Players have gelled well with Malik - Lawson
Geoff Lawson hasn't had too much time to reflect since he began coaching Pakistan. A good start at the ICC World Twenty20 was followed almost immediately by a tough home series against South Africa. And before he can breathe he goes to India for the highest-profile, highest-stakes series in cricket: Pakistan-India. Cricinfo caught up with him before the last ODI against South Africa in Lahore for a brief chat.
You've been coach now for just over two months. How have you progressed with the team?
Geoff Lawson: Pakistan are a really good group. They are good people and that is the first thing: before they are good cricketers they are good people and that is important. They want to do well and work hard and we'll make them work hard. We've still got a long way to go - we, being David Dwyer [trainer] and myself as the imports so to speak - but the players are 9-12 months from being as fit as they should be.
Because we've had so much cricket and you can't train when cricket is on, we think they are that far away from where they should be as professional cricketers. They are a long way in front of where they were on 20th August [when Lawson began] so now we're getting there and we're happy with that. Players are responding to hard training and that's terrific.
They are good professional guys but we've got a long way to go in a lot of aspects. They are comfortable with their habits and some habits are easier to break and some are harder. That is what frustrates me most. We do some new things really well and then we fall back to old habits. That will take some time. I look back at the last ten weeks and am reasonably happy with the progress.
This is your first stint as an international coach. Has there been a big adjustment from domestic level?
Before, I was dealing with Glenn McGrath, Nathan Bracken, Brett Lee, Stuart Clark. They are the guys I have always dealt with - international players. As a commentator I have covered international cricket and have always been analysing it. I have been involved with international cricket since I retired.
You're not inside the dressing room but to a degree, because you deal with the players that I have just mentioned, you certainly have knowledge of what goes on inside the dressing room. It's great to have a perspective outside the dressing room and that is very important to bring to coaching sometimes. I've spent my life watching and analysing cricket so it's not particularly new to me. The big surprise has been just that the players have responded as well as they have. I thought that might have been more difficult because of the habitual stuff that they have. That's been the biggest surprise but the nicest one.
We can't just transplant an Australian system into Pakistan
because Pakistan cricket is different. It's got different building blocks,
different attitudes, it's a different culture
Moving on to the series just gone against South Africa, do you think the targets you set before it have been reached?
If you had asked me after the third ODI I would've been much happier. A part of what we have to do is a process - it is ongoing. Yes we've got to win every game but there are a whole lot of other things we have to do. We've come a fair way in that.
We've done some really good things but the Multan ODI was really disappointing. Not just that we got beaten but that we need to be consistent and we did most things wrong. Even when we were behind, we didn't show enough enthusiasm and energy in the field and you can't afford to do that. That was really disappointing, probably a step back. So we've probably taken two steps forward and one step back.
Given the fast bowling pool available in Pakistan, was it a mistake to rely so heavily on spin during the Test series?
We would love to have a batsman like Jacques Kallis who can bowl seamers, that would've been perfect. But anywhere you go in the world you have to pick the team depending on what the conditions are. We probably needed another seam bowling allrounder.
We have spin bowling allrounders and that is what you get in the subcontinent. In Australia and South Africa you get a lot of seam bowling allrounders because that is how you grow up. The wickets produce that sort of player. In retrospect we might have played three seamers in the Lahore Test but that wicket was so flat it would've ended a draw anyway.
We just didn't play well enough in Karachi, without much luck. Six days before that we were playing a Twenty20 final so it's unfortunate you end up losing the series, yet you have done so well just the Monday before. You have to play a Test just after losing a Twenty20 final but it still says 1-0 in the scorebook unfortunately. We tried to get over it [the switch in format] but it was a difficult thing to turn around. It was the first time in the history of cricket that any team has had to do that so we started slowly. Ultimately you just play the bowlers who you think will do the best job.
But there's still a lot of fast bowling talent around...
Absolutely. We have six really good ones in the squad at the moment and probably two or three just outside who look really good. That is a really nice situation to be in. With more cricket on, we have talked about when we'll have to rest players but it's just nice to know that you have some good fast bowling talent to work with.
One of the biggest series in cricket is just coming up with India. Has that affected the players in this series?
It's certainly been at the back of their minds. One of my tasks is to make sure it is not at the front of their minds because we have to win this series. Maybe we were thinking at Multan that we're 2-1 up and it was a nice comfortable place to be, and we're looking ahead.
Maybe we just needed to concentrate on the game and winning it. Obviously they were on the way to picking a squad there and people wanted to be in it. It will be a fantastic series and people have a high level of anticipation for that series. But we've got to get through this one and my interest as a coach is to be mentally in this game tomorrow. If we win, that will be the biggest stepping stone to India.
New faces are coming in on both sides...
It's kind of nice, a changing of the guard and great players leaving. That is always a little sad because people miss great players. But there's some new talent in both sides coming through and that will make this series very exciting. The fact that we played them in the Twenty20, played a tie, then lost by a few runs, there's not much between the two sides in that format of the game. The apparent evenness of the two sides and what happened in the Twenty20 has just whetted the appetite on both sides even more than these encounters always do. I think the very recent history between the two has been even more exciting and the addition of good young cricketers just adds more to what will always be a good contest.
How is Shoaib Malik coming along as captain?
We have a very good understanding and we get on very well. We sit down and discuss whatever, how practice is going, certain players, who's in the team etc. We're very good that way. The fact that he is a young captain helps both of us. He hasn't got entrenched ideas. He listens, takes things on board. He likes to do things a certain way. But he's only going to get better. He has done two Tests and a few ODIs but he is going to get better.
He is even better with the players. From what I can understand, how he interacts with the players is a bit different to how it used to be traditionally in Pakistan and that is a good thing. It's more towards - for want of a better word - an Australian type of system. Everyone in the Australian cricket team is basically equal: yes there are senior players but a player making his debut can have whatever conversation he can have with the captain any time. That is what we have to get to.
In this group we have at the moment, we're getting the hang of that. If you exchange ideas you become better cricketers and that is the bottom line. That is why we want more communication within the team and whatever squad we pick.
Has communication with the players been an issue at all?
My Urdu is coming along - they love it when I use Urdu. But no, there is very little problem. I just have to speak slowly because Australians speak quickly anyway. Just a couple of times if there has been a problem with some of the guys whose English isn't quite that good, the other guys will make sure they know. So that's almost been no problem at all. As long as I speak slowly and pronounce my words clearly which you should any time, there is no problem.
What can Pakistan take from the Australian system of cricket? Should it take something?
That's a part of why I have been given the job. But we have got to be careful: we can't just transplant an Australian system into Pakistan because Pakistan cricket is different. It's got different building blocks, different attitudes, it's a different culture.
The trick is to take the best of the Australian system and how they go about their cricket and introduce it to Pakistan. I'm still learning a lot about how the culture affects their cricket. Just the way they go about training. If you go to a club practice in Australia, even though they are amateurs, those guys practice at 1000 miles an hour. Fielding is done with intensity whether you are playing third grade or fourth grade cricket. Here the guys sort of stroll around and do a few and I find that really annoying but that is what they are used to.
So we want that Australianness - it's probably the same in South Africa - but we want that intensity into how we go about practice. We're getting there gradually, but you want the bits of an Australian system that work the best with the Pakistan system. Pakistan cricket has got some things that are fantastic and you don't want to change that. You want to make that better.
Osman Samiuddin is the Pakistan editor of Cricinfo