'I don't think we'll have to wait long for the results'
Others may see it as a poisoned chalice but Geoff Lawson is clearly excited at the prospect of coaching Pakistan. In an interview with TelePK.com soon after the PCB announced his name, Lawson spoke on the talent within the team, his 'thoughtful' captain and the need to be confident and consistent. The first optometrist to coach a national side spells out his vision for his new charge.
How does it feel to finally have got the job?
I am excited, nervous, anxious. I'm looking forward to it. It is a significant job and it's a challenge.
This is your first international job and it is outside your comfort zone. Do you have an idea of how different it will be?
I haven't been in an international dressing room since leaving the game but I have been on the other side of the fence, watching the game, analysing it. So I don't think it's too big a jump to be a coach now. I am involved in a lot of coaching in Australia, I am involved in commentating and I see a great deal of international cricket so all those ingredients should make the transition smooth.
Steve Rixon said that Bob Woolmer's death made him wary about the Pakistan job. You were also wary to begin with. What do you, and your family, feel about that now?
The security concerns had more to do with the uncertainty surrounding Woolmer's death. Any death is unfortunate but I suppose it's a good thing in one regard that Bob died of natural causes; it makes me certainly more comfortable. If there hadn't been all those rumours about how he could have died, I don't think security would have ever been an issue. I am very sure about that now; I am very happy with the security issue and the Pakistan board has been at pains to make sure that security will be fine.
Moving to the on-field challenges, what are the biggest issues with a team like Pakistan?
Playing consistently, making sure they play well away from home as well as at home, not minding outside influences - what people say or what crowds do - just really concentrating on playing good cricket. They have plenty of skills, there is so much talent around, but the task is making sure the players are confident that they can win anywhere, anytime and they go about trying to win every single game they play.
One of the most important parts of a coach's job is to communicate clearly. Do you think language might be a barrier since most of the squad are not fluent in English?
I am told that the squad are all learning English, so someone is making the effort somewhere. Yes, communication is important and I will be certainly trying to pick up some Urdu. If we need translators the board will surely get this done. We just want this to go as best as possible.
You have talked about how hungry the Pakistan players were to prove themselves when you saw them practising during the time you had gone for the interview. What were the things that came out during your interactions?
Sometimes it's just a feeling: you see players play the game and you just know what their attitude is. They (Pakistan players) came off the field in a practice game and I had a chat with them to try and understand where they were at and I just had this gut feeling that these guys were very serious about what they were doing. Perhaps they were determined to make up for the disappointments of the World Cup, I'm not too sure what their motivation was, but I was very impressed with their attitude. I just needed to get a strong feeling that they were very determined to do hard training and make sure everything they did was to the maximum.
I am told that the squad are all learning English, so someone is making the effort somewhere. Yes, communication is important and I will be certainly trying to pick up some Urdu. If we need translators the board will surely get this done
As a coach what are the most important things you would expect from a player?
As a captain or a coach or even as a spectator or a selector or a board member you expect the players to give 100% every time they walk on the field; now that 100% might vary if they are injured or tired but if they walk on to the field and give their maximum all the time then everyone walks away satisfied. That's what Australia do so well: they treat every single game as very important. They never go at it half-hearted, they never go at it three-quarters, they are always doing their best to win every game. That is a great approach to follow - that every game of cricket you play you have to treat it like it's your last one.
Have you had a chat with Shoaib Malik, Pakistan's new captain?
I had a brief chat with him during the training camp when I was there. My first impressions were very good: he is thoughtful, he might be one of those quiet leaders who commands respect; he won't go off half-cocked at anything and he will be a very considered leader.
You are one of the first genuine fast bowlers to take over as the head coach of a top national side. How can that help and which areas would you like the support cast to cover?
Naturally I will have a lot of input for the bowlers in particular. I have captained sides extensively and just being a fast bowler shouldn't limit your outlook on the game. It makes it exciting because there are a lot of fast bowlers in the Pakistan squad and they have proved very important to their success. I suppose apart from being a fast-bowling coach I would be the first optometrist to coach a national side as well.
At least you wouldn't require a bowling coach.
No, no. But why not a spin bowling coach?
So do you believe in having a support cast and then getting some consultants from time to time?
Getting specialists in every now and then, maybe for a few days or for specific camps, is a good idea. Different people respond to different coaching methods and different coaches have different ideas and sometimes players are exposed to a lot of different ideas and find out what's good for them.
Are you thinking of picking your own support team, have you earmarked any names?
I need to have that conversation with the PCB. They've asked me if I want to nominate any names and then we'll discuss further. I would imagine a Pakistani support cast and may be a couple of Aussies to back it up. But that will be decided over the next week or so.
Talking about coaching ideas, many of the Pakistan players haven't really had any formal coaching - how would you deal with that?
The other thing is we don't want to get too technical, we want to keep it simple and help them play their best. It will be a challenge for me to find what works best for the players. I suspect with the amount of talent available what will be more important is the mental side of the game, being organised, and being focussed every day rather than a lot of technical coaching. International cricketers don't really require a lot of technical stuff; when they do it's just to get them back on track. But it will be more of an attitudinal thing.
Woolmer had said that, fitness-wise, Pakistan were the last on his list. How can you fix that?
I was pretty impressed at what they were doing at the training camp, I think they have already taken steps in the right direction. Being at your peak fitness is the key to any elite sport and we'll have to keep an eye on that - it will be pretty important to us that everyone is as fit as they can be.
Back in your days at New South Wales you were popular for your 'get on or get out' philosophy. Would that work with individuals like Shoaib Akhtar?
The gist of that is playing aggressive cricket and taking the game to the opposition whether you are batting or bowling or fielding and Pakistan have got the style of player for whom that sort of attitude is suitable anyway.
Specifically talking about Shoaib Akhtar, how do you get the best out of him?
That will be for me to work out with him.
The 12 months have some big tournaments, starting with the Twenty20 World Championship and visits by South Africa and Australia, with the tour of India between those two series, then the Champions Trophy and Asia Cup. How would you ensure that you don't feel jaded at the end of it all?
Everyone has a tough programme in international cricket and we have to accept the way it is. Physically you've got to be exceptionally fit so that is obviously a priority. Mentally, it matters how players approach every game, how they would last over a period of time, how outside influences affect them, all those sorts of things. Then you have to have a good squad - you just can't have a good 11, 12 or 13, you need to have a good squad of at least 20 who are capable of playing international cricket anytime and try not to get individual players too jaded.
Realistically, Geoff, do you have a timeframe when you would feel settled to lay out your plans?
The programme is such that after the Twenty20 World Cup there is Test cricket, which is going to be tough. But I don't think we'll have to wait too long before we get the results because we've got good experienced players there.