By Saj Sadiq
The clinical manner in which an inexperienced and less-fancied Pakistan side dissected and then disposed of England in the first Test at Lord’s of the two-match series took most observers by surprise.
Conventional wisdom had indicated that England, playing at home in early summer conditions, would prove to be untouchable for the visiting side which at the start of the tour had five players who had yet to make a Test debut. A 2-0 scoreline in favour of the hosts was, therefore, a given for many.
Whilst the win for Pakistan at Lord’s by a margin of nine wickets would have instilled a lot of confidence in the young team, it also provided a unique opportunity to win their first Test series in England since 1996. But, what transpired at Leeds in the second Test put paid to all Pakistan hopes as a fired-up England side came roaring back to square the series with a comprehensive innings victory over the visitors.
The victory at Lord’s may have left many hopeful about the incredible talent that Pakistan possess but the loss at Headingley was equally exasperating, especially for their head coach, Mickey Arthur, who threatened to unleash some venom on his team for letting go a rare opportunity for a Test series win in England.
“After the Leeds defeat I had spoken about ‘Dishing out a hiding’ but that would have been taking it to the extreme,” says Arthur.
“We are a young team, so inconsistency levels will be there as we forge our way forward. But, still for me and the team, we were absolutely gutted as this was an opportunity for us to win a series.
“One of the things we want to do is be ruthless, which we weren’t when going into the last Test match and that really disappointed me. Saying that, the whole tour and the training beforehand had been exceptional, and I can’t fault the effort and the dedication of the players as they have been unbelievable.”
Winning one Test against Ireland and another against England, after the amount of cynicism expressed by all and sundry at home and abroad regarding the capabilities of his team, could have been a satisfactory result for some but Arthur, the perfectionist, is having none of this.
“People say that overall it was a good result and I agree it was a good result for sure, and if someone had said that coming on this tour we would win two out of three Test matches, we would have taken that gladly.
“But, we want more. We want more as a team and as a group together as I think winning away from home is so tough and we had a real opportunity to do that. We shouldn’t have to accept a 1-1 result as we always want to win a series.”
The bowling attack was largely credited for Pakistan’s remarkable performance at Lord’s during the first Test. In that regard, Mohammad Amir’s resurgence as the leader of the pack was heartening in many aspects, but as he showed during the Test match against Ireland and at Leeds, there were ongoing concerns about his fitness which seemed to put a shadow over his future in Tests. This is an issue that Arthur and chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq are taking very seriously, given the World Cup in 2019.
“I am going to sit with Mohammad Amir and Inzamam-ul-Haq soon and we are going to map out a future for him. After our discussions, Inzamam will present the plan to the selection panel and then to the player,” said Arthur.
“The fact is that we need all our bowlers firing when it’s time for the 2019 World Cup so that we are in a position to choose the best possible squad we can have for that tournament. We also want to make sure that those players are not tired, and ready to deliver their best performances over that period for us.”
To coach Pakistan is possibly one of the toughest jobs in world cricket. It may not be a scientifically proven fact but a quick look at the problems faced by Pakistan’s previous coaches, regardless of nationality, will show that coaching one of the most exciting and possibly most talented teams can easily prove to be a poisoned chalice.
But, for a passionate technician like Arthur, coaching Pakistan is about facing all those challenges to build a world-beating side and then leaving a legacy of excellence.
“This is a job I am very passionate about and one that I absolutely love. We have certainly changed the direction of thinking and put a lot of emphasis on areas that we need to improve upon.
“One day when I am not Pakistan coach any more, I would like people to look back and say that we had a foreign coach and a coaching team that came with him and they have left a legacy for Pakistan cricket.
“They weren’t here to just get their salary cheque at the end of every month and these guys have actually left a legacy behind which is totally what I would want to do. It’s a job I am incredibly passionate about and as long as I am making a difference to the Pakistan cricket team, I would love to stay as long as I possibly can.”
Arthur’s reign as Pakistan’s head coach has seen a fair amount of lows and highs. The victory in the 2017 Champions Trophy tournament was a highlight but then there have been some embarrassing lows as well in the shape of heavy Test losses in Australia as well as the Test whitewash against Sri Lanka in the UAE. The Pakistan Cricket Board have put faith in his abilities to take Pakistan to the 2019 World Cup, but will Arthur look for a different challenge once the ICC tournament ends?
“I have done a lot and I have been very fortunate in my career to have worked all over the world and been an international coach for a long time,” he said. “It’s very demanding, it’s challenging and it’s all-consuming. But, I would certainly not change it for the world. This Pakistan job stimulates me all day.”
It would appear that coaching a team like Pakistan which can produce match-winners like Hasan Ali, Shadab Khan and Fakhar Zaman with minimum fuss is something of an addiction for a trend-setter like Arthur. Whilst he may have faced criticism from some sources for his team’s performances that lack consistency, the drive to take Pakistan to the top is something that propels him forward.
This love for Pakistan’s unique brand of cricket may also explain why when asked if he would accept, if offered, a chance by the PCB to extend his contract after next year’s World Cup, his reply is unequivocal.
“I would do that with pleasure.”