Arthur opens up on World Cup challenges, urges stability in Pakistan cricket

Arthur discussed his commitment to both roles with Derbyshire and Pakistan, emphasizing the structure he implemented to manage them effectively

Arthur opens up on World Cup challenges, urges stability in Pakistan cricket PHOTO: FILE

Mickey Arthur, who recently served as Pakistan's team director, shared his thoughts on his dual roles in county and international cricket, the challenges faced by Pakistan in the Asia and World Cup, and the future direction for Pakistan cricket.

In an interview with Wisden, Arthur discussed his commitment to both roles with Derbyshire and Pakistan, emphasizing the structure he implemented to manage them effectively.

"My main role was with Derbyshire. When Najam Sethi came in he wanted me to come on board again, but I’ve got a really good contract with Derbyshire and was in the middle of a project; I did not want to give that up and go to something that as we know is as insecure as any role with the PCB because this is my livelihood," Arthur said.

"Najam asked me to create a structure that I thought could work. I gave it a huge amount of time – getting up early in the morning to do my PCB work, then my Derbyshire work to the best of my ability, once more in the evening catching up with more PCB work. It was tough, but I gave both roles my full 100 per cent commitment. Among other things I designed and constructed a whole structure for the National Academy, so I spent a lot of time doing that, it wasn’t just the structure for the national team, it went beyond that,"
he further added.

Addressing his return to Pakistan cricket in 2023, Arthur expressed his belief that he could contribute significantly due to his familiarity with the structure and personnel. He shared his disappointment over the disrupted player development process after leaving in 2019.

"The major difference with the players was that they had grown up. Having left them in 2019 they were young boys with immense talent who were finding their way in the game and were very impressionable. They were open to change as well as understanding the requirements we wanted from them and then implementing them. What I acquired this time were boys that had made their mark in international cricket – champions of the game, who have reached there by playing in a certain way – and probably won’t be as open to change. There was a marked difference, and it’s not to say I didn’t really enjoy them, it was just handling them in a different way," Arthur said.

Furthermore, Arthur discussed his decision to bring in Haider Ali and expressed his frustration over what he perceives as a stalled career for Haider, emphasizing the player's exceptional talent and the lack of a clear role for him.

"I brought in Haider Ali, because I watched Haider in my last year with Pakistan when he was with the U19 side, observed him in the nets, and thought his career had been stunted a bit, which annoyed me to an extent, because I think he is a wonderful talent, but he has never had a clear role defined for him. So, I bought him in to develop his game, and I wanted Zaman Khan to come in and bowl in different conditions – and he was superb. On the back of that he got a Hundred contract, he’s in the Big Bash now and above all he’s playing consistently for Pakistan in T20 cricket. So, I feel we’ve done our job in developing those players," Arthur explained.

Commenting on the challenging schedule during the Asia Cup, Arthur acknowledged the physical and mental fatigue experienced by the players due to continuous long-distance travel but refrained from using it as an excuse.

"Yes, without a doubt it did, but those were the cards we were dealt, so, I’m not sitting for one minute and making that an excuse. That was the hybrid model the Asia Cup had given us, and it was important that we still got games in Pakistan. We had to make the best of it, but it was very tough. Due to my schedule, it only allowed me to be with them for a partial period of time. For the players it was literally: finish a game in Pakistan, shower, then straight to the airport, overnight flight back into Sri Lanka, then playing a game two days later, and they had to do this at least three times. It was incredibly tough for the players and I found that they very clearly burnt out towards the back end of the tournament. Unfortunately they took that into the World Cup, which was incredibly disappointing," Arthur remarked.

Arthur also discussed the unique challenges faced during the World Cup, particularly in a hostile environment against India.

"It was extremely tough not having any Pakistan support, because the one thing that really drives the Pakistan team is the incredible and unbelievable support they receive at grounds and hotels. You go around the world and you see the ‘Sea of green’, it’s truly amazing! Here we never had that, and that was quite tough in a World Cup, particularly for the players. As you can imagine it was a tough hostile environment in Ahmedabad, but we were expecting this, and to their credit our players never moaned or complained once, they cracked on and tried their best – nevertheless it ultimately does play a role in motivation when you can’t see or hear that support base around you," Arthur said.

Regarding speculations about player disagreements and leaked conversations during the World Cup, Arthur dismissed them as outside noise and emphasized the team's focus on their game plan.

"The outside noise with Pakistan is incredible, you just have to check your Twitter feed to see so many fires that are ignited out there, that have absolutely no truth attached to them. You end up – and I found this out the first time – you’re just constantly extinguishing those fires and chasing your tail. What we knew within our team was our game plan, and the defined roles that the players had, and we cracked on with it. There were unequivocally no massive disagreements with the players – in high-performance teams there will always be one or two differences in terms of what happens on the field, I personally think that is very healthy," Arthur said.

"Once you have players challenging each other, and more so great players, which Pakistan have, it then creates a good healthy environment, as long as it never becomes personal, which it never did. A lot of the noise was created by what was going on outside by the chairmanship and media. That was the issue, in the team we were calm and very focused on the job at hand," he further added.

Addressing concerns about his dual roles and criticisms of being an "online coach," Arthur defended his commitment, explaining his involvement in team decisions and strategies despite not being present in the dressing room daily.

"With Pakistan I was never an ‘online coach’ I put together the coaching staff, I was in constant contact with them every single day and knew exactly what was going on within the team. If there were any situations that needed clarifying, then I would be on the phone with the players. If Grant Bradburn or any of the coaches needed my help with anything I was always available, I went over all selections, game plans and every precise strategy. I took that role knowing I wouldn’t be in the dressing room every day, however my understanding with Derbyshire was once the season had finished, I could do just that. The next day I boarded a plane and joined the team, and I was due to be with them consistently till the end of the Australian tour and then back to Derby. The understanding I had in terms of my contract has been fulfilled day in day out," Arthur said.

Finally, Arthur expressed his concerns about the continuous changes and instability in Pakistan cricket, highlighting the importance of a sustainable structure, leadership, and communication for players to trust the process and perform consistently. He lamented the missed opportunities for implementing a high-performance structure domestically and called for improvements in Pakistan cricket's overall approach.

"How long have you got? I continually witness Pakistan cricket nailing itself in the foot. The talent is there, what it needs is a good structure, good leadership, as well as continuity and sustainability, along with proper direction. Through 2016-2019, and thanks to Najam, we had the players trusting the process. So, when I’d sit down with Inzi [former chief selector Inzamam Ul Haq] with whom I have a brilliant working relationship, and selected a team and then communicated this with the team, they knew there was a sustainable structure there, because me and Inzi were providing a form of continuity. I can then say to a player, take Fakhar for an example, that you’re going to play the next ten ODIs. We know he will win us games, it’s high risk at times, but at least this way the players start trusting the structure and believing in the selection process, and play for the team," Arthur said.

"If it’s constant change and instability, players go into self-protection mode, and they end up playing for themselves, just thinking about the next tour. It’s frustrating to witness that because players aren’t given a proper chance, there’s no honest communication and they know things are always going to change. Domestically there’s so much talent out there. As I mentioned earlier, we put together a high-performance structure which we were going to implement, but this got lost in the wash with the change of chairmanship. Again very disappointing. I still think Pakistan cricket shoots itself in the foot and could be better," he concluded.