Former Australian fast-bowler Geoff Lawson represented his country from 1980-1989 where he picked up 268 wickets in 125 international appearances. He was later to become only the third foreigner to take over as Pakistan’s Head Coach where he served with distinction between July 2007 and October 2008. His work methods and ethics were admired by all players under his tutelage which is why the reasons behind his departure on behest of the then PCB Chairman Ijaz Butt remain a mystery.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, fifty-eight year old Lawson gave his views on the issues that the next appointed Head Coach of Pakistan will need to confront, Mohammad Amir's return to international cricket, Salman Butt's international future, his interest in a role in the Pakistan Super League (PSL) and how Pakistan need to prepare for their tour of Australia.
By Saj Sadiq (3rd May, 2016)
PakPassion.net : How come you didn't apply for the role of Pakistan Head Coach?
Geoff Lawson : I'm pretty much tied up and employed in the cricket world with my role at New South Wales Cricket at the moment which involves the state team and also the Sydney Sixers. However if someone from the Pakistan Cricket Board were to approach me then it might be a little different. Obviously I've already had a go at that job and they'd have to show some interest for me to follow it up.
PakPassion.net : The Pakistan Head Coach role has been described as one of the toughest jobs in world cricket, do you think that's a fair assessment?
Geoff Lawson : I guess like all jobs it's got its challenges. The fact that Pakistan cannot play any cricket at home is a big part of the issue. You don't get the home support of the fans which makes things all that much more difficult and nobody else in world cricket has that problem at the moment. My experience with Pakistan cricket was a very positive one with all the players and the administration. I didn't find the role particularly difficult or any more challenging than what it what would have been like coaching another side like India or Sri Lanka. I think the role has challenges but they're all good challenges to have.
PakPassion.net : Waqar Younis in his latest tenure has had his fair share of problems and issues as Head Coach. I guess those problems and issues increase for a non-Pakistani?
Geoff Lawson : Watching from a distance, I think Waqar Younis has done a good job. I actually think being an 'outsider' has its advantages as you are in a position where you don't feel the internal pressure and politics and you can just get on with coaching the team. The time when I was in the role I think Pakistan benefited from having an international coach rather than a home coach and we also got lots of local coaches to help and be around the team. I think it's a big plus for the Pakistan team if they have an overseas coach.
PakPassion.net : You had some advice for Dav Whatmore when he was appointed. Any advice for the incoming Pakistan Head Coach?
Geoff Lawson : Well that depends who gets the job. If it's a local guy then that's a totally different situation to an overseas coach. I still keep in touch with some of the Pakistan players and understand what they are thinking. Their attitude hasn't changed, they still want to go out there and play some great cricket and have good careers and represent their country. None of that really changes. The motivation for any coach or player is pretty much the same. I think it's just important to focus on the cricket and not get involved in any of the politics.
PakPassion.net : The attitude and lack of worth ethic of some Pakistani players has come into question recently after comments from some of the coaches. Was this a problem that you encountered during your tenure?
Geoff Lawson : I'd like to think that when I was there with the fitness trainer David Dwyer we developed a culture that was about hard work. There were a lot of young players there when I was coach and a lot of the older brigade had retired after the 2007 World Cup. It was a young and enthusiastic group and I thought we instilled some really good work ethics at the gym, with the player's diet and work ethic during practice sessions. I didn't have any trouble with that and we were heading in a great direction and the players did learn a lot about the disciplines that are necessary during that period.
Now if they are going away from that and if there is a degree of laziness then players and coaches have to be responsible for that and also the selectors too. If people aren't willing to work hard then there are enough good young players in Pakistan to replace them. Get people in who are motivated. If you aren't motivated playing for your country, then there is no point in playing cricket. It would dishearten me if that work ethic that we developed has disappeared. Pakistan has had some pretty successful times lately under Waqar Younis and Misbah-ul-Haq and one would hope that the players would continue to be motivated.
PakPassion.net : Why do you think Pakistan has struggled in the limited overs formats lately?
Geoff Lawson : I still take a lot of interest in Pakistan cricket and a lot of the players that I worked with are still involved. Limited overs cricket can be a pretty tough gig. I think Pakistan's problems have been largely due to the lack of fitness of their fast bowlers and their injury problems particularly in regards to Mohammad Irfan. You need to get your best bowlers out there on the park and that has not happened a lot for Pakistan. In addition, the lack of consistency in selection hasn't helped. If you lose a couple of games that doesn't mean you should make lots of changes to the team. There is a lot of potential there but you have to be patient with players.
PakPassion.net : Mohammad Amir has made an impressive comeback. How do you see his career developing in future?
Geoff Lawson : I'm not only impressed by his comeback but also very pleased for him. I remember him as a very young player who came to some of our practice sessions when I was coaching Pakistan. He was working with the Under-19s and even then looked very impressive. I'm pleased that after a difficult period he's come back bigger and stronger and is bowling terrifically well. I think it's wonderful for him as an individual and it's also very good for Pakistan cricket that he's back. It's really good to see Amir back.
PakPassion.net : Do you think Salman Butt will have the motivation to play for Pakistan again and do you think he can make an international comeback?
Geoff Lawson : Salman Butt was in line for an outstanding international career and that's why he was made captain of Pakistan. He's still a relatively young guy and I think he can make a comeback for Pakistan. From what I saw when I was his coach, he was an outstanding talent. That talent doesn't go away but it does depend on how much you are motivated and how much you still want to do well. I would suggest that Butt is highly motivated and it wouldn't surprise me if he made a successful international comeback.
PakPassion.net : What are your thoughts on Day/Night Test cricket?
Geoff Lawson : I think Day/Night Test cricket with the pink ball works pretty well. I'm surprised at the resistance of a few other countries and even from some of the Australian players who only want to play one Day/Night Test match this season. Given the flatness of pitches and the quality of cricket balls at the moment I'm surprised more people aren't in favour of Day/Night Tests.
I thought the pink ball Test worked very well last year and it was the most exciting game we had in Australia last year. It went three days but that had more to do with batsmen not concentrating hard enough, but it was better than dull, boring draws.
Well done to Pakistan in agreeing to play a Day/Night Test match in Australia. The pink ball is not that different to a red ball in any case, you just have to practice with it and it's fine. We use red or white, so why not use pink cricket balls? Pakistan should be congratulated on agreeing to play in Australia with the pink ball. A Day/Night Test match is a special event and at last year's match there were huge crowds, almost sell-outs of 50,000 every day at Adelaide and it worked very well.
PakPassion.net : Is the Pakistan Super League (PSL) a gig that you would be interested in at some point in the future?
Geoff Lawson : I got asked last year to be part of it but I was tied up with New South Wales Cricket so because it was in February which is right in the middle part of our season I had to give it a miss. I would love to get involved with that in future and get back and familiarise myself with all of the players in Pakistan domestic cricket, like I did when I was there in Pakistan. I'd like to be a part of the PSL in future and make a contribution. It looks like it's been a success and I have a great affinity with the players and the game of cricket in Pakistan and it would be terrific to be involved with the Pakistan Super league in future. So if anyone wants to use me then they should feel free to contact me.
PakPassion.net : Looking ahead to Pakistan's tour of Australia, do you think Pakistan can be competitive on that tour?
Geoff Lawson : Pakistan have to approach the tour positively. It's no good saying we never do well in Australia and worrying about the pitches. They just have to be positive. A lot depends on who is going to be captain. Misbah-ul-Haq has a great attitude to the game and it's no surprise Pakistan has done so well in Tests under his leadership. He knows how to lead and him being in charge in Australia will be very important for Pakistan. But what is also important is for Pakistan to have the right coach when they tour Australia. If you get people motivated and playing to their full potential then you can win anywhere. The wickets in Australia are a lot flatter these days and there's a lot less pace and bounce in them now than there was ten or twenty years ago. The pitches in Australia will suit Pakistan more now than they ever have.