Mickey Arthur feels Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan's high fitness standards, drive them © Getty Images
Mickey Arthur feels Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan’s high fitness standards, drive them © Getty Images

Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur has, over the last few months faced one of the toughest challenges of his coaching career, and has a look to work towards improving Pakistan cricket. Pakistan only recently concluded with their tour of England, where they managed to draw the Test series 2-2, lost the One-Day International (ODI) series 4-1, and won the one-off T20I handsomely. But Arthur’s limited-overs is now at the No.9 spot in the ICC Team rankings and has an uphill task in front of them, to improve that. In an interview with EspnCricInfo, Arthur discusses in deep about Pakistan Cricket, , its structure, players’ habits, their fitness, discipline and his experience until now as coach. Arthur also explains how he wants to inculcate a ‘culture of excellence’. READ: Pakistan vs England: Tour full of peaks and valleys, ends with vital questions

When asked if coaching Pakistan has been the toughest challenge of his career, Arthur said, “No. It is not. It has been fantastic. It is frustrating at times because we were almost starting from a very low base in terms of structure, player plans, injury and fitness assessments etc. But the scope of the job is so good and so broad. I really do enjoy it.” READ: Azhar Mahmood: Enjoyed responsibility of being Pakistan bowling coach

He added, “We are trying to create a culture of excellence. To create that culture has been tough. It hasn’t been there in Pakistan cricket for a while – whether that is cultural or a product of the environment, I am not sure. But we are getting very structure-based. Low fitness levels will not be tolerated. If we want to catch up with the rest of the world, certainly in one-day and T20 cricket, we have got to be doing those little things well. So it’s been lovely, fantastic, exhilarating, but also frustrating.”

Arthur was appointed as coach of the Pakistan side in May 2016. When asked about what motivated him to take up this job, he said, “When I lost the job with Cricket Australia, I almost felt I had unfinished business to do. I felt that my reputation with South Africa and internationally had been very good. And then you lose your coaching job, it is tough. It kept me three years out of it. I really missed the adrenaline rush of international coaching. [But] I kept myself in the coaching loop: I coached in the Bangladesh Premier League, Caribbean Premier League and the Pakistan Super League. That pricked my enthusiasm again for the international job. So when this Pakistan job came up, because I had coached in the PSL, I thought it could be quite a good one.” READ: Michael Vaughan: Misbah-ul-Haq deserves lot of credit for the way he has captained Pakistan

Arthur was then asked if he was given a blank state, when he joined. He said, “The chairman [Shaharyar Khan], executive chairman [Najam Sethi], and COO [Subhan Ahmed] had given me almost a blank piece of paper to come in and create a structure and get Pakistan cricket back to where it should be. Success needs to be measured with team success, but also down the line with structures that have been created and standards that have been put in place.”

He added, “I have been really disappointed with players who have joined this tour [ODI squad] unfit. But that has just been the norm. That won’t be tolerated again going forward because now everybody knows what the minimum requirement is.” READ: Mohammad Aamer: Relieved on clearing one of the toughest exams of my life

Pakistan players, fans and media have, apart from Bob Woolmer, never found it easy adjusting to the idea of an overseas coach. Arthur therefore, was asked if he felt he started from a disadvantageous position. He said, “I spoke a lot to Bob when I was coaching South Africa and he was in Pakistan. Bob loved every minute of coaching Pakistan. He loved the people, and I can see why. The people are fantastic. It is just that they need to be pushed and challenged all the time. Otherwise they get into comfort zones very easily. I am trying to create an environment that does that: stimulates them, lets them enjoy their cricket and have fun, but also challenges them. Those three things are so important.”

Arthur believes that style of coaching suits his coaching philosophy as well. “Yes, it does. I intend to be pretty much a hands-on coach in that I like the challenge of creating those environments. It worked fantastically well working with Graeme [Smith, in South Africa]. It didn’t work that well with Australia. For me, coming in and building a team is something that I really enjoy. I enjoy seeing young players given the opportunity and then perform and go on to have fulfilling careers,” he said.

Arthur had once said about coaching Pakistan, “It’s totally out of the comfort zone. It’s cricket I’ve never played and never coached – what a treat!”. When asked to emphasize on those thoughts, he explained, “It is out of my comfort zone because you are coaching a completely different nation. It is not like coaching Australia or South Africa. That was particularly hard, but culturally [in Pakistan] it is very, very different. So it challenges me as a coach every day. Every night before going to bed I analyse: have I done well, have I been too hard, too soft on the players, have I stimulated them enough in training, was the practice session good, did I deliver the right message?”

He added, “Generally with the nations I have coached, you get a feel straightway, because culturally it is very similar for me. But with Pakistan it is different. I am working with good skills, good talent and a population that is very demanding and very passionate about their cricket. You put all that in the melting pot, it becomes fantastic. Sometimes I look at myself and think: have I been too hard in terms of pushing and challenging the players? But I only think about that for five minutes and then I say I am doing okay because they need to be pushed and challenged.”

Arthur said that he never been more tougher in his caoching career. “I have found with this team that you have to continually be driving home those standards. I have probably been the toughest I have ever been in my coaching career with Pakistan for the simple reason that it is needed. Hopefully it is taking the team in the right direction, but more importantly it is teaching good habits that go with professional sport,” he said.

Arthur, when he joined mentioned about how he was excited about working with individual players, and help them improve, so they can contribute towards team goals, while improving individually. Much in a way similar to what Woolmer did with Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan, Arthur gave a few good examples from his current Pakistan lot.

“Sohail Khan, Rahat Ali are good examples. What you need with them is, they go back with the fitness programme, they go back with an injury assessment, with a total assessment on how they are physically, mentally and technically. So we send those reports back to the NCA [academy], which then takes over the coaching and the monitoring of those players while we get another set of players for the ODIs and T20Is. When the players are not with us, they are directed by Mudassar Nazar [NCA head]. So I can pick up the phone at any time and say, “Mudassar, tell me how’s Sohail Khan doing? What is his fitness level? How many overs has he bowled this week? And the front arm that we wanted to work on, what is that looking like? Is that allowing him to drive through the crease more?” In other words, we have got control and ownership of those players.” he said.

Arthur though, was not impressed by how Mohammad Irfan’s injury assessment and fitness levels. “Mohammad Irfan comes out here [in England] and he is clearly not fit enough to play one-day cricket. If there were individual player plans and definite markers on where he should have been, we would have known. We didn’t know,” he said.

Arthur was then asked whether he was being too harsh on Irfan, to which he said, “Of course not. Irfan is a fantastic cricketer. I had him in my room after the Cardiff ODI. I told him, “I can’t select you for the next game [because] I am not sure you can get through ten overs. I can’t select you for the T20 because I am not sure you can get through even four overs. You started cramping in your fourth over the other night, so how can we take the risk and play you?” But now Mohammad Irfan has gone back to Pakistan with a training programme that is custom-made for him, which gives him the best possible opportunity to come back and play for Pakistan.”

He said, “There is nothing personal, but enough is enough. We have to set some real standards to make people understand that we are pretty serious about players arriving unfit. Every player who arrived on this ODI and T20 tour has been below standard, which is not a good place to be.”

Asked if that had become a hurdle for him, he said, “Well, it is because we can’t train them here. We train them technically, tactically and mentally, but if we have got to do it physically as well, we’ve not got enough time. It is not the system’s fault only. There needs to be player responsibility as well and there has been no accountability from the players. I will take Misbah-ul-Haq and Younis Khan as examples. They are 42 and 38 respectively. They are the fittest players in Pakistan cricket. And there is no coincidence that that’s why they are the best performers over the last year. They drive themselves. They take responsibility for their fitness. Shoaib Malik, in the one-day squad, in his mid-30s, fantastic, fitness-wise. He is lean, he is mean. I want the young guys to do that. That is true professionalism. I don’t think that has been driven in the youngsters properly.”

He added, “We have got a responsibility to the people of Pakistan and I have got the massive responsibility to the PCB to get it right. And I certainly won’t be compromising on any of that. And the players know that: I have spoken to them directly. You arrive like that again [unfit], you won’t play.”