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Lawson — the right choice shooting from the hip

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PETER ROEBUCK
PETER ROEBUCK

A risk worth taking

All things considered, Geoff Lawson was the right choice to coach the Pakistan cricket team. Officials could only select from the list presented to them, a collection curtailed by recent disturbances. Only resolute, audacious or desperate contenders threw their hats into the ring.

Coaching Pakistan is an especially fraught occupation. Doubtless the number and calibre of the candidates was affected by the death in office of the previous occupant, a fate expected amongst Popes, Kings and hip-hop singers but not otherwise regarded as an attraction.

Every coach understands the fragility of his position. Tenure depends upon the performances of a team playing a famously fickle game. A coach sends his players onto the field with crossed fingers. Driving instructors have a more tranquil time. Moreover Pakistan lives more on its nerves than any rival.

Unpredictable team

Here is a notoriously unpredictable team playing in a country that can lurch between torment and delirium, a fraught nation represented by a team that has been embroiled in numerous controversies. High expectations and proud memories add to the volatility. It is not a job for the faint-hearted.

Consider Pakistan’s recent history. Drug scandals of the sort commonplace amongst cyclists, ball tampering and leaving the field in a huff have featured prominently. Nor has the past been without compromised captains. Worse, the team has flattered to deceive. By no means could a new coach rely on a surge of welcoming victories.

Unsurprisingly some eminently qualified coaches stayed away.

Accordingly the field was left open to three Australians and the usual collection of former players trapped in the twilight between the commentariat and the field. No serious consideration can have been given to nominating one of the retired champions.

By a conservative reckoning Javed Miandad has had three stabs at the job; almost as many as it took to polish off Julius Caesar. Most of the rest have also tried their luck. None has been able to extract himself from the infighting.

In any case none of these contenders has shown form as a coach, a profession taken seriously elsewhere. Not until coaching is regarded as a separate skill to playing will Pakistan produce proper coaches from its own ranks.

Last men standing

Amongst the Australians, Lawson, Richard Done and Dav Whatmore were the last men standing. Done has little experience coaching at high levels and his application may have been a dry run.

Whatmore thrived in Sri Lanka but was frustrated by the lack of progress in Bangladesh. Perhaps it was time for him to take a break. After a long stint on the road, domestic cricket must have its attractions.

Slightly to his surprise, Lawson’s application found favour. Notions that he is out of touch are wide of the mark. Admittedly the lanky paceman has been concentrating more upon building his career in the media than upon coaching, but he has been helping the New South Wales bowlers, and several of his charges have ended up representing their country.

Also he has directed operations at the University of NSW cricket club. He remains a consummate cricketing man, dedicated, ambitious, opinionated, sometimes awkward, widely respected.

Partly because his desire has been naked and his company sometimes uncomfortable, he has never been part of the Australian cricketing crowd and will bring to his new position a wealth of knowledge and the unspent energy of the frustrated.

Not that Lawson is bound or even likely to succeed. Jose Mourinho himself might find the task beyond him. Just that he was the pick of this particular crop. It is a risk worth taking.

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