Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, Pakistan coach MICKEY ARTHUR addresses allegations of discord in the camp, offers his take on the state of South African cricket and looks ahead to the Test at Newlands.
Sport24 asked: How would you sum up your time in charge of Pakistan?
Mickey Arthur: I assumed the Pakistan head coaching position in 2016 and, in terms of my experiences thus far, the first word that comes to mind is exhilarating. My time at the helm has been fantastic and a journey that I have really enjoyed. My family and I are still based in Perth and as a consequence we do a helluva lot of travelling. However, I wouldn’t have it any other way because it’s crucial to have that core family unit together. When you are travelling around the world, that is very crucial. My wife Yvette and my daughters Ashton, Brooke and Kristin have all been very supportive of my journey and I’m indebted to them that they have let me do this job... I have been working with some fantastic players in a country that is so passionate about cricket. Pakistan is a great team to be a part of and to see the emergence of young players is exciting. Giving some of them the opportunity to perform has been great. Shaheen Afridi is going to be fantastic. There are also guys you probably haven’t seen like Shadab Khan, Fahim Ashraf, Fakhar Zaman and Imam-ul-Haq. We have so many young cricketers that are going to make a real contribution to Pakistan cricket going forward. In terms of fully embracing the coaching position with Pakistan, the one thing I learned from the Australian job was that culturally you have to adapt everywhere. People think that South Africa and Australia are culturally similar but, having worked in both environments, I found that theory to be untrue. When I took charge of Pakistan, I stopped and had a look from the outside before making any judgement calls. I got used to the culture because I think that is so important. For you to move a team forward as a coach, you have to understand the culture. In terms of taking learnings from Gary Kirsten’s success with India, I think we were at different points when we took over in our respective coaching roles. I had a little look at that as a case study, but I think we were both at different points of our development. When Gary assumed the reins, the Indian team was very well-set and established, whereas this Pakistani side is a very young outfit moving forward.
Sport24 asked: How would you assess the current mood in the camp?
Mickey Arthur: A lot of the reports have been absolutely sensationalised. It was a normal debrief like we usually do, but the fact is that I was annoyed because I felt that we were an hour away from dominating a Test match after being in a dominant position at tea on the second day. It was disappointing that we didn’t grab that opportunity and run with it. As head coach, I try to give clear role clarity, instil structure and create an environment in which players can excel. That has always been my stance here and these young players just want to get better and better. It’s about cultivating a high-performance environment where mediocrity is not accepted. (Arthur allegedly had a heated argument with senior playing personnel and purportedly threw objects in the dressing room). I want to win every game that my players are involved in and, as a result, I am very emotionally attached to everything. Emotions boiled over for me a little bit during the first Test. (Arthur confronted the TV umpire and has since received an official warning and one demerit point for breaching the ICC Code of Conduct during the third day’s play in the first Test). Going forward, I suppose I have to channel my emotions in the right direction. I was emotional as a player and that has not changed as a coach – in fact I think it has probably got worse. But it was a hard and honest chat I had with the players. I am just upfront and honest and that is how I have always been. In terms of my personal development, I think I am a far better coach now than I was. I was talking to Graeme Smith the other day and we discussed how we evolved. We made a lot of mistakes along the way, but we found out how to evolve as leaders together. Graeme went on to achieve great heights with South Africa and I would like to think that I am now a far better coach than I ever was.
Sport24 asked: Is there friendly fire between you and Ottis Gibson?
Mickey Arthur: Myself and Ottis were team-mates at Griqualand West and we played 13 domestic matches together. As the opposing head coaches, there is plenty of friendly fire between us. We have already shared a meal and have sat down and caught up. I am so happy to see Ottis coaching South Africa and doing so well. He is a fantastic coach and a great person, so to see what he is doing with South Africa, and I watch it closely, is great. In terms of the landscape of South African cricket, we played against an invitational team prior to the first Test and there were some helluva good players there. South Africa seems to be producing some very good players and the Proteas team is very well led by Faf du Plessis. South African cricket looks fairly healthy to me. I don’t know what it’s like at the core, because I am no longer in the system, but from the outside it looks healthy. South Africa have gone pretty well with their cricket at the moment. The functioning of their team is not for me to worry about, but from the outside they look like pretty well established as a team. However, I think South Africa’s ranking of fourth in the Test arena is probably a fair assessment at the moment. In order to attain the number one spot, you have to win consistently outside of your own country. I think that is the key to getting to number one and claiming the Test Championship mace.
Sport24 asked: Your outlook ahead of the 2019 Cricket World Cup?
Mickey Arthur: I reckon there are probably eight teams out of 10 that are in with a shout to win it, which is going to make the World Cup a fascinating event. South Africa will be one of the teams to challenge for the World Cup trophy in the UK and so will we. Our objective is to win it. We have done well in the shorter formats and our white-ball cricket is fairly good at the moment and I am quite comfortable with it. We have got a good core team and players that know their roles very well and perform them. Us winning the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy was built around allowing guys to go out and express themselves. We will employ the same approach this time. In terms of my management team, we have a great group of guys and the coaching staff is very cross-spectrum. We have some characters from the North Pole and others from the South Pole so to speak. That is what makes the coaching team tick. Everybody has got an opinion and we challenge each other constantly and that makes for a very good coaching environment. (The batting coach, Grant Flower, is from Zimbabwe, bowling coach, Azhar Mahmood, is from Pakistan and fielding coach, Grant Bradburn, is from New Zealand). In terms of my contract, I am with Pakistan until the end of the 2019 World Cup, but who knows what will happen after that. I am really enjoying my time with the team. In terms of where I see myself in five years, I honestly don’t know because things change so quickly in this game.
Sport24 asked: How would you assess your current Test outfit?
Mickey Arthur: We are currently ranked seventh in the world and there is massive room for improvement for us. The reality is that that is where we sit at the moment. We have lost a lot of core senior players, so we are a Test side that is developing at the moment. But we are not happy with that and I’m hoping that within the next year or two we can get ourselves where we need to be and that’s right at the top. It was a difficult opening Test for us at Centurion and in conditions that were really tough and very alien for our players. However, I think they have handled themselves well. They team has prepared well and we are ready to go for the second Test (which gets underway at Newlands on Thursday morning) and the players are fast getting used to the local playing conditions.
Sport24 asked: Who would be your dream dinner guests?
Mickey Arthur: If I could invite three dream dinner guests, it would be Roger Federer, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Donald Trump. Federer without a doubt inspires me in terms of a sporting context. Hopkins is one of my favourite actors and was brilliant in The Silence of the Lambs alongside Jodie Foster. Last but not least, Trump would get invited as he would provide the evening’s entertainment.