Celebrations over, we have to start again: Mickey Arthur

Mickey Arthur

Pakistan’s Champions trophy triumph was as phenomenal as it was satisfying. Nobody had expected that the bottom placed team which barely qualified for the eight-nation event will lift the trophy. In fact detractors had sharpened their knives, presuming that Sarfraz and Co will lose all three matches and they have a chance to dissect, to smash them. They were ready to bash the team management, the coach Mickey Arthur and the PCB.

Mickey Arthur’s two-year contract was up for a review after the tournament and with only a Test series draw against England besides home and away series wins against lower ranked West Indies were the bright spots. Pakistan was abysmal on the tours of New Zealand and Australia. But little do people realize that a coach needs time, to implement his strategies, his plans, his working ethics.

Pakistan lost the first match against arch-rivals India. The manner in which the team lost was miserable. A 124-run drubbing with the team failing in all three departments allowed some former players to call for chopping.

But a remarkable turnaround came. Pakistan had been jolted and awakened. A Duckworth-Lewis assisted win over world number one South Africa gave them a lifeline before an ugly win over Sri Lanka – courtesy a resilient Sarfraz Ahmed-Mohammad Amir partnership – sailed Pakistan into the semi-final.

The rest, as they say, is history. Pakistan trounced and title favorites England in the semi-final before conquering The Oval with a record 180-run thumping of India.

This became Pakistan’s biggest win over bitter rivals in 129 one-day internationals. The enormity of the win lifted the whole Pakistan as the nation celebrated the win which completed their cupboard with all three ICC trophies on offer, 50-over World Cup (1992), World Twenty20 (2009) and Champions Trophy.

The win was also a relief and reward for the affable Mickey Arthur. He took some bold decisions, leaving out an unfit Umar Akmal just a week before the tournament started. It could have backfired but it only helped. The conscientious effort of introducing a fitness culture which Mickey Arthur and his team of professional coaches wanted to implement in the team also helped. Former West Indian pace bowler turned commentator Ian Bishop twice remarked that he had never seen a livelier and fitter Pakistan team. That is a big compliment in an area which had never been Pakistan’s forte.

Now the celebrations are over. Pakistan’s next task will be to build this young team for the 2019 World Cup. They were in danger of losing out on a direct berth for the World Cup but Champions Trophy win helped them assure that direct entry.

ARYWeb spoke to Mickey Arthur on the Champions Trophy win and how the win will help build for the World Cup just two years away. How Sarfraz Ahmed has progressed and how the belief in the team has grown.

Q: Champions trophy win was incredible and it has lifted the mood in Pakistan, how are you savoring it?

Mickey Arthur: More for me was the solidity of the performance. The brand of cricket we played that was for me the most important thing. What it does do is that it’s easy to talk about it but it’s hard to get buy in and when you have success everybody see that you are in the right track and that’s important for me. The other important part was the confidence that gave us as a unit that you can mess up with the best in the world and move us up in the ODI rankings which is great. We can now really start planning for 2019 and give our core group enough time and enough playing opportunity in order to when we get to the World Cup we are ready.

Q: What do you think were the factors behind the victory? Youth, fitness and the will to do well.

Arthur: I think it was little bit of many things. It was the burning desire to do well, I can tell you that we had prepared exceptionally well and that’s why I could constantly sit in the press conference after we lost against India and say that it was an aberration because I had seen everything in terms of our preparation and that was nowhere near the capability of we had as a team. The key for us after that was to just stay confident and believe in our ability to win games. The belief in our ability to go out and play well, represent Pakistan well and have the belief that we can beat anybody. It was a matter of maintaining that belief and confidence and that when we got that right and we were on a roll that belief and confidence just grew and grew and culminating in what was a fantastic achievement in a very satisfying way.

Q: One top performer in the Trophy win was Hasan Ali. How has he progressed in a career which aligns with your term with Pakistan?

Mickey Arthur: Hasan’s rise has been fantastic. He has worked extremely hard with my coaching staff. It’s great to see his rise and it does align with my coaching reign with Pakistan. He came into the ODI team in England last year and there is a marked difference since then. He was a thin guy at that time but he now is fit and strong. He worked really hard to reach this point and his performance in the Champions Trophy was exceptional. He runs and bowls quick and everything happens to him is in our coaching time. I am very excited at his rise, in fact it has been very exciting for everyone. Hopefully, he will rise further and follow all the guidelines which the coaching staff has given to him.

Q: Beating India must have been the icing on the cake?

Mickey Arthur: Yes, of course it was. That after the way India did to us in the first game of the competition and then to come back and beat them like we did it was certainly icing on the cake. I think for the ICC or for anybody they couldn’t have scripted it better. An ICC event final between Pakistan and India was the perfect script for the ICC and then we went on to win was certainly the icing on the cake.

Q: How this Champions trophy win gives the team and you the belief that this unit will be a strong unit for the 2019 World Cup?

Mickey Arthur: Yes, it certainly does. It gives us the belief in our own ability but it also gives us the belief that the brand of cricket we are playing is right. We are playing the modern way and attacking with the ball. That’s the way one-day cricket needs to be played in order to have success. We knew that, we were talking about it but the best thing was that we actually went out and did it. The key thing is that this is just the beginning. We certainly can’t rest our laurels, there is a hell lot of work to do. We are no means a finished article. We need to get fitter, we need to get stronger and need to get our skills better and better. We have so much scope to do that. This is just the beginning of the journey. From now on we, hopefully, will get better and better. But we are only going to get there through hard work, perseverance, dedication and attitude. That’s the most important thing, we won the Champions Trophy. The celebrations have gone on but they are now finished. We have to start from naught, just like a batsman getting a hundred and then start again from scratch in the next innings. We too have to start from the naught again, put our feet on the ground and start preparing for the next chapter.

Q; You not only witnessed but also experienced and suffered the isolation South Africa suffered in the 1970s and 80s, how would you compare the isolation of SA and now of Pakistan?

Mickey Arthur: The comparison is very difficult because South Africa at that time weren’t playing international cricket. Pakistan are still playing international cricket albeit not in their own country. What it does do is that players are deprived of playing at home, like Asad Shafiq and Azhar Ali have played more than 50 Tests and have not played any one at home before his family and that’s the travesty of justice. Every international match we play as a unit we playing effectively away from home, away from own conditions and that makes it doubly difficult. The success we had as a unit, both in Tests and one-day, is a testimony to the players’ dedication, to their will to get better and the resilience that they are always away from home and are always traveling.

Q: How does the isolation affects a country?

Mickey Arthur: Look, I definitely think it affects all. The first class cricket and the youngsters are not able to see their stars before home. They do not see international heroes, they are not learning from international players and are not able to lift their standards and it’s a vicious circle. The isolation is being very hard on Pakistan cricket.

Q: When you meet the foreign players, do they show any inclination of playing in Pakistan. Are the foreign players missing something, not playing in Pakistan?

Arthur: I think Pakistan was always a destination where it was hard to come and win. I was the coach of the South African team which came here in 2007. We drew the Karachi test and then won in Lahore, we also won the one-day series. It was a massive win and achievement because not many sides had come and won in Pakistan, so I think all the team out there in world cricket would want to test themselves in these conditions against the best Pakistan has to offer. So every country is ready to test itself but they are waiting, they are not given this opportunity but it has to end.

Q: How do you see PCB’s efforts?

Mickey Arthur: PCB is doing an unbelievable job in trying to resurrect and revive international cricket. They held the PSL final held in Lahore (March 5 this year ) with international stars. I just hope the World XI goes ahead and that will almost be the curtain raiser to hopefully get some international cricket back into Pakistan. One can never fault the endeavors of the PCB, they are trying their best and they should be backed and applauded.

Q: How has the PSL helped, helped in overcoming isolation partly and grooming the young players?

Mickey Arthur: The PSL has allowed the young players to rub shoulders with international stars. For Shadab Khan to play with Shane Watson and Brad Haddin has given him confidence, benefitted him. He has done well at international stage primarily for the fact that he learnt in the PSL. Fakhar Zaman opening the batting with Brendon McCullum and Jason Roy, he learnt to bat with some exceptional players and shaped his career and that is exactly the travesty of the isolation that the younger players are not being able to play with international stars. Hopefully we bring the domestic cricket to that standard of international cricket so that if can help the home players.

Q: Sarfraz is now the captain for all three formats. How do you see his progress and transformation?

Mickey Arthur: He is progressing very well. Sarfraz has got a good aggressive attitude. He likes to attack in the game which, I think, is a necessity now in modern cricket. He is respected and thinks out of the box. I think Sarfraz will go from strength to strength. I think he is a very good leader. He will grow into the position and become better and better.