dailypeghamCoaching Pakistan can scarcely be termed as one of the most sought after jobs in world cricket, and the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) found it the hard way by undergoing a strenuous toil before securing Mickey Arthur as Waqar Younis’s replacement last Friday.

Of late, the world has caught up with the troubles associated with the job. Other than the comparatively low salary and ‘security risk’ of staying in Pakistan, the head coach has to endure the constant and unforgiving glare of a largely sensation seeking media.

Mickey, the new Arthur of Pakistan’s chapter

As a result, many ‘high profile’ candidates like Justin Langer, Peter Moores and Stuart Law turned down offers to take over the reins of the sub-continental mavericks.

Foreign coaches Richard Pybus, Bob Woolmer, Geoff Lawson and Dav Whatmore were all subjected to intense scrutiny in their tenures — Whatmore even warned his successor Waqar that the job was a majorly complicated one.

Yet Arthur, who was initially absent from the top-half of the PCB pecking order, has ‘accepted the challenge’ as he hopes to redeem his own coaching fortunes by guiding a presently wobbly team.

In an exclusive telephonic interview with The Express Tribune, Arthur spoke at length about the challenges that the job offers and his venture to provide the players ‘the roots to grow their game and wings for flying high at the top.’

Arthur, who is tying up the loose ends in Perth before departing for Lahore in three weeks’ time, was first asked about his initial thoughts on sealing the opportunity that is as tough if not tougher than any he has undertaken in his coaching career.

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“It’s a massive challenge without doubt but one that I am excited about,” said the 47-year-old. “The present ODI ranking of Pakistan isn’t a reflection of a nation so keen on the game. It’s our responsibility to get the rankings to improve.

“The rankings are good in Tests but the challenge is to play well outside the UAE. Bowling — both fast and spin — is exciting, but the concern in the long format is batting outside our conditions as well as fitness and fielding, which will be a priority.”

Batting and modern approach

Arthur recognises the dire straits in both white-ball formats. As in-charge of the team, he wants to make it clear that the now ancient batting approach of keeping wickets in hand for the death overs isn’t going to work. Similarly, bowlers and fielders have to constantly find ways of dismissing opposition batsmen.

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“It [batting] has to change, there’s no debate about that. The style of cricket has to change. The challenge is to identify players who are flexible enough to play the modern game and bring at least two skills to the party; they have to uplift both their batting and fielding.”

During the transitory period, Arthur wants to encourage players to be brave about their cricket and take on the opposition head-on.

“We need to look at players who can serve for long, and we should allow them to make mistakes, it will help them improve and play what I call brave cricket,” remarked Arthur. “We have to strive to score runs, getting people run out and getting wickets. We have to play an exciting brand of cricket that stimulates both players and fans.”

The PSL talent pool

Since the premature end of his stint as Australia coach in June 2013 on the eve of the Ashes series in England, Arthur has worked with franchises around the world — a list that also includes Pakistan Super League (PSL) team Karachi Kings.

While the Kings had a forgettable time in the opening edition of the PSL, Arthur kept a close eye on the action that unfolded in the five-team event. These days, he’s looking up statistics of the players on the Pakistan scene but wants to keep the names close to his chest.

“I don’t really want to name players at this point in time, I first need to speak to selectors; right now, I am looking up statistics of all the players,” he confided. “I do feel there’s enough talent. Even in batting, the skill level that I saw at the PSL was exceptional.”

Arthur is keen on building a team-first mindset as he looks to introduce the ‘modern way of playing the game’ to the Pakistani system.

“We need to do three things: work as a team, embrace new ways of playing the game and adapting an out-of-the-box approach,” counted Arthur. “As a coach, I have always given players the roots to grow and wings to fly, I nurture them and give them the freedom to play their game that is the only way that their natural talent comes out, especially in batting.

“I’m really hoping we can embrace all of that, it would be a challenge for sure, but if it comes off, we would be climbing up the rankings very soon.”

The Arthur coaching manual

In the early noughties, Arthur attained considerable success with his native South Africa. Along with Bob Woolmer, he was credited for bringing lap-tops and in-depth analytical methods to the game at the highest level.

The aim is to innovate further in his tenure with Pakistan.

“I would like to think we were the leaders in my time with South Africa,” said the coach. “I just want to see the players push their limits. They need to be trendsetters, not followers.

“The Pakistani brand would be different to the South African one. The players are different, the skills are different and we have to identify a brand that we can associate with while giving players the leeway to succeed.”

Pakistan’s 2016-17 tours to England and Australia

Arthur’s immediate task with Pakistan is a four-Test, five-ODI and one T20I tour to England. In the wake of the damning spot-fixing scandal that shook the team to the core on their last full tour to the country six years ago, Arthur wants razor sharp focus from his players.

The tour to Australia in November is another formidable challenge, and Arthur knows well that unlike South Africa, Pakistan have had a ruefully barren record Down Under — three consecutive Test series whitewashes since 1999.

“We have to mentally block off everything that happens off the field,” emphasised the Johannesburg-born. “We have to be united and focused; we can’t have external forces derail us. I have always said our real challenge would be batting — the duke ball will seam around in England and the ball will bounce in Australia.”

Arthur will spearhead the think-tank to ensure ‘best possible preparation’ for the two tours.

“We have the bowlers to make any team worried. It’s just that we need enough runs on the board and as a coach, it’s my job to help the team prepare as best as possible so that they have a chance of success.”

Boot camp and preparations

As Arthur wraps up his affairs in Perth, 35 England tour probables are being sent to an Army-style boot camp in Kakul. With fitness his priority, Arthur feels that the camp is a step in the right direction.

“I want the players to be at peak physical shape. If you are physically fit, you have a far better chance of success,” affirmed Arthur. “Any team we play is going to be fit and field really well, so that would be my expectations from my team without a doubt.”

Arthur believes that besides putting the players in a physical grind, the camp is expected to bring the team together.

“The boot camp will gel the players since when you train together really hard, you build team spirit and camaraderie and I feel it’s a really good idea,” he said. “Once I arrive, we will do a lot of planning before we leave for England. We will start the technical practice etc after the boot camp and hopefully, the players would be in peak physical shape by then.”

Security concerns in Pakistan

The South African also quelled rumours about apparent security concerns in Pakistan, saying that he has spoken to foreign staffers of the team and is now ready to brush aside the notion that he was worried about the risks of travelling to the country.

“I have absolutely no concerns about security, I am sure that I will be looked after well, I have spoken to Grant Luden (team trainer) and he has told me that things are exceptional,” claimed Arthur. “I trust his and the PCB’s words.

“The only thoughts I will have on my flight to Lahore will centre on excitement for a new challenge. Hopefully it would be successful both for me, and most importantly for Pakistan cricket.”

Support staff

Once Arthur arrives in Pakistan, he would have the task of finding his assistant and a bowling coach. The PCB has retained Grant Flower as batting coach and Luden — fielding coach and trainer— from Waqar’s coaching team.

Arthur too wants to retain the duo, but wants a Pakistani coach as his assistant.

“I am very happy with Grant Flower and Luden, I know them well and both have great work ethics, so we have those bases covered at the minute,” observed Arthur. “I want my assistant coach to be a Pakistani because it’s succession planning; I’ll endeavour to up-skill him and hopefully make him ready to take over one day [as the head coach].

“Of course, I also need him to ensure that my message isn’t lost in translation, hence I would be discussing couple of candidates with PCB.”

Arthur also quipped that he would try and brush up his Urdu before arriving in Pakistan. “I’ll give it a go,” he promised amid a gale of laughter.

‘Homework-gate’ and Graeme Smith

As Australia’s coach, Arthur went through a tumultuous phase, which led to his eventual sacking in 2013 after the disastrous 4-0 Test whitewash in India.

Three years prior to that, he resigned from the post of South Africa’s head coach after a hugely successful five-and-a-half-year run. There were widespread speculations that Arthur had a fallout with the then captain Graeme Smith, but he’s quick to dispel the impression.

“I felt I had come to the end of my time and the players needed a new voice,” clarified Arthur. “I want to reiterate that I had absolutely no fallout with Smith, we were and are great friends and our working relationship was second to none, so there is no truth in any such reports. They are totally false.”

The Australian ouster was partly due to a major controversy termed the ‘Homework-gate’ that led to Arthur banning four team members on the Indian tour after they failed to deliver on time their feedback on preparations before a Test match. The former batsman with 110 first-class appearances has left the bitter experience behind.

“We needed to set standards with a team in transition, I hear the term ‘Homework-gate’ a lot and I hate that term because it wasn’t that,” he explained. “It’s what I expect of professional cricketers to go back and analyse. In fact, to be fair to them, they had done it internally; they just hadn’t produced what I had wanted and we had to take that step to ensure that we drive forward a culture.”

Arthur assures there won’t be a sequel to the infamous episode. “Will I do it again? Probably not. Have I learnt a lesson from it? The answer is yes, and I believe that has definitely made me a far better coach.”

Comments against Shoaib Malik and 2007 Lahore ODI

Arthur went on a collision path with the PCB after some quotes questioning the efforts of Pakistan players in the decisive ODI of the 2007 series in Lahore were attributed to him.

The then South Africa coach seemingly doubted the integrity of his rival team besides raising a red flag on the Shoaib Malik-led Pakistan’s sensational batting collapse that led to defeat from a position of impregnability.

“That was taken totally out of context,” said Arthur. “I was asked during an interview for my biography if there was anything that I had ever seen as suspicious, and all I said was absolutely not in terms of what I had seen, and it was never centred around Shoaib Malik or anyone in particular at all. I have clarified that down the line.”