I wanted to pack my bag and make a run for it, says former Pak coach Mark Coles about life-changing days
Mark Coles, the former Pakistan head coach, had doubts over how his stint with the team would pan out, after finding himself in an unknown space, he has revealed. The nervousness got to him so much that he couldn’t tell his name to the receptionist of the hotel he checked into a hotel in Dubai, en route to Lahore from Auckland.
“When I checked in, I was a nervous wreck,” said Coles in an interview with stuff.co.nz. “I ended up on the plane thinking, ‘What the hell am I doing?’”
His reaching Lahore in the middle of the night and being flanked by armed guards only added to the misery, given that it was his first stint with an international side and in a land, where language was a barrier for him, too.
“I remember lying on the bed thinking, ‘You got yourself into this. This is what you wanted, remember? You can’t go home. You’re stuck here now, so you’re just going to have to pull up your socks and get on with it, because there’s no way out.’”
Coles was appointed to the post in September 2017, months after Pakistan’s dismal outing in the Women’s World Cup, 2017. It was the first time Pakistan were having a foreign coach at the helm, which was on a trial basis.
“There were 30 Pakistani girls standing in front of me. Some didn’t speak English,” said Coles.
“Many were looking at me, like, ‘Yeah, I have no idea what this white bloke is saying’. My glasses kept fogging up and I couldn’t stop sweating.”
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“I said, ‘Look, I don’t really know what has gone on here in the past. But I’ve watched you play against New Zealand, and we’re playing them again in a month’s time. We need to get ready. All I ask is that you do your very best. That way, no matter if we win, lose or draw, we’ve still won.’”
However, Coles began gradually settling into the role and discovered that the players hadn’t been paid their dues for the past six months. He realised that the female cricketers were like an afterthought. He was stunned to see some of the players unable to afford basic equipment like shoes or a cricket ball.
“Imagine saying to a top New Zealand player, like Sophie Devine or Suzie Bates, ‘You want to practice? You’re going to have to buy – or make – your own cricket ball’,” he said. “I had no idea that the gap between these countries was so big. But the Pakistani girls are so determined that when someone says ‘No’ to them, they find a way.”
Coles found a unique way of establishing a bond among the team. The result was Pakistan beating New Zealand for the first time ever – a five-wicket win in an ODI in Sharjah in November 2017.
An evening before the match, he sent a text over WhatsApp to the players to gather for an important meeting. When they did so, everybody went to an ice cream shop.
“I said, ‘My treat. Chocolate, strawberry or vanilla – you choose’. They looked confused. Then I said, ‘That’s the end of the meeting. We’ve got a game tomorrow. I’ll see you in the morning’,” he said.
“One of the staff said, ‘What did you do that for?’ I said, ‘I’m not sure, but I felt like ice cream’. I was really lonely and wanted some company – and I thought the girls could do with some too.”
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Coles’ role with the team meant he had to stay put in Pakistan amidst heavy security. He could go back to New Zealand only once in three months.
“Some days, I wanted to pack my bag and make a run for it,” he said about how tough that was for him.
“But I knew that if I left Pakistan, I would have felt like a failure. I just had to get through, day by day – and sometimes, second-by second.”
“Although I was missing Mel and my two daughters, the players had so much enthusiasm on their faces that it filled me with joy. I felt like the luckiest person in the world to be able to coach them, and I had to keep a smile on my face, because that’s what they deserved from me.”
Under Coles, Pakistan defeated West Indies and tied a series against South Africa away – both in ODIs. However, he stepped down from the role after losing his grandmother and uncle in a short span.
“I hope that one day those girls say, ‘That crazy old white bloke taught us a few things’. It was never just about winning. That’s not all we set out to do. We set out to enjoy each other’s company – in good times and bad. And we did that,” he concluded, insisting that the he may not return to the role, despite it being a cherished one.