests. We fought back after being behind on day one and showed a lot of courage. We were still in this game with a little chance till the first over after lunch. That's because we showed a lot of courage and fortitude, which is a very good sign for Pakistan."

As a batsman Malik showed both, a gritty 73 in the first innings was followed by a stodgy but futile 30. It's difficult to judge his leadership from just five days, but Lawson saw some good things. "He's a young captain and he's learning. He did some really good things out there and he did some things we will discuss. He's a young man finding his way in a country that expects a lot from his leader. With the bat, he batted like a leader."

Lawson will hope the good signs convert into good performances. There is only a two-day break before the second and final Test begins in Lahore and some tricky selection issues to work with. The Test has been officially dubbed the "Inzamam Test", it being the former captain's final international match. Mohammad Yousuf is also likely to play, but could the focus, as Graeme Smith questioned, on Inzamam be a distraction?

Lawson paused before answering, optimistically again. "It's a fascinating selection. Yousuf is training very hard at the moment. David Dwyer has given him a really good workout and he has come a long way in the space of a week.

"It will be hard to handle that [the Inzamam send-off]. Inzi deserves a great farewell, because he's been a great player. But we have worked hard over the last few weeks and we will do what we have to do to win the game. The game is not a testimonial and we're going to try and win it. I hope Inzi scores two hundreds."

If that happens and Pakistan do win, Lawson may find Lahore a more welcoming venue than Karachi.

Osman Samiuddin is the Pakistan editor of Cricinfo