Mickey Arthur: Coaching Pakistan After Aus a Breath of Fresh Air
Pakistan’s coach Arthur speaks about his coaching philosophy, successes, failures, and the challenges ahead.
Mickey Arthur is a demonstrative man, and a passionate coach. Having managed three of the top international cricket teams in the world, he is seen as one of the game's finest brains. But coaching Pakistan has been a whole new challenge for the man from Johannesburg.
After having had great success with Graeme Smith's South African team, he moved to Australia, where he coached the Western Warriors before becoming the first non- Australian to be appointed to coach the national side. That didn't go down quite as well and by his own admission, he failed at that job. When he eventually got the chance to take up the reigns of an international side again, with Pakistan, he saw it as almost a second coming, a shot at proving himself once again at the highest level.
In this free-wheeling chat with Hemant Buch, Mickey Arthur was refreshingly honest, candid and articulate, as he spoke about his philosophy of coaching, his successes, his failures, and the challenges that lie ahead.
Q. You’ve coached three top cricketing nations. How different has it been coaching South Africa, Australia and Pakistan?
Mickey Arthur: Look, first I must say how fortunate I have been to be able to live my dream of coaching. I always wanted to coach because cricket is my degree. Being able to coach three top international teams, I’ve been very fortunate.
South Africa was fantastic because I came in as a very young coach, but we had a young team too, so we all kind of grew together. We achieved really good things, we got to number one in the world and though we never won a World Cup, we achieved great success in our bilateral series.
Teaching Australia was tougher, and perhaps it came a little bit too early for me. Understanding the culture, I think, was something that I underestimated. People think Australians and South Africans are similar. It's not like that and I tried to run the team like I ran South Africa. It turned out to be a tough gig culminating in all sorts of stuff.
To lose your job is a massive blow to your reputation, it’s a massive blow to your ego. And I’d be lying if I say I didn’t struggle over a period of time, but I still believed I was a great coach and had a lot to offer.
So getting into 20-20 leagues certainly helped me regain my self-esteem and my confidence as a coach. And then coming into this Pakistani job was like a breath of fresh air and I am thoroughly enjoying it.
Q. You’ve worked with different captains, does a coach need to do different things around different captains or does a captain have to adapt to a coach? Who is the boss? How does it really work?
Mickey Arthur: I certainly think it’s an amalgamation of the two.
I watched the whole thing unfold with Virat and Kumble from a distance during the Champions Trophy and I was particularly disappointed for him because I think his values as a coach were the same values that I have.
I think the key is at what stage you get the team and how dominant a captain you have. I have been incredibly fortunate to have worked with dominant characters. Graeme Smith was a big character, Michael Clarke was a big character and Misbah is a very lovely, humble man but a big character in terms of his influence on his team.
But all the captains that I’ve worked with enjoyed the fact that I will look after all the preparations and the off-field stuff. The thing that drains captains are the off-field issues that come with captaincy. So I’ve established that when the team goes on the field, it’s the captain who is in charge and I fall back into a supporting role.
Obviously a lot of decisions are taken in conjunction of the captain, so it is important that the captain and the coach are on the same page in terms of their philosophies, in terms of where they want to take the team, in terms of the role clarity for players. But that's a discussion you have behind closed doors as captain and coach. When you walk out of the doors, you walk out as one, united in the direction you want the team to go, and I think that has worked exceptionally well.
Q. In cricket, the coach gets blamed for poor performances and the captain gets credit for the successes. It is quite different in other sports, such as football or hockey. Do you agree?
Mickey Arthur: Yes, I do. The most vulnerable position after a poor performance is that of the coach because your captain is normally one of your best players. You aren’t going to go forward without that player, but you can go forward without the coach and change things up, and that’s why I’ve always said I like to be in charge off the field. I like to set the parameters because if the team fails, you’re in the spotlight.
I’d hate to lose my job, like I did with Australia, knowing that I didn’t do things my way. If I have done it my way and that way is not good enough or fails, I can live with that because you had the opportunity to implement what you think was right and you failed. With Australia, I kind of didn't do it my way and that's the one thing that made me doubly determined when I came to Pakistan, that I would do it my way.
You will have both success and failure, though I would prefer more success, but my legacy as a coach is going be the environment I create: The improvement of players, the improvement of the culture, more professionalism. I think one day I’d like people, certainly of Pakistan, to look back at the time that I was with them and say that, yeah, Micky really left us a good legacy.
Q. Before the Champions Trophy, you were virtually written off as an ODI/T20 outfit but all that has changed now. Have you found the right formula now? Have you got all the parts that you wanted?
Mickey Arthur: I think so. I think if we have to be brutally honest, we probably lack one quality batsman, but I am comfortable with the spin bowling department, and the quick bowling department did very well. We need to go into that World Cup in 2019 with players who have got a minimum 5 to ten ODIs under their belt. This will ensure that it’s not foreign for them when they walk into a heart-racing game in a World cup scenario.
Our fitness in fielding is improving all the time. Our batting strike rates were pretty low and we have worked really hard on allowing players the freedom to go out and play. Scores over 300 have now become the norm with us.
In the Champions Trophy, I was so excited about the fact that we were able to restrict teams to under 250. With our bowling, we have decided to go on the offensive. I think the best way to stop a team scoring and the best way bring the run rate down is by taking wickets, so we have allowed our bowlers to go on the attack.
The idea is to constantly look to take wickets, and we got the rewards for that in the Champions Trophy. We just have to keep building on it, we just have to keep building on our strengths: wicket-taking deliveries, reverse swing, our variations. We know the World Cup’s going to be in England, so we need to be up to speed with playing in those conditions as well.
Q. How important was the series against the World XI for getting cricket back home to Pakistan again?
Mickey Arthur: I hope it goes a long way to getting cricket back in Pakistan. It was important for Pakistan that it went off well. For me, it’s been a privilege to coach a Pakistan team in Pakistan just to see the passion that it brings with it. It’s been wonderful. And to see the players playing in front of their own crowds is amazing. I always give the example of Asad Shafiq who’s played nearly 55 to 60 Test matches now (he has played 56) but he’s never played a game at home.
Q. How do you keep evolving and improving as a coach?
Mickey Arthur: I think it’s important that you keep challenging yourself as a coach. I think it’s important because just as you don’t want players to get stuck in comfort zones, I don’t think you can get stuck in comfort zones as a coach. The support staff that I’ve brought in around me challenge me all the time, and that’s important.
So we will sit down as coaches and we will say we can be the best we can possibly be today. Maybe there’s an area we can improve on – was our next session structured enough? How did it work? And I think you’re constantly going to be critiquing yourself in order to make yourself better. Results are one thing but the information you deliver, practice sessions you deliver, environment you deliver, values you deliver, you’ve gotta keep assessing every day in order for you to grow as a coach. We constantly ask our players never to be satisfied and it’s just as important that we as coaches and leaders keep evolving and keep delivering.
Q. Are there times when you think of just giving it all up?
Mickey Arthur: Yeah there are times, but I knew when it was taken away from me how much I missed it! You probably need a very understanding family and I’d be lying if I say it was all a bed of roses. It’s not. Because you are away for so long, you miss birthdays, you miss family gatherings, you miss a lot of stuff. My daughters are 25, 23 and 20 and I’ve been coaching for fourteen years. I’ve missed them growing up and those are the sacrifices you make in order to do this job, but I like to think that I’ve given them a good living, I like to think that I’ve provided really well for them. But it has been tough.
Q. What's next in your career? Is there something you want to do eventually before you call it a day?
Mickey Arthur: Yes, I want to win the World cup. I certainly want to win a world cup! I think you have a shelf life in terms of coaching international teams, and I think that shelf life is 3-4 years, depending on how much the team changes. I just want to keep being the best I can possibly be. I just want people to think, that Mickey Arthur – he’s a good bloke but he’s a really good coach, he’s always held our best interests at heart. And as for the next challenge, who knows what it is? There will be another challenge.
I really enjoyed building teams, coming in as somebody that can change environments, create excellence, but also build a team that has sustainable success. Those are the three issues that are incredibly important for me, the three issues that I look back on a job and think, did I do that right? I felt I had a big tick with South Africa and a big cross with Australia and I am hoping that ultimately when i finish here, that I leave with a big tick. I love coaching Pakistan though. I’m loving the people, I’m loving the country, I’m loving the passion, I’m loving the colour. You see those green flags at cricket games and the emotion attached to the sport.. that is unparalleled. I feel incredibly proud and privileged to be able to do that.
Q. Now your big challenge is to rebuild the Pakistan Test team...
Mickey Arthur: Yes it is, because a year ago our focus was primarily on One-Day cricket and we put a lot of effort into becoming a good side, culminating in a really lovely Champions Trophy win which has given us so much confidence and almost endorsed the style of cricket we want to play.
The Test team led by Misbah – who’s just been the Godfather of Pakistan cricket – was very stable when I came in. Then there was Younus Khan who is an unbelievable cricketer, unbelievable player, and a massive influence on the dressing room. To lose that is a challenge for us.
I now feel our One-Day cricket is in a fairly good space, but our Test team is going to be rebuilt and that's a great challenge. I am wary of Sri Lanka because they've got nothing to lose. I totally respect every opposition and they are going to come here very well prepared and I know they are coming to us with a point to prove.
(Hemant Buch is broadcaster and writer who's worked for over two decades in this field. Cricket is his profession, and racket sports, his passion. He tweets @hemantbuch)
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