Monday, July 23, 2007

Long live the king - Nestaquin

Optometrist Geoffrey Francis Lawson, son of Wagga Wagga and known throughout the continent as plain old Henry, recently accepted a lucrative offer from the Pakistan Cricket Board to coach the national squad for the next two years. It is a curious decision for both parties.

When first approached some two months ago Lawson scoffed at the offer. “A 1000 planets would have to align” was his curt response when asked if he was interested. His concerns were many and serious.

At the time rumour and innuendo were rife about the nature of Bob Woolmer’s demise. Lawson spoke of “safety being a big factor” and no-one doubted whose safety Geoff was referring. Once the police investigations were complete Lawson warmed a little towards such a prominent appointment stating, “Once the Woolmer event was resolved, that made me feel better about things”.

There were, however, other fears that needed assuaging. Most of them concerning the Pakistani players. Chief amongst these worries was the attitude of the cricketers. There is a discernment throughout the cricketing world that Pakistan are unfit, ill disciplined and poorly motivated. There is plenty of evidence that this is indeed the case. The recent World Cup debacle and the petulant forfeiture at Kennington Oval in 2006 are two of the more publicized attestations of recent years.

Their opening bowlers Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif were pulled from the 2006 Champions Trophy after producing a positive urine test for nandrolone. Taken predominately by post menopausal women to treat osteoporisis, ingesting the banned anabolic steroid earned the meretricious Akhtar a 24 month ban, and in a somewhat perplexing decision, the equally guilty Asif a 12 month stint in the nets. These convictions were soon overturned in controversial circumstances. The players were found not guilty on appeal not because they were innocent but because of a legal technicality from the original case.

Lawson. as befits a country squire with a liberal education, adores the moral high ground and this situation disturbs him. Ethically, Henry sees the world mostly in black and white and his attitude regarding performance enhancing drugs is well known. Pakistan officials have been told in no uncertain terms that if there is a repeat indiscretion Lawson will resign immediately. Considering that players take these substances in the shadows away from prying eyes, and knowing that Lawson is an intelligent, experienced and skilled media performer, it is an obstreperously ill directed public ultimatum that will undoubtedly bear a bitter fruit in the fertile political soil that is Pakistan cricket.

It is anathema to an Australian sportsman to not give total effort when competing in a team environment. It is linked to the mythical and ephemeral ANZAC spirit affectionately and colloquially known as mateship. “Not having a go” is the greatest sporting sin an athlete can commit. Three seasons back on Pakistan’s last tour of Australia, Lawson in the employ as cricket analyst at the publicly owned Australian Broadcasting Commission routinely described the visitors cricket as abysmal and their efforts disgraceful. Always the public diplomat Henry balanced his views with the diametrically disguised diatribe along the theme that the team was brimming with talent.

Now a rookie international coach Lawson has stressed the importance of pride, mongrel and respect on every occasion available. In a lengthy interview with Cricinfo’s Assistant Editor Nagraj Gollapudi, the new coach put forward his philosophy for turning around Pakistan’s pusillanimous performances.

“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 percent every time they walk on the field; now that 100 percent 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.”

It would appear obvious to most that the Pakistan Cricket Board have appointed Lawson with this philosophical paradigm in mind. Only three coaches were interviewed and all were Australian. Despite his inexperience and the natural language barrier - only 4 players within Pakistan’s squad understand English - the PCB chairman Dr Nasim Ashraf has admitted that it is the quintessential Australian sporting nature of Lawson that got him the nod over his vastly more successful and qualified compatriot Dav Whatmore, “He is an educated no-nonsense fellow with a positive outlook and that Australian attitude we are looking for”. Lawson concurred, “I think they appreciate how the Australian approach to playing cricket is a successful one and that's what they're trying to tap into”.

Lawson, before accepting the poisoned chalice, also expressed concerns about the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in mainstream Pakistani culture and the fact that the Pakistan Cricket Board’s patron - the real boss - is military dictator General Pervez Musharraf. He cited reports that the players infatuation with Islam was affecting their cricket, even stating that he had heard that fielders were substituted during international matches to allow them to kneel towards the Kaba and pay homage from the prayer mat. For a secular cricketer like Lawson this recent development in Pakistani society and sporting culture is barely comprehensible. “I’ll be having none of that” was his final comment on the situation before appointment.

Coronated King Henry in the Pakistani media, Lawson has now softened his tone, "I believe they have overcome those obstacles," he said. "I think the board, the players and maybe some religious leaders have set out some conditions for when players can pray during matches, and how much work they can do during Ramadan. They are professional athletes, and as a coach you are looking for them to maximise their own potential.”

It is ironic that in a country that prohibits gambling that the PCB would plunge so heavily in entrusting Geoff Lawson with the stewardship of the national side. He possesses a mediocre decade old first-class coaching record and has no international experience, he understands very little about the changing nature of Pakistani society and he proudly possesses the natural lack of empathy required of an Australian Test quick. He said upon his appointment, "I don't suffer fools and I don't put up with second best”.

Combine Lawson’s quirks, insecurities and forthright attitude with the fractious nature of the Pakistani administration, an out of the loop and outspoken ex-player lobby, a newly appointed untested captain, a caviling squad with a poor work ethic, in addition to the widening linguistic, religious and cultural divide between the West and Pakistan, all under the unsleeping eye of an unpopular and tottering military dictatorship and it is not difficult to imagine some tough times ahead for the man affectionately known as Henry.

14 comments:

MotM said...

It's never dull Pakistan cricket!

You outline some of the challenges faced by Lawson, but I suggest that they are not as great as portrayed or, at least to some extent, offset by the talent available. Despite everything, Pakistan are fourth in the ODI rankings and sixth (but not far off fourth in the Test rankings.

The prospect of Lawson getting Pakistan even at 90% of potential would really shake up world cricket.

Good to see you here Nesta.

DoctorShoot said...

Nesta
welcome back!!
Excellent article.

I agree with Mouth that it probably isn't quite as grim as your entertaining picture would have one believe, cricketwise, in Pakistan.

Henry is certainly a little fragile vis a vis the cultural component, but he is very smart about performance expectations and negotiations with individuals, and has a sense of humour as dry as the proverbial dead dingo's donger, which is probably one step higher than Greg Chappell in that area.

And he seems to be an exceedingly astute analyst of games as they unfold. His best coaching may be during the game, and in the case of Pakistan that's exactly where they need it.

the job of translator / interpreter for the miking up during the games will be an interesting one.

MotM said...

I suspect that they all speak English, but only four are admitting it.

guitougoal said...

Nesta,
You and Greegrass, please stop by my office on your way out, you have a lot of explaining to do.
Grumpy old Guitou from Paris.:)

nesta said...

Thanks guys for reading and commenting.

Gui - I have a note from my Mum. I'll drop it in to the office on my way out.

Mouth and Doc - I deliberately painted a darker picture than the apparent reality mainly because the research indicated that Pakistan society and their cricket is confused, angry and in shadow.

Henry has his work cut out if he is to mould Pakistan into a consistent competitive unit.

And I think it is time that the myth was exploded that that hiring Australians will somehow transform
attitude. The way Australains play cricket is a cultural attittude that we learn in the schoolyard and the backyard. I'm not sure that mateship can be properly defined yet alone taught to grown men from an alien culture.

As Doc would know, Henry doesn't put up with any crap and he is bound to have problems with either a few players or members of the board. He is already making ultimatums (never a good start) and When it comes to the crunch if Lawson doesn't get his own way he will walk.

Saying that, A quarter million bucks a year may keep Henry in the job a bit longer than I expect.

Inzamam has not been offered a contract for the coming year and now he reckons that the board should have chosen Whatmore. The backlash has started and I wish Henry the best of luck.

And has enough time passed to do a critical assessment of Bob Woolmer's tenure as Paki coach. I've been taught not to speak ill of the dead so I will not write what I have discovered until Mr Mersey (being a compatriot and a sensible and respectful one at that) says that the grieving period is over.

MotM said...

Nesta - I suspect that Pakistan cricket has always been played against political and cultural turmoil. History shows that Pakistan deliver plenty of ups as well as downs in the international arena (well, they count as ups for non-Aussies) despite it all. Inevitably whatever decision is made over the coach would provoke a backlash from someone. And the talent tap seems to be permanently open.

On the more general point about importing Aussie attitudes, I'd make two comments. It worked in English Rugby League and sports like rowing I think and I suspect there are other examples. Secondly, nobody would expect Shoaib to turn into McGrath, but if Henry can work on a whole lot of Steve Waugh's 1%s for each team member, that'll be enough to win a lot of matches.

Re Woolmer, now it looks like a tragically early death due to health problems - and I have heard no suspicions otherwise - there's a lot of sympathy for what his family were put through and the way they bore up, but it's over now and a re-appraisal of his work as a coach after all the tributes perhaps overdue. I can hardly speak for everyone, but I wouldn't see it as a problem and look forward to your pungent anaysis!

guitougoal said...

Nesta,
a note from your Mum.....indeed.And your next assignement is: to research and analyse the migration of australian
snails through the desert, the influence of the weather on their average speed.
Ebren should be very excited with a new scientific look for pseuds.

mimi said...

Nesta: interesting and thought-provoking and agree with the others, good to see you back here.
Mouth: not sure about Aussie influence on rowing culture here - think it's more Jurgen Groebbler (sp?) and a certain Redgrave who have altered the mindset in that sport, but happy to put hand up if wrong.

DoctorShoot said...

Nesta
the other bit of armoury which Henry Lawson has to offer (over and above little chapelli) is charm and graciousness which, doctorwoman advises me, are key door openers in Pakistan.

BTW:
snail racing in the desert has been removed as a sport since the banning of certain performance altering substances like lettuce and carrot tops... the fastest moving snail ever officially timed was 1200 mtrs in 37 seconds in Adelaide in 1962(dropped from a plane)...

when sporting prowess from other places (i.e. colonial satellites) is discussed, one may notice how carefully European cafe culture avoids mention of walter lindrum...
speaking of which is it true that Shane Waaaarne is going to take his own 20/20 (million $) side into the rebel world cup in India?

mimi said...

Doc: was that graciousness or graciousless that you were referring to? I'm not sure everyone this side of the planet would ascribe graciousness to the Aussies - bearing in mind of course that I love you all dearly, but I don't have to be nice now because I HAVE MY VISA!!! I suppose they could withdraw it if I write horrid things about your lot, but hey, not likely to do that. Am I ???? I did worry about it a bit when I applied cos they asked for a password and I gave them Collingwood - they might have thought I was taking the piss! Comments Lev?

DoctorShoot said...

Mimi
as you well know the gracious Australian, sitting cobweb-covered on the shelf next to the hens tooth and the easy life, is always there for those of us who believe...

using the password 'collingwood' of course puts you in an elite club of about 70,000 gracious aussies...

hear them roar:

"up there cazaly!!" (it so gentle)
"in there and fight" (gently)
"Out there and at 'em, show 'em your might" (slightly exhibitionist however meekly so)
"Up there cazaly, don't let 'em in"
(a tad more aggressive though still polite in an australian way and reminiscent of the general immigration policy)
"Fly like an angel, you're out there to win" (ah the fighting angel... if Collingwood win the grand final this year you may be able to convert your visitor visa to permanent residency)...

levremance said...

Mimi - The Republic of Collingwood issued its citizens with separate travel documents a couple of years ago. No doubt as a first step in our bid for UN membership and eventually a seat on the security council.

Viva President Eddie.

Good stuff Nesta and good luck Henry. I think he's gunna need it and I'll miss him on the cricket radio.

offsideintahiti said...

Nesta,

I've no idea what you're talking about, just want to say Hi and nice to see you back here and at the Other place too.

mimi said...

I don't think I ever know what anyone talks about ever. Just sort of read and hope occasionally to make sense. Vain hope, yeh?

Tweet it, digg it