I Dont Think You Have Ever Coached Unless You Have Coached An Asian Team Mickey Arthur
Mickey Arthur, the current Pakistan head coach, has donned the coaching hat in three different countries. At South Africa, he took them to No. 1, in Australia things didn't go as per plan and now with Pakistan, a Champions Trophy victory has set the journey in motion.
In an exclusive interview with Cricbuzz, the much-travelled 49-year-old opens up on a range of topics - from working with stalwarts like Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith and his coaching philosophies to the experience of heading an Asian side.
You have had quite a bit of success as a coach. Tell us as to how you motivate individuals and teams when they go through tough phases..
As a coach, you are doing lot of soul searching yourself as well. Coaches, like players, go through crises of confidence. You try and back what you are doing. When things don't work, you second guess your judgment. I try and stay upbeat as I can. I try and stay as honest as I can. I try and have my communications with players whether it is good news or bad news. You have to be consistent with that. But it is tough. Every day, you wake up and you have to raise the energy levels of that dressing room. Some maybe on a high and others maybe having their poor form to worry about. I just try and maintain... [and be] as positive as I can. What I learnt is that you can't sugar coat a message. You get a lot of more respect from your players if you can look them at the eye and deliver an honest message. Rather than fudging and try and make it nicer when it is obviously not.
You have now coached three international teams. How do you adjust to different cultures?
The one thing that I learn is that you have to adjust to the culture. You can't change the culture. I learned that with Australia. Pakistan have been fantastic. I love this job with them. I don't think you ever coached, unless you have coached an Asian team. The passion, the excitement and the skills in Asia are amazing. This is something that went through my mind after the Test series against Sri Lanka. Being a coach of a Western team - like the South African team or the Australia team. We always win games with our pace. The game is quite faster to start with and then slows down. But everything is opposite in sub-continent. So it challenges you as a coach. The backing up I have got form the PCB is second to none. They have allowed me to do what I want to do for the best. I really think that we are on the right track. I am loving this Pakistan job.
Most coaches seem to be satisfied these days to do a couple of franchises and then stay at home for the rest of the time. What motivated you to coach an international team?
I could have done that as well. I had Jamaica, Dhaka and Karachi and I could have taken one more. But let me tell you, coaching in T20 circuit is nice. But as a coach, you don't make a significant difference to the players. You just create an environment and you set up structures, set up tactics and you run practices. When you are coaching an international team, you are running a programme for 12 months of the year. You get to influence peoples' careers. The public following is so huge. We have 200 million people in Pakistan watching everything that is happening to the Pakistan cricket team. That stimulates me. I really get annoyed when players say stuff about franchise coaches like - he comes in and creates this relaxed environment, he lets us to train when we want to train, we have optional training sessions and stuff like that. When you run an international programme, that's where you make a significant contribution towards the game. That's where you build teams. I love coaching internationally because I can develop people, but it's hard to do that in the T20 environment.
Let's talk about the 438 game in Johannesburg in 2006. During the break, after Australia had completed their innings, what was going on in your mind?
We went through such a range of emotions that day. It gives me goose bumps to talk about that day now. If we can try to recreate the scene, the series was leveled 2-2. This was the fifth game. This was the final. South Africa hadn't beaten Australia often in one-day cricket to win a series. We had got ourselves 2-0 up and then they made it 2-2. To see them go and get 434 by smashing us all over the park was unbelievable. I remember the series was sponsored by Standard Bank. Their logo was a duck. I remember looking around at the dinner break; and the duck was sitting with the hands on the head. I remember people started to leave the stadium at the dinner break. I went through so much of despair. The stories that stand out for me though is that Jacques Kallis walking into the dressing room, which was a pretty dull place at that point, and telling, 'oh boys, the bowlers have done their job. Now it's our turn. That score is only par.' Everybody had a laugh and that sort of broke the ice. I have always try to set up targets. I am fairly structured in whatever I do. I set up targets and said after 20 overs we needed to be 160 and only one wicket down. Everyone started laughing again. I then took it off and chucked it in the bin. Those were the things that stick in my mind. But what a day it was.
Considering the amazing stats of Jacques Kallis, there's this thought that he never gets the recognition he deserves. Would you agree?
I do honestly think so. People tend to say that he hasn't won enough games for South Africa and all that, but just look at his numbers. Going to Australia and working in that system made me realize the high regard the Aussies had for him. For the Australians, Don Bradman is the icon of cricket and they had lot of admiration for Jacques as well. To hear guys like Ricky Ponting talk about Jaques being the best cricketer of the modern era, I sort of realized the awe he was held in. What a phenomenal player. He has been the best cricketer all time. Over 10,000 runs in both forms of the game and over 300 wickets virtually in both forms of the game and add in about 400 catches. We were always playing with 12 men with Jacques in the team. He was good enough to be among our top three seam bowlers and he used to bat at four. How lucky were South Africa. Since he retired, he has been held in lot more awe and esteem and quite rightly so.
Did Jacques Kallis actually work hard or was he just naturally so gifted?
Jacques Kallis worked very hard. There is this myth about him that he didn't. Of course he was naturally gifted but he worked damn hard. He didn't cruise. One of the common traits of all the great players is that they do train hard. I have worked with Sangakkara. The way he trains and the way he goes about his business is amazing. There's no coincidence that he has been one of the best players of the modern era. Ricky Ponting is the same and so are Michael Clarke and Younis Khan.
Tell us about your friendship with Kumar Sangakkara...
Sanga [Sangakkara] and I, we go a long way back. I never forget my first tour to Sri Lanka. It was my second tour as coach. I remember that 600-run stand between Sanga and Mahela. During that Test match, the two of them invited me for dinner and I went out with them and their wives. From that day, my friendship cruised. From that day, I have taken a lot of keen interest in finding out how Sanga is and how he is going. When I went to Dhaka Dynamites, Sanga was with me. Our friendship really blossomed there. So much so that, the franchise cricket I coach, I try and get Sanga on my side. He is such a good influence on younger players. The way he trains and the way he goes about his business at practices, his knowledge on the game is unbelievable. Also the person he is, I have got such a special admiration for him. We have lot of respect for each other. He is a special guy.
What's your memory of that 624-run stand between Sangakkara and Jayawardene, that kept your team on the field for seven sessions?
It's crystal clear for me. Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith were not on that tour. Ashwell Prince was captain. A new captain, I had only toured India by then and it was tough to motivate. Herschelle Gibbs at every break coming in and had to be put in on a drip as he was cramping. Trying to break the partnership was so hard. But then again, watching two great players go about their business in conditions they were comfortable with was great. We didn't look like getting them out. I always remember the second Test at P. Sara Oval as well. That I think is one of the best cricket matches that I have been involved in. We set them a target of 352 and Sri Lanka won by one wicket. The last pair crawled over the line to win that Test match. Had we salvaged that match, it would have been a good tour for us. I remember young Dale Steyn running in and bowling. AB de Villiers was on that tour, Hashim Amla was in as well. Those players went onto become the backbone of South African team. They learned so much on that tour because it was so tough. Murali [Muttiah Muralitharan] was spinning it square. For us to come back and come so close was great.
Talking about your time with South Africa, you won a series in England after 40 years in 2008. What do you recall most about that series?
First I will give you a bit of background as to what happened. In 2006, we toured Australia and we went there as a confident unit with lot of bravado saying that we were going to take this Aussies team on. But we got thrashed 3-0. I never forget there was crisis in confidence. I remember sitting in my hotel room in Hobart at the end of that tour and I was wondering whether I was good enough to do this job. We were not improving. Then on the flight back home, Graeme Smith and I sat next to each other and mapped out a future for South African cricket team. We mapped up as to where we want to get to. We discussed about people whom we thought could get us to where we wanted to be. We discussed our style and everything. The year 2008 was our final frontier. We had a Test series in India in 2008, Test series in Bangladesh, Test series in England and Test series in Australia. All away from home, mind you. We said that at the end of 2008, we wanted to be the number one team in the world. We felt that that was only possible if we went to Australia and won. Everything we did, throughout the whole of 2006 and 2007 was to build for 2008. We drew the Test series 1-1 in India. We were high jacked in the Kanpur Test match where the wicket turned square from ball one going into the last game 1-0 up. We went to Bangladesh and won the Test series. Then to go to England and to win there was incredibly special. Graeme Smith played one of the best innings ever imaginable in Edgbaston to get us over the line. It was a phenomenal Test series. To top that all, later that year, we went to Australia and won. It was absolutely amazing.
That run chase in Perth. Only one team had chased more than 414 to win a Test match in the history of the game. What do you recall of that game?
That was unbelievable. I actually didn't watch the final session. It was so tensed that I was locked up in the toilet. I would quietly watch the television screen every now and then. A couple of players were doing the same. To watch some of our young players deliver was remarkable. One of the keys for winning for us was Graeme Smith got hundreds at games. Then to see the way the young JP Duminy bat gave so much belief. We went to the MCG and won the series there in the Boxing Day Test match. We were in a position of no hope. Dale Steyn and Paul Harris gave Duminy great support. Duminy played the innings of his life. He scored 160 and gave us a lead when we were actually thinking that we were going to give away a 100 run deficit. For us to get the lead and then Steyn to come and take five wickets was superb. Everything fell our way. Our preparation was so good and things didn't happen by chance. We were properly prepared for what was going to happen. To win in 2008 was most rewarding in my coaching career.
There was so much of hope when JP Duminy walked into the side at the age of 20. Is there a sense of disappointment that he hasn't achieved as much as he should have?
I guess so. I have followed JP's career very, very closely. He is a wonderful lad. I think there's this feeling that he has under achieved in Test cricket although he has done well in ODIs and T20s. Test cricket there will be that disappointment with results. JP sets high standards. He will be really disappointed. It doesn't take away anything from what he has achieved.
South Africa have been number one in Tests and number one in ODIs. But why do you think they keep on failing in big tournaments?
That's the million dollar question. I said after winning the Champions Trophy that I had had five semi-finals with South Africa across all ICC events. We never progressed beyond. I don't know the answer honestly. Sometime I look back and wonder whether is it because that we are too structured. We plan so much. We always win bilateral series comfortably. By wining many games only we became the number one team in the world. But when it came to that crunch game, where structure and everything went out of window, you just had to go and play. You take the case of Sri Lanka, they have revolutionised cricket when they won the World Cup in 1996. They were an unpredictable side. If you take Pakistan, they have had success because they are ready to turn things around any day. South Africa whereas are consistent in their performance. Teams know what to expect from the South Africans. In Champions Trophy, we were beaten by India by a massive margin in our first game. Had we lost another game, I might have been out of job. Then we had to play South Africa. Playing against them you could plan because you knew what South Africa were going to do. Then it dawned on me that maybe that's why South Africa struggle in big events. But I honestly have no answer. I hope they go and win something somewhere down the line.
How was Graeme Smith as a leader?
Graeme was amazing. We started our tenures together. He was young and trying to work his way out. He came as a hard and abrasive captain and softened a little bit as he went on. Our synergy was so good. We worked together hard. We were honest with each other. Our relationship was special. He was a special guy. What he did for the South African cricket team at that time was amazing. He brought a new aura to the team. He was very special and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The recent Test series between Sri Lanka and Pakistan was interesting. The first Test went to the last session of the game while the second Test, coming into the last day, both teams had a chance to win...
I think we should have chased down 136 in Abu Dhabi. Disappointing we didn't get over the line. But this is a young side. We are trying to get the right balance in terms of our team. We haven't quite got it right as yet maybe. I love rebuilding teams. We have to rebuild the Test team now. Our Test team is at a stage where our ODI team was a year ago. Our ODI team is quite formidable now having gained lot of confidence after winning the Champions Trophy. The challenge is to get our Test team to where our ODI team is. When you lose Misbah and Younis, you are losing so much experience and so many runs. We have to get the balance right. I love challenges in coaching and I am looking forward to it. One good thing about the team is the fight they showed. The effort was incredible. We are on the right track.
One of the things that you seem to be stressing a lot is fielding and fitness. Both disciplines have improved tremendously in the last few months...
We have improved our fielding. We drew a line on the sand in Australia. We were under the pump in the Test series there. Then you get your ODI team with younger players coming and refreshing the team. These young players however were not fit enough. They brought the intensity of the team down. That was disappointing. With the big grounds in Australia, they started every game 30 runs ahead of us. They ran threes and we could run only twos. When they chased the ball to the boundary, it was a two and not three. But when we chased it down to the boundary it was a three. We didn't possess that same physical attributes of Australia. Partly, we were not fit enough. At the end of the tour, we drew a line on the sand and said these are the standards we require if someone wanted to get selected for Pakistan. We had to take a hard line approach because otherwise we wouldn't have improved. Being fit doesn't guarantee you better runs and wickets, but it gives you a better chance to get runs and wickets. I use the example of Babar Azam. He is backed up hundred after hundred. He is in extremely good condition. He is running as hard as in the first over of the innings as in the last over of the innings. It gives us a better opportunity to run better during fielding as well and keeps us fit.
Historically, there's never been a doubt about the batting and bowling depths of Pakistan, but fielding has been a worry. Can you fix that?
The good thing is the guys are having fun doing fielding drills. They are really enjoying their fielding. I think sometimes - excuse my words - Asian teams tend to see fielding as chill while batting and bowling were seen as the real skill. You didn't work hard on your fielding because it was the chill. Now we are putting so much emphasis because that's the only thing we do together. When you play a game of cricket, you know you are going to field. By doing it over and over, you become more skilful and athletic. You can see the enjoyment the boys are having on the field. They are throwing themselves down. The World XI series in Lahore, our young team fielded unbelievably well. When Shadab dived at cover point or when he chased the ball down and when Ahmed Shehzad took a blinder, the crowd were over the moon. That's what fielding does to a team.
When Pakistan whitewashed Sri Lanka 5-0, Shadab Khan played a crucial role. He was useful with the bat, excellent on the field and foxed many batsmen with his googly. Is he going to be the next big star of Pakistan cricket?
He is a genuine match winner. He is going to start to contribute a lot more with the bat. He is good enough with the bat and unbelievable with his fielding. In the middle overs, our whole philosophy now in ODI cricket is to take wickets. He is a genuine wicket-taker. He is so exciting to have in the side.
June this year Pakistan walk in to Champions Trophy ranked eighth. You had to play India, the defending champions, then South Africa world's number one ranked team and last England, the tournament hosts. How did you turn things around after such a tough start?
I don't know. What I do know is that this time last year we were really worried with the tours we had - England and Australia. We were wondering whether we would actually qualify for the World Cup. We had to play West Indies twice in the year. They were the closest to us. If you had done badly in one of those two series, they would have qualified ahead of us. We put a massive emphasis on ODI cricket. We were brilliantly prepared by the time the Champions Trophy came. Players knew their roles. To have Umar Akmal join us in England unfit was disappointing. It was again a line in the sand moment. Then to go to the Indian game and get absolutely hammered was shocking, to say the least. But the key for me is that I knew we were scared of failure in that game. I knew we were tentative against India. We were overawed by the occasion. But as a coaching staff, we had to remain calm. If we weren't calm, the players looking at us panicking, imagine what they would have done. There was so much going on. I had two meetings with the Chairman who was at England at that time. It was chaos. We had lost to the arch-enemy. Then to beat South Africa, beat Sri Lanka, and beat England - which was our best performance in the tournament. Then to go on and get India back in the final, that couldn't have been scripted better. So satisfying to see our players develop. We have gone nine games now unbeaten. Teams have not scored more than 250 against us in those nine games. We are in fairly good shape since then.
You seem to be putting all the pieces together for 2019 World Cup. How excited are you about the challenge less than two years away?
These are exciting times. Everything that we do now - without undermining bilateral series - we have a focus about the World Cup. Every team has got to be thinking about 2019. The key for us is getting enough game time into our squad. The reserves always play a significant role in knock out competitions. There's always loss of form and there's always injury. Getting enough time for our reserves is the important thing now. We will put together a squad that is good for that World Cup.