Pakistan's Head Coach Mickey Arthur has wasted no time in reinforcing his credentials as a top professional in his field by guiding the team through a successful tour of England and ten successive wins in their last ten matches which also saw them take the number one spot in the ICC Test rankings.
In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, Arthur spoke about the mutual respect he has built with his interactions with Pakistan players, his passion to see Pakistan succeed in all forms of cricket, his views on Umar Akmal and Babar Azam and how he intends to improve Pakistan's fortunes in One-Day cricket.
By Amir Husain (4th November, 2016)
PakPassion.net : Has the absence of a regular bowling coach been a hindrance to Pakistan’s progress in recent times?
Mickey Arthur : The Pakistan team’s performance has not been affected by the absence of a bowling coach as I am very proficient around this aspect of coaching. Technically speaking, we know where our players are at and what is expected of them. The players have been on individual bowling plans and we have been monitoring them day-in and day-out. What it has done is dilute my role a bit which is a little tough on me as I couldn't get to some of the other things that I would like to have done. That is because I have been taking more care of the bowlers but all-in-all it hasn’t been a major issue and we have managed well so far.
PakPassion.net : You seem to have found great respect amongst the Pakistan players who consider you more as a mentor and guide.
Mickey Arthur : I am starting to build really good relationships with the players. They are a wonderful bunch of guys and very talented cricketers as well. We are starting to build a good relationship with each other but that doesn’t mean I am soft or tough in anyway; I just call it as I see it. I am honest with them and that is how I feel you develop good relationships. I don’t like to sugar coat anything, I will tell the players exactly as it is and how I see it. These Pakistani cricketers work very hard and they are wonderful and really good cricketers and I am developing a close bond with them. It’s all about trust. When you start off, you feel each other out and get to know where the boundaries are and you see which buttons you can push and what you can’t. I think we have got through that stage and have started to develop some seriously good relationships now.
PakPassion.net : What is the most difficult part of dealing with Pakistan players?
Mickey Arthur : There is absolutely nothing difficult at all in working with Pakistan cricketers. I just feel that it’s all about being brutally and totally honest with them. As I have always said that wherever I have worked before, I have encouraged the players to talk to me about anything and not just cricket. Once we are down to that level of relationship, then you know that you have become that mentor type of person to the players. I believe I am at that level now and I have good relationships with the players now and that is pretty heartening for me.
PakPassion.net : Are there any generic weaknesses in the players that you would like to work with and iron out?
Mickey Arthur : No, I don’t think so at all. I think they have just got to believe that they are as good as they actually are. One thing that I have noticed is that the Pakistan boys are very humble and soft individuals. I guess, I have come from a pretty tough school where the soft get eaten a lot and I am pretty keen to see them toughen up a little and give back what they get and stand their ground which they are doing now.
PakPassion.net : Did taking over a well gelled and cohesive playing unit, especially in Tests, help in your task when you took charge as head coach?
Mickey Arthur : That was definitely the case. Misbah has been outstanding with the work he has done with the team as has my predecessor Waqar Younis who did a great job with the Test team. The Test team I inherited was left to me in a very good state. But, I don’t like just keeping it in a good state, I believe in continually improving ourselves and in continuing to improve our product. That is my role. So, I am constantly challenged and trying to improve each of the players five or ten percent better and if we can do that, we get five or ten percent more output which will make them a formidable unit.
I am also enjoying working with the One-Day team as our white ball cricket needs a lot of work. We have changed the brand of our One-Day game where we are having the guys play a more expansive game. They have taken that on-board and are working extremely hard and that seems to be working out nicely as well.
PakPassion.net : Television pictures showed you extremely frustrated during the recently concluded series against England. Is that something we can expect more of during your tenure?
Mickey Arthur : Yes, that is how I am. I wear my heart on the sleeve and I certainly don’t beat around the bush and hide things in these matters. Coming to those television pictures, yes, I was extremely frustrated during the ODI series in England. For example, at Headingley in the fourth ODI, we were just one wicket away from getting a result that would have given us confidence in the brand of cricket that we wanted to play. If you look at where we started in Southampton in the first ODI and where we finished in Cardiff, there was a lot of work which went in there. So, at Headingley we were keen to get over the line as that reinforces the brand of cricket we want to play and the work we are putting in. I was very keen to see us do that and was immensely frustrated for several reasons. I wanted to solidify what we had been doing and I wanted the guys to get confidence out of that. As you know I have been vocal about the fact that fitness and fielding are the two biggest challenges that Pakistan face. I get very excited when the West Indies management tell me that this is the fittest Pakistan team they have ever seen. But I do know that we have some way to go in terms of achieving higher standards.
When we are not finishing off games because we are not fit enough or strong enough to do that then I do get frustrated and vent my feelings as we saw. I always say that batting and bowling are not measurable as some guy may get out for nought or you may bowl your best ball and get hit for four. Fielding and fitness, we can measure and those are non-negotiable. Gone are the days when you could be rocking up to the team and be not fit. Gone are the days that guys would come into the team and sit in their comfort zones. We are now setting up proper standards and these are comparable to most international teams around the world. We cannot rely just on skill any more. Skill will only get you so far.
PakPassion.net : You had a chance to see Umar Akmal up close during the recently concluded Limited-Overs series against the West Indies. What are your impressions of him as a player?
Mickey Arthur : First and foremost, I will say that Umar Akmal is a fantastic player. I feel that Umar Akmal plays the brand of cricket that we want to play in One-Dayers and Twenty20 cricket. He is the type of guy who can come in and take the game by the scruff of the neck and get a forty in twenty-five balls. We didn’t have guys in that position before. So, I think he can play. However, he like every other player knows that there are standards to be adhered to. One must conform to those standards or you won’t get another chance.
In my first dealings with Umar Akmal when he came into our setup recently I found that he trained hard and well. Yes, you have got to keep watching over Umar’s shoulders all the time or he tends to wander a little bit, but he showed everything during that time that I wanted to see from a Pakistan player. I do have a slight regret, if you can call that, and this applies to Umar and Mohammad Rizwan as well. It is that we saw Umar at number five in the IT20s and Rizwan at number six in ODIs but because we played so well in those games, we didn’t get to see them under pressure or they didn’t get a proper opportunity. That’s all good and I am not complaining as such but I would have liked to see them play as that would have helped in push their careers on a bit.
PakPassion.net : There have been some murmurs about a possible conflict of interest in terms of you being a coach for Pakistan and the PSL side Karachi Kings. How do you respond to that?
Mickey Arthur : There is no truth in that at all and let me put a few things on the table on this issue. Before I signed the contract with Pakistan I was contracted to be with the Karachi Kings for the whole season. So, talking purely commercially, that was my contract arrangement with Pakistan that I could work with Karachi Kings as well and financially speaking, that was good for me. In terms of any conflict of interest, I am way more professional for people to think that I am going to be favouring anybody from Karachi Kings or anyone else in my Pakistan role. I am certainly too professional to ever contemplate that. I, therefore, am going to knock any such notion on the head straightaway.
The really positive thing in this arrangement is that it allows me to see all the best young Pakistan players up close. If I wasn’t involved in the PSL and was sitting at home or watching television during that period, then I wouldn’t get to see these young guys in action up close. For me this is not only a great opportunity to see the young talent of Pakistan but also to work with these players. I think this is a win-win situation for everyone and in my opinion there is certainly no conflict of interest involved.
PakPassion.net : Have you any concerns about Babar Azam’s ability to cope with the pressure of Test matches and in specific his weakness against the short-ball?
Mickey Arthur : Let me start by saying that Babar Azam is a very good player. I can understand the trials and tribulations of any young guy coming into the game. He will get a few short-balls and if he plays one or two poorly then suddenly everyone claims that he can’t play the short-ball. Babar is good enough to deal with that and we will be continually working with him to resolve that problem. In fact, we are all over that as coaching staff. That’s not an issue and he will find his way around that and he is good enough to do that. Technically speaking, I am not worried about that at all. Every young player coming into the game gets an examination by the short-ball at some stage or another and he must go through it and he will either sink or swim. Let me say again that Babar is good enough to come through that and I have no concerns about him at all.
PakPassion.net : Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan are heading towards the end of their international careers, are you worried about suitable replacements for them?
Mickey Arthur : Well in terms of our future planning, Babar Azam is a big part of that. But there are also the likes of Mohammad Rizwan, Umar Akmal, Shan Masood, Mohammad Hafeez and even Sharjeel Khan who I feel has a technique which is good enough for Test cricket as well. We have all of those guys who are waiting in the wings. Of course, we hope that Misbah and Younis will be around for a little while yet but we as support staff and in my role as head coach, will be grooming the next guys so that the transition will be seamless whenever the two leave. Hopefully, they won’t leave together and will leave at different times. That has not been spoken about and been left to the future.
PakPassion.net : How important is the presence of these two senior batsmen for the younger batsmen?
Mickey Arthur : The younger batsmen do learn a lot from Misbah and Younis. Not only are they the most experienced and our best batsmen, they are the two fittest guys in the squad by a long way. They lead the charts in terms of fitness. It’s not only what they do with the bat for us but it’s the way they train and prepare and the way they go about their business which makes them wonderful role models. For our younger players like the Babar Azams, the Sami Aslams as well as Mohammad Nawazs, to be sitting and watching how these guys go about their business is simply great.
PakPassion.net : Do you have any plans to talk or work with Pakistani domestic coaches in order to help them better prepare future players for the senior team?
Mickey Arthur : That is my plan without a doubt. We will get around to that. The fact is that we have such a busy schedule until the Champions Trophy next year. But there will come a time when this will happen. I have always said that I am thoroughly enjoying this role and hopefully I will be around for some time yet. I will always like people to think of me in terms of my legacy where I came in and set up proper standards and structures, gave back something to the local coaches and left Pakistan cricket in a far better state.
PakPassion.net : What are the biggest challenges for you in terms of improving the fortunes of our One-Day side?
Mickey Arthur : The biggest challenges are to continually keep improving and building confidence in our game plans and the brand we want to play. You can only do that when you get a little bit of success because success breeds confidence and that in turn gives you further good results. The whole pecking order must be in the right way, I guess and it is; I feel it is developing in that way and in quick time as well. But what we cannot do is to rest on our laurels and we need to keep solidifying what needs to be done in order to succeed in the future.
PakPassion.net : You will be heading to Australia soon and should Pakistan do well there, will there be an element of a “gloat factor” given your past experience there?
Mickey Arthur : No, I don’t think so. To be honest this is the first time I have been asked this question and I have been thinking how I will answer this question when it does come up. That trip is certainly not about me but it’s about Pakistan’s tour of Australia. I will be doing what I can to prepare the Pakistan team as well as I can to get good results there. I certainly won’t be gloating if we do well; I will be going about my business as normal.