DERBY: Mickey Arthur, the former head coach of the national men’s cricket team, has recently made a comeback in Pakistan cricket after he was appointed the director. In an exclusive interview at Derbyshire CCC, he told Geo about his short-term as well as long-term plans for the Pakistan team.
The South African, who had earlier served as head coach of the team from 2016-2019, also spoke in detail about the preparations for the upcoming ICC Cricket World Cup in October in India.
Arthur also answered questions about the recent performance of the team in Test, ODI and T20 formats, Babar Azam’s captaincy, possible comeback of former captain Sarfraz Ahmed in the ODI squad for the world cup, and pacer Mohammad Abbas’s likely inclusion in the Test squad.
Arthur also shared his experiences as head coach of Derbyshire County Cricket Club, his decision to bring players from Pakistan to the club, and his relationship with current Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) top official Najam Sethi.
During his three years as head coach, the national side won the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy for the first time under the leadership of Sarfraz. During that time, Pakistan rose to the number one position in T20 cricket but in Test, the team’s performance was far from satisfactory. After the disappointing performance in the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup, Arthur was relieved from his position as head coach.
Since then Authur has served as coach of the Sri Lankan team and from 2022, he has been working with the English county cricket club Derbyshire. The new PCB regime, which took charge a few months ago, decided to bring back Arthur into the cricket body’s fold.
Arthur recently visited Pakistan during which his appointment as the “team director” was confined. He held face-to-face meetings with the management of PCB and also met the players.
The coaching staff recommended by Arthur includes former fielding coach Grant Bradburn as head coach, former South African batter Andrew Puttick as batting coach, and his fellow countryman fast bowler Morne Morkel as bowling coach.
Since then, Arthur has returned to Derbyshire for the county season where he’s into his second year of the four years contract with the club.
Team Geo is very grateful to the Derbyshire County Cricket Cub management for arranging and facilitating this interview.
Geo: Mickey, thank you very much for your time. First of all, when I asked you last July whether, if offered, will you consider coaching the Pakistan cricket team again and your reply was “Never say never”, had you ever thought that you will be back with PCB within a few months?
Arthur: No, I didn’t, because as you know things change very quickly in Pakistan and these things get thrown up but it was just too good an opportunity for me to turn down. I’m very invested in my project here at Derbyshire. I think once the PCB understood that and allowed me the latitude to maintain my role here but become the team director and have a lot of swaying responsibility with the Pakistan team it was a perfect match.
It’s very doable. I can finish the season and go to the World Cup and go on that Test tour to Australia. There’s a West Indies Test tour early in the new year and then there’s nothing because it’s PSL. And then you know, it allows me to come back and make sure my efforts are here. So it’s something that I think is very doable because of the schedules and it’s something that I’m really enjoying.
Geo: There’s been a lot of criticism since you took over that this hybrid arrangement will not benefit Pakistan cricket. How will you make it work? What are your plans to make it work?
Arthur: Yeah, I’ve got that in mind. The whole support staff has been put there by me. They’re reporting to me every day. I’m all over them every day and I understand what’s happening in the team. I have communication with the captain and with all the players every day. It’s working really well and then it also allows me to be totally hands-on once the season ends here. So as I say it’s very very doable and Pakistan just became the number one ODI team in the world so things are going well
Geo: You recently visited Pakistan and met with players. How was the interaction? What did you say to them?
Arthur: That was fantastic. I love the interaction. The first thing I said was I left them as young, very talented boys, some very very talented players but now when I look around the room those young boys are grown into men. They all have wives — most of them — and they had developed nice big egos and they have started backing themselves. So that was my first interaction with them but it was so good to see them. They were very happy to see me and I was very happy to see them I’ve got great relationships with them.
Geo: Pakistan recently defeated New Zealand in an ODI series but the T20 series ended in a draw. Are you satisfied with the team’s performance?
Arthur: I think so, but not at T20s, we were 2-0 in a five-match series. I expected us to win that because, with the talent that we have in Pakistan, we expect to win all our games. But I think that they were very very good in the one-day series so I’m comfortable. Obviously, our focus is very much now on the upcoming World Cup so our focus is very much on getting that 50-over team right to make a really concerted effort and challenge at the World Cup in October.
Geo: Your last assignment with the Pakistan team as head coach was the 2019 World Cup. Now your first big assignment as director will be the 2023 World Cup. Can Pakistan do better than last time?
Arthur: I firmly believe that with the talent we have at our disposal — this is a team that can win the World Cup. I really do. I think the talent that Pakistan has is fantastic and I’m really excited to see how far they can go. But I’m also really excited to be able to play a role in those players’ development.
Geo: Before the World Cup in India in October, the only ODI matches Pakistan team is due to play are in the Asia Cup which we even don’t know will take place or not, so are you working with PCB on some backup plans??
Arthur: Yes, we have put a whole schedule together in terms of camps and we have identified areas that we think we need to work on, particularly through the middle-overs is our ability to play spin and our ability to hit sweepers. We’re also having a look at our finishers, guys who can come in and finish and really hit the ball out of the ground and then just continue to work on our bench strength. In terms of our bowling depth, we have got some wonderful bowlers.
So, we will have camps all the way through the sort of off-period now. A lot of the players are coming over here in England to play in county cricket. Shaheen Shah Afridi will be just down the road in Nottingham, we’ve got Hassan Ali over at Edgbaston, and Shadab Khan will be playing for Sussex. So we’ve got a number of Pakistan players who are going to be playing over here which allows me to go and just catch up with them as well and just to make sure that they’re doing what we want them to do and that they’re all on the right track.
Geo: In the last year and a half, the Pakistan team have failed to win a home Test series, in fact, even a Test match. They lost against Australia, drew versus New Zealand, and were thrashed by England, what’s not going right for the Test team?
Arthur: I don’t know and that is a priority for us. It’s a new chapter now that starts with the Test team’s tour of Sri Lanka in July. With that world Test championship starts again in effect so that is a real focus of ours. We do have to play and find a brand of cricket at the Test level that’s going to compete with the best because it is an area that needs a lot of work.
Geo: There has been some criticism over Babar Azam’s style of captaincy. What’s your take on Babar leading the team now?
Arthur: I met Babar when I was in Pakistan. I think he’s doing a wonderful job and I think he has started to make that position his own. I actually think he’s getting better. His batting is again going from strength to strength so I think Babar is doing a really good job at the minute.
Geo: Have you spoken to Sarfraz recently? Is he in your plans for the ICC World Cup?
Arthur: Look Sarfraz and I have a great relationship. I’ve touched base with him but as you know, there are so many people in the shake-up for the 50-over World Cup. So we haven’t spoken about that explicitly at the time, but I have caught up with Sarfraz because he and I go back a long way. We’ve got a really good relationship.
Geo: Mohammad Abbas has done so well in the last couple of years for Hampshire in county cricket but has been ignored by Pakistani selectors. Can he make a comeback to the Test squad?
Arthur: I’ve been watching Mohammad Abbas, he’s a great bowler. I think in certain conditions he becomes very very good so yes he will certainly be considered for selection going forward without a doubt.
Geo: There were media reports that you were planning to bring Yasir Arafat as bowling coach who’s also an ECB-qualified coach but that didn’t happen. So what made you change your decision?
Arthur: It was just circumstances. I just looked at what we had available, I looked at what the team needed for that particular time and then tried to put together stuff that I think is going to really benefit the players going forward because it’s a talented bunch of players. I always say give them the routes to go and the wings to fly but they need to have a stable, good support structure around them which I know they have now. I know that they feel a lot more stable. I know that they feel consistency in terms of selection and I know that they get absolute honesty and clarity from them because of the relationship I have with each one of them. So I’m very comfortable it’s getting okay at the minute.
Geo: What are your expectations from Derbyshire County Cricket Club this season?
Arthur: My expectations are always to one, play the best cricket we possibly can, and two, to see the players progress, grow and get better and better. I think that’s fundamentally very important for me. Also, we have set ourselves goals — we want to achieve some good positive results, we want to get promoted, and we’re an ambitious county. I think we have to maintain that ambition because that way our players get better, we attract better players, and we can build a really good winning team down the line.
Geo: Last year you signed Shan Masood, this year it’s Haider Ali. It seems you want to bring a Pakistani player every year at Derbyshire.
Arthur: I just look at what I think would be a good fit for our club and a good fit in terms of our budget as well. I know the good young Pakistan players that maybe are not known around the county circuit, so I see it as a two-way street. It helps Derbyshire immensely but we also help players develop their games and their careers in different conditions so hopefully, it’s a win-win for both parties.
Geo: How satisfied are you with Haider Ali’s performance so far?
Arthur: Haider has been good. He is growing and getting better. Haider is starting to understand his game. He’s starting to manage his innings now a lot better. I’ve got no doubt that he’s an exceptional talent. We’ve always known that. What he needs to learn is the tempo of his innings, how to manage his innings and his batting. He’s doing that and I see a guy that’s growing in a really good professional environment so I’m very happy about where he’s at at the moment.
Geo: Coming back to Pakistan cricket again, when will you travel next to Pakistan and what are your short-term goals and long-term plans for the team?
Arthur: I’ve got a lot of plans with Pakistan as I do with Derbyshire and it keeps me nice and incredibly busy. So I have, you know, but I wouldn’t be able to share them now as I need to share them with the team first. But yes we do, and we have a lot of goals and a lot of things that we want to achieve together.
Geo: Lastly, any words about PCB chairman Najam Sethi?
Arthur: Najam Sethi and I go back a hell-of-a-long way. I wouldn’t be doing this job now if it wasn’t for Sethi. The relationship I have with Sethi — we’ve shared a lot of highs and some lows together and our relationship is exceptionally good. I think he’s a wonderful man who’s doing a wonderful job.
Geo: Arthur, wonderful to speak to you, thank you very much for your time and good luck.
Arthur: Thank you too.