London – Perhaps in keeping with his easy-going nature, Pakistan head coach Mickey Arthur has avoided getting too bellicose about Wednesday’s poignant ICC Champions Trophy meeting with South Africa, his home country and the team he once guided in the same role.
He does concede that there will be some special elements to it for him, personally, but isn’t making a song and dance about it, as it isn’t his first clash with the Proteas in an opposition tracksuit.
“I guess the novelty has gone a bit as I coached against them when I was coach of Australia,” Arthur told the latest edition of The Cricket Paper (www.thecricketpaper.com) , a weekly newspaper in England dedicated to resurrecting meaningful print media exposure to various levels of the game.
“But I have always had an eye on South Africa because many of the players came into the side under my watch,” he added.
“Morne Morkel, AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, JP Duminy … I have always had a special place in my heart for them. I always watch them with a very keen eye.
“But I would certainly love to turn them over when we play against them.”
Arthur and his charges, slightly painfully rebuilding in the immediate aftermath of the retirement of gnarly battlers Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq, need that “turnover” at Edgbaston on Wednesday (14:30 start, SA time) if they are not to make a swift exit from the tournament – they were haplessly crushed by Subcontinent arch-rivals India at the same venue in their opener on Sunday.
The result seemed to confirm the vulnerable transitional phase Pakistan are in, and Arthur is presumably under pressure to engineer an upward trend pretty soon after a bumpy ride in one-day internationals since he took the reins from Waqar Younis in the middle of 2016.
Since assuming the job, and including Sunday’s significant anti-climax in competitive terms against the purposeful Indians, his men have won eight and lost 10 ODIs, for a win percentage of 44.44.
Of course Arthur sits in one of the most volatile international coaching jobs in the world: Pakistani cricket is a complex beast very broadly, and they are overwhelmingly unable to play home matches these days, instead using the United Arab Emirates as their base.
By contrast, the Proteas are in the midst of a prolific run under the now quite advanced tenure of Russell Domingo.
Arguably a little cobwebbed after a couple of months’ layoff as a group, they did surrender the key first two clashes in a three-match recent series with host nation England, but have since bounded back earnestly with successive big victories of their own, first in the dead-rubber against Eoin Morgan’s team at Lord’s and then their first Champions Trophy game against Sri Lanka at The Oval on Saturday.
The return to victorious habits also means that, from the start of the 2016/17 southern hemisphere season to now, Domingo can boast an 80 percent success rate (16 wins from 20 matches) in ODIs.
A little bizarrely under the circumstances – the Test team has been faring well too – Domingo is in a slightly unsettled position himself, as Cricket South Africa will soon be inviting outside applications for the post he has held since late 2012 (first as the Twenty20 coach only, before taking it on an overall basis in mid-June 2013).
He can reapply, but it is unclear at this point whether he will even do so.
Port Elizabeth-born Domingo, 42, and the Johannesburg-born Arthur, 49, have certain cricketing achievements in common, like both steering South Africa (Arthur on the first occasion in history) to hallowed Test series triumph in Australia.
Arthur has also overseen Test series victory in England, something that Domingo will have his own crack at from next month.
They also cut their teeth in first-class coaching in relative backwater areas of South Africa, if you like, including having in common successful spells with the infant Eastern Cape (later rebranded Warriors) franchise.
Arthur helped them punch a bit above their anticipated weight at the time in earning runners-up berths in successive early-2000s finals of the then Pro20 competition, whilst Domingo also got the best out of fairly limited resources in his own Warriors years between 2005 and 2011.
He turned them into a strong – and trophy-winning – limited-overs unit, as well as overseeing the less-then-wealthy outfit’s march to the final of the lucrative former T20 Champions League.
It may be just a little concerning to the SA camp, ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, that Arthur has plenty of information about what makes various senior members of the Proteas team tick – and perhaps what doesn’t, to an extent – but there also plenty of other, more youthful elements of the current squad who have made their strides so far entirely on Domingo’s watch …
*Rob Houwing is attending the Champions Trophy for Sport24. Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing