The Pakistan Cricket Board today appointed Geoff Lawson as the national coach, ending a lengthy wait since the death of Bob Woolmer during the World Cup. Lawson, the former Australian fast bowler, has been appointed for two years and edged out compatriots Dav Whatmore and Richard Done in the race for the job.
Whatmore was the early favourite on the three-man shortlist, but it is understood a number of players, as well as key members of team management, were more keen on Lawson and passed on their preference to the board. Whatmore's cause was not helped by the former Sri Lanka captain, Arjuna Ranataunga, who was alleged to have advised Pakistan against Whatmore during a chance meeting with a top PCB official in Glasgow.
Pakistan have had 11 different coaches in the past 10 years, with three stints for former great Javed Miandad and Richard Pybus, Pakistan's first foreign coach, with Woolmer taking over from from Miandad in June 2004.
Lawson told Cricinfo the prospect of bringing out the best talent in Pakistan lured him to the job. "It is such a talented team that you have to be excited working with them," he said.
Lawson came over for an interview with the board earlier this month and met the players as well, a meeting he says which helped him to make the final decision to accept the offer.
"A series of events essentially led me to the job. Two months ago, this was a long way from my mind. I got a call asking whether I would be interested and I waited on the findings of the Bob Woolmer case because that was important. I came over and met with the board and the players and I have to say I was very impressed with the set-up, their ideas and vision. The chief [chairman Nasim Ashraf] was very impressive."
This will be Lawson's first international assignment though he has been head coach with New South Wales (NSW) and is currently involved officially with the state. But his state experience and his media work, he says, will help him adjust.
"It's a different level no doubt," he said. "But I've worked with high-performance players at NSW. Nathan Bracken and Stuart Clark are sort of my pupils and I've worked with Glenn McGrath as well, so I have that experience. Also my media work has taken me round the world as an analyst so I haven't been too far from the game ever."
Lawson is also a rarity in that he is an ex-fast bowler, a breed not renowned much for their coaching abilities. Pakistan, with an abundance of fast bowling talent, is a fitting first job. "They have some terrific talent. Shoaib [Akhtar] - we have to make sure he is fit and consistent. Rao Iftikhar, Mohammad Sami, Mohammad Asif - these guys make up a quality pace attack. And there's more beyond them, big guys who bowl fast. Quality fast bowlers basically help you win Tests and I am excited about working with them."
One of the questions surrounding the appointment of any foreign coach in Pakistan is about communication. With many Pakistani players not fluent in English, is the language barrier one that will be overcome? "It won't be straightforward," said Lawson. "But it is nothing that can't be overcome. There are ways around it and we'll make sure whatever is needed to be done to overcome it will be, whether that is an interpreter or whatever.
"Ultimately, you look at soccer and see how many foreign coaches succeed there and how many players of different nationalities they have to deal with. They do it and we will do it here. We will speak the language of cricket."
Pakistan have busy times ahead, the Twenty20 World Championships a precursor to an international season that includes visits by South Africa and Australia with a tour to India sandwiched in between for good measure.
"We hit the ground running really, as there are some big series coming up. I know what I want to do with the team and where we should go. History will judge my move here but I hope, ultimately, that Pakistan will remember me as one of the best coaches they ever had."