A Question of Culture
by Silly Point

Player:Sarfraz Nawaz, Intikhab Alam, Javed Miandad, RA Woolmer

DateLine: 5th January 2005


'Having a foreign coach is not in our culture' – It's a statement that has intrigued me for a number of reasons. Firstly, because I believe it represents more than a cricketing statement and is a reflection of the direction our society is taking. Secondly, because somewhat surprisingly I partly agree with it but must hastily add that I am not joining the 'populist' rhetoric of the likes of Intikhab Alam, Sarfraz Nawaz, Javed Miandad and some politicians that have jumped on the bandwagon of criticising Bob Woolmer for entirely their own selfish reasons. Saleem Malik was the latest to come out against foreign coaches and if anyone was under the impression that the disgraced Malik was making a comment purely out of his anguish at the Pakistan team's performance it soon came out that he harbours – as do some of the other aforementioned individuals – a desire to coach the Pakistan team. So why not take an opportunity to undermine the present incumbent?


I will explain the reasons why I think that 'our culture' has not in the past been conducive to foreign coaches. But I will also explain why I think it is now imperative, for the long term health of Pakistan cricket, that we change this culture. For this reason I am a firm believer that it is essential Pakistan employ the best possible man for the job – be he a foreigner or a local. Bob Woolmer is a highly regarded, fully qualified master coach. I cannot think of a better man to have in the coach's position. I remember a recent conversation with a number of ICC officials who remarked how well the PCB had done to persuade Woolmer to come on board. There was absolutely no doubt in their minds that Woolmer, along side, John Buchanan, was the most complete coach in world cricket today. The general opinion was that the likes of Dav Whatmore, Duncan Fletcher and John Wright came just below the top two.


Before I go on, let me point out some of the immediate drawbacks of having a home-grown coach. Firstly, local coaches are prone to be caught up in local player politics whether it is through justified or unjustified accusations of nepotism/favouritism or the remains of a relationship that has carried over from the time when the coach played with the players he now coaches. Javed Miandad, for example, always had a stormy relationship with Wasim Akram – as a player and later as a coach. The local coach will be embedded in this environment and extricating oneself from it is always problematic. The foreign coach carries no such past history.


More fundamentally, Pakistan has very few appropriately qualified coaches. Being a great player does not qualify you as a coach – this is the case with Viv Richards, Geoff Boycott, Kapil Dev or Javed Miandad. In fact, evidence shows that great players rarely make good coaches – they are simply too gifted to be able to understand why others cannot perform the way they did. This is not only true for cricket but also for other sports. John Wright, Dav Whatmore, Bob Woolmer and Duncan Fletcher were not exceptional players but they are all acknowledged to be coaches of the highest standing.


Furthermore, the need to have a qualified coach has also increased over the last decade as the game of cricket has changed. There was a time when teams did not have coaches and remained extremely successful. That does not mean that the present West Indies team, for example, should fire their current coach and expect that they will regain the glory years of the 70s and 80s. The game of cricket, like all other sports, is changing and unless players adapt accordingly, they will go the way of the dinosaurs. There is no doubt that in the last 10-15 years, professionalism and fitness have gained in currency. It is no longer the case that talent on its own will consistently win you matches – yes the flashes of brilliance that Pakistan are so well known for will win you a few matches but the inconsistency which Pakistan are also known for will remain entrenched. The trend has been very similar in hockey where the balance of power has shifted to the European teams which may lack the raw talent of India or Pakistan but whose players are fitter and stronger than ours. Even in tennis, fitness and strength have come to dominate skill and touch.


That does not mean that natural flair for a game is completely sidelined, just that it is essential now that it be backed up by fitness and professionalism. The current South African team, for example, have always appeared to lack the raw talent to make them genuine world beaters.


In contrast, the Australian cricket team, talented as it is, has also reached a supreme level of fitness and professionalism. It is also true that the first South Asian team to follow Australia's example was Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankans produced a number of world class players in the 90s including Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva, but it was only after the Australian Dav Whatmore took over their reins as coach that the team went on to lift the World Cup. The Sri Lankan performance then was marked by a high degree of professionalism and fitness – excellent running between the wickets, superb fielding and a measured approach in both batting and bowling. All this enhanced a team already rich in natural talent.


Similarly, India have been transformed into the team most likely to topple Australia. Again the influence of their coach, John Wright, has been critical in bringing about a transformation. The nucleus of the team was the same before Wright took over – Kumble, Harbhajan, Ganguly, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman have all been playing for well over 5 years. But it was Wright's approach which saw India become the team they are today. In both cases, Sri Lanka and India, the natural talent and flair of the teams has been supplemented by a new professionalism and mindset. This has been instituted through their respective coaches – both of whom incidentally were foreigners and both of whom shook up and changed the existing torpor that had become the 'culture' of the Sri Lankan and Indian teams.


For me, the 'culture' that was prevalent in both Sri Lanka and India and which is now so often being alluded to in the context of Pakistan cricket can best be described through reference to everyday life in Pakistan. I have two examples in the last two months. 6 weeks ago I took my car to the mechanic and was informed that the car would be ready for me to pick up in 10 days. Today, I am still waiting for my car. I know that when eventually repaired the car will run superbly but the time lag shows a certain lack of professionalism. Similarly, I have had a piece of furniture copied – the reproduction was perfect but it took 10 days longer than the estimate given to me. The craftsmanship is good – the professionalism lacking.


That leaves Pakistan in much the same position as Sri Lanka and India were at one point and it is absolutely essential that rather than heed calls for a regressive step back to the culture that has been the norm in the past, we embrace a new direction. The PCB have taken the plunge by employing Bob Woolmer. This represents a forward looking, long term policy that will benefit Pakistan cricket immensely. But it will take time. There are no short cuts to success – there weren't for Australia when Bob Simpson pulled them out of their mid-1980s slump and there aren't for Pakistan today.


I will conclude by coming back to what I started with – that the resistance to having a foreign coach is more than a cricketing statement it is a reflection of the resistance to change and modernity within our society.


But history has shown that progress in any field requires constant innovation and an openness to new ideas. As soon as that innovation is abandoned, progress comes to an abrupt halt. Many Muslim scholars, for example, have traced the decline of Muslim civilisation to the point when conservatism rather than innovation began to dominate Muslim thinking. Societies that had been at the forefront of advances in knowledge particularly in the fields of science, astronomy and mathematics suddenly adopted a conservative stance, stopped innovating and began to look to the past. The decline set in at this point as old interpretations no longer provided suitable answers to the difficult questions posed by a changing world.


Today Pakistan cricket faces much the same choices and the evidence lies in font of us. In my opinion Pakistan must persist with an enlightened, forward looking strategy and abandon the self-serving and ultimately self-destructive calls of those who call for a return to a regressive and outmoded approach that will surely be the death knell of Pakistan cricket in the long-term.

(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
Copyright © 2005 Silly Point)