Letter to Whatmore by Lawson

This article has been published on cricinfo and can be found here: http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/555445.html

Letter to Whatmore

A former coach welcomes the new arrival with a few words of advice

Geoff Lawson

February 28, 2012

Salaam aleikum, Davenell bhai

It has been many years since we first toured with Australia together, back in 1979, when you played so well against India. The wheel has turned almost full circle, just lacking the final shift across the line so artfully drawn by Sir Cyril Radcliffe.

The news of your (eventual) appointment has reached the shores of your former adopted homeland, and I must say I am quite pleased that your name plate will adorn the door of Room 3 at the National Cricket Academy admin block in Lahore. I note that contract negotiations were convoluted, complex and ambivalent, so all seems normal at the PCB.

Hopefully they have cleaned out my cupboards and those back issues of Optometry News, Playboy for Seniors and Golf Digest  have been consigned to the garbage, or at least sent over to the player accommodation.

I am sure the PCB liaison man, Zakir Khan, will have let you know about the security arrangements. I recall clearly his words to me when I discussed my possible engagement as the national coach after the untimely demise of Bob Woolmer: “Yes, Geoff, there will be plenty of security, you just won’t see them.” Comforting indeed, but my biggest fears when living in Lahore did not include IEDs or rogue terror cells but anopheles mosquitoes and dengue fever (which I contracted leaving Pakistan in 1982 and wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy).

I hope you get out to the regional centres like Multan, Faisalabad, Sialkot and Sheikhupura to see some of the local cricket. Some of the grounds are very poor and some very good. I would rate the stadium in Multan as one of the best in Asia – it’s certainly a far cry from the old ground on top of the hill in the middle of town where we played in 1980 and 1982.

You will find that, contrary to widespread belief outside of Pakistan, there are some quicker pitches that certainly favour seam bowling. If you look at the figures for the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy it is usually the pace bowlers who dominate. Occasionally there will be a slow turner; the National Stadium, Karachi, can be either good to bat on or a real haven for the slow bowlers. Generally, up north they produce the stronger, bigger physiques and therefore the faster bowlers.

I was pleasantly surprised by the standards of the better QEA teams. I thought the competition had quality and was robust. It is good when national team-mates go hard at each other in first-class games.

Make sure you have some input into the Pentangular Shield teams’ selection. That competition, between five provinces, is the equivalent of the Sheffield Shield. After the 24 or so first-class and corporate teams play their tournament, the national selectors pick five teams to represent Punjab, Sind (the two big boys, whose players come mostly from Lahore and Karachi), North West Frontier Province (now called Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Baluchistan, and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which include Rawalpindi and Islamabad. They only play each other once in four-day games, but those matches are hard-fought and of an excellent standard.

The guys who do well here are just about ready for the next step, and you never know in Pakistan when some young genius will pop out of the woodwork. Like Mohammad Amir, who has just arrived back in Lahore from detention in England. You should take the 20-minute drive over to Defence Housing and have a chat with him sooner rather than later, to see what his mental state is. I reckon he would benefit from getting straight back into cricket of some kind, if only at club level.

Also, Dav, be careful in the traffic. I know the roads are mostly crammed with bicycles, motorbikes, rickshaws and camel carts that move like treacle through a sieve, but those six lanes leading onto the Liberty Market roundabout remind me of Talladega Nights with Will Ferrell sans beard and driving license. Your experience in Colombo traffic will stand you in good stead, but try to get a driver who speaks passable English and isn’t a former auto-rickshaw operator. I wouldn’t bother getting behind the wheel myself, based on my driving experiences. I was perfect – three drives, three accidents. None were my fault, of course, as I was using the imperial driving code – which among many details mentions something about driving on the left-hand side of the road where possible – not the South Asian one, where the horn is compulsory and “give way” loosely translates as “go as fast as possible to beat the next guy into the gap that would maybe fit a dinky toy while avoiding the over-laden donkey dray”.

I must confess that when I moved into Room 3 at the NCA, most of Bob’s stuff, from cricket books to DVDs, rindless-marmalade jars and tea caddy were still there. I did find it a little disconcerting that the personal items of the much loved and respected coach had not been packed and despatched. I’m sure Ijaz Butt will have cleaned out my detritus immediately, given his statements regarding my usefulness to Pakistan cricket after his brother-in-law anointed him chairman of the board after the 2008 general election. Sad days for all.

With your vast experience in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India, the language barrier should be at ankle height. Most of the guys speak English, falling into a range from “better than Australians” to “you get the drift”. Cricket is the universal language, in any case. An outswinger is still gripped the same and a cover drive still gets hit through cover. Urdu and Hindi have many common words, although if they get to speaking Punjabi or Pashto, call for the gardener to translate. He used to run a video shop in the SWAT Valley until the Taliban arrived and issued an edict that no one should have fun.

A huge bonus for you will be that Misbah-ul Haq has taken over the captaincy. He is a bright, well-educated man, who understands the game exceptionally well. When in doubt, ask Misbah who should be in the team and he will give you players who aren’t someone’s second cousin’s brother’s uncle but rather are the most skilled for that position. He is a winner and plays no favourites, and will be an excellent sounding board for whatever strategy you feel will work best with the team. He sets a perfect example in work ethic and discipline, and it does make a difference when the senior players are doing all the right things, especially in their culture of age and respect going hand in hand.

Dav, I must issue a note of warning about dealing with the media in Pakistan, especially if you play against India and finish second – although that might never happen in the near future, given the political machinations at the highest level. Speak to Immie on this point: the Lion of Lahore may be the only person in Pakistan who can make it happen; now if only we could get Sachin to stand for the Lok Sabha, we could create cricket detente.

If the local journos want to be disrespectful and force their pre-conceived agendas on you, go right ahead and let them, unless you want several thousand views on Youtube. My son has installed the clip of me walking out of a press conference as my screen saver, so if I want to remind myself of how not to suck up to reporters I just hit Control F6 and amuse myself for three minutes.

But have no fear, Dav, of the man in the street. The press may have their private or provincial agendas, but I found the common man to be most friendly and hospitable. Even when we lost the occasional match, their approach to me was civil and respectful. Not an effigy in sight, burning or whole. They appreciated that a foreigner was in their country to help, to do his best and, win, lose or draw, to show respect for the nation and the culture.

I learned a bit of the lingo and stayed off the booze.  I recommend doing at least one of those.

Stay away from politicians, public meetings, police stations or military establishments. If taking the team to the Army School of Physical Training in Abbottabad, stay clear of buildings with just a few too many antennae sticking out of the chimney, and keep your head down if you hear helicopters approaching.

That’s about it, mate. These guys can play some wonderful cricket, and I’m sure they will listen and learn and benefit from your enormous knowledge of the game. I look forward to visiting you at Gaddafi Stadium when Australia return to play a Test there. When that happens, cricket really will be the winner.

All the best

Sahib Henry

Geoff Lawson played 46 Test matches for Australia, and has coached NSW and Pakistan. He now commentates on the game for ABC Radio

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Qurbani

Back to office after a long break, finding myself pervious about the impact of recent long holidays due to Eid-ul-Azha. Holidays are meant to provide and relaxing time and energize people to work more efficiently but I felt much burdened and now relived that the holidays are over. There is strong feeling of resentment that the maltreatment of a great and noble Sunnah passed on to us by Prophet Abraham, is actually resulting in loathing and dread from the newer generation. The streets become bloody and a ghastly foul smell is almost everywhere in the air. Odorous skins and animal parts lying around almost every corner makes this holy and blessed occasion into to a somewhat repugnant occasion. People do not dare to admit it. Some might even say its sacrilege to say such things.

I have spent 11 of my early years in Saudi Arabia. Never had I seen such sights on the streets of KSA. Here in Pakistan, I am reluctant to take my kid out on that day. I am keen to teach my son the importance of Qurbani, which is like Zakat, the distribution of meat among the deserving and relatives, the tradition of sharing bestowed upon us by great religion of Islam just like my Father did when I was a kid. But what answer do I have for my son if he asks about the amount of muckiness on display. You cannot expect a young boy appreciating the importance of sacrifice when he has to cover his nose all the time with his hands while jumping over puddles of blood just to get 2 steps down the Mohalla Street. Someone I know told me that his daughter does not eat meat anymore since the day she saw a slaughter of a sacrificial animal. The filth that surrounds us on that day can also cause diseases, like diarrhea and dysentery etc. We are creating a wrong message to our youth. We are converting the message of sacrifice into a message of gross.

Not only is the sacrifice, the performing of Hajj nowadays also a commodity available to the upper class rich people and just a dream for the middle and lower class. Are we not alienating the under privileged people from Islam’s core beliefs and shunning them towards alternative methods/practices which mostly fall under biddat? Another core problem faced by us today is the biddat of naïve people thinking that some mantar, some numbers, graves or magic can provide them salvation. It was not as bad as it is today from when I was a small kid. I still remember the modesty of people in those times. Nowadays, every year there is a competition of who gets the bigger, more expensive animal. Where is the sense of sacrifice in that? According to a study in 2008, 97.2% of the total population lives below the poverty line. Ironically, today people buy sacrificial animals at a price as much as PKR 10, 00,000/- and even more. Some people probably think that the bigger the animal the bigger amount of meat which can be distributed to the poor, there is only that much meat one can extract from an animal. It is the height of injustice that most of the people do not have money to buy necessity items and in contrast, some people have the luxury to buy animals in millions of rupees which are otherwise not worth as much, all in the name of sacrifice and sharing with the poor. The money lavishly spent on the animal does not make more meat for the poor.

Apart from the administrative authorities and our own civic duties, I believe it is also the responsibility of our so-called ministers of religions to induce the importance of cleanliness and modesty among common people. They after all claim incumbent authority in all religious affairs. If people are complaining that the new generation is always criticizing the mullahs or the right-wing parties, well, I’m afraid that the mullahs and the right-wing are providing the youth a damn good excuse to be that way. Why is there no campaign from the religious parties to control the over pricing of sacrificial animals, the regulations and centralization of sacrifices? Is this not an attempt to save the core values of my religious beliefs? Maybe they do not see these problems as a misrepresentation of Islam’s core values, which also include Cleanliness, Equality and Modesty.

I think the prices of sacrificial animals should be controlled and do not reach exuberating rates. There should be designated areas across the country where animals should be sacrificed with proper sanitation facilities. Apart from these administrative fixtures, we need to establish the soul and concept of the Sunnah of Prophet Abraham (PBUH) and always remember the poor and under privileged among us.

How much of Imaan do we gain on this Blessed day and how much do we lose? On sanitation alone, we lose half of it straight away because “Safai Nisf Imaan Hay”. After the remaining half, how much do you think we lose on account of modesty? Only ALLAH knows and I pray that HE forgives us all and enlighten us as a responsible nation.

Pleasentries on Pakistani Wall Street

Litter on Hasrat Mohani Road

Litter on Hasrat Mohani Road. “Cleanliness is half of Faith”. There goes our first half.

I pass this street countless times during the working days a week. The view is a busy street just on the back side of I.I. Chudrigar road, which is also one Pakistan‘s busiest roads. The street in the picture above, is so busy at lunch hours that you cannot find a path to walk on and maneuver around. This is where most of the people come to eat. Looking at the view above, its enough to make you puke and lose your appetite for a week! People would argue that it’s the job of Government to look after the trash. Sure, they clean up a few times during the week, but the pile just keeps coming back. There is no permanent solution to this problem as of yet. Although this is a serious issue on which the authorities have turned a blind eye on, but that does not relieve the public from its civic duties.

Lets just put aside the faith aspect of cleanliness for a while. It’s not un-known to the world about the harms that can a pile garbage like that can cause. Some are the obvious reasons, its Garbage after all. It can cause so many damning effects on the environment like general pollution and the greenhouse effect. Who gave us the right to throw around our trash wherever we like?. I mean governance or no governance, will we all become thieves of the society if given an opportunity?

The picture above is from a place where the few of the countries richest people come to work daily. How hard is it to spend some money jointly and sort the garbage problem permanently. Why can’t we all just carry a bin bag or something with us during our daily commutes and vow to use that for our petty trashes that we keep throwing around. Simply because nobody cares.

I feel sick. #OccupyIIChundrigarRoad