Mickey Arthur praised Asad Shafiq and told him him he could visualise Sachin Tendulkar while he batted © Getty Images
Mickey Arthur praised Asad Shafiq and told him him he could visualise Sachin Tendulkar while he batted © Getty Images

Mickey Arthur, Pakistan‘s coach in an interview with EspnCricInfo, opened up to talk about Pakistan Cricket, its positives after the tour of England, areas where he wants the team to work on, upcoming talents as well as its future. Arthur, who saw the Test side, reach No.1 Test rank in ICC’s team rankings, had to witness the ODI team drop to one of its lowest points. He felt that the Test team was a settled unit, players knew their role and performed them well in the series against Alastair Cook’s Test side. Pakistan levelled the four-match Test series, after a comeback win at The Kennington Oval. READ: Mickey Arthur: Misbah-ul-Haq, Younis Khan fittest players in Pakistan cricket

Asked if he agrees that the Test side is a well-settled one he said, “I do agree. There has been a little movement in that Sami Aslam has come in and done really well. Asad Shafiq batted at No. 4 (at The Oval), really took his chance and scored a hundred. There will be another batting position that becomes vacant at some stage. How we fill that I am not sure. That will probably be No. 6.”When asked whose position had become vacant he said, ‘Asad Shafiq was moved to No. 3 [No. 4, because Yasir Shah came in as nightwatchman at 3] because [Mohammad] Hafeez was dropped. So that position has become available. There are people who want that position and somebody who fits the bill in terms of physical, mental, tactical and technical will get that role.” READ: Pakistan vs England: Tour full of peaks and valleys, ends with vital questions

When asked if the responsibility of keeping the Test side, in a healthy and form, lies more or less on the shoulders of Misbah-ul-Haq, he said, “A lot of it is down to Misbah. He took over in 2010 and what he has done for Pakistan cricket has been immense. I have had the pleasure of working with some very good captains in Graeme and Michael Clarke and Misbah is right up there. He is respected. When he talks, people listen. He is a general. He is a man of very few words.” READ: Michael Vaughan: Misbah-ul-Haq deserves lot of credit for the way he has captained Pakistan

Arthur also talked about his relationship with Misbah and how he has lessened the burden on him. He said, “We have worked really well because I have taken a lot of the off-field stuff off Misbah. I have driven the culture, I have driven the communication with players, I have taken the lead in working out the selections with Inzy [Inzamam-ul-Haq, chairman of selectors]. That has allowed him to go out and concentrate on the team and on his batting. I had a honest one-on-one chat with Misbah before the England tour and we clarified our roles, we spoke about where the team is, and we have worked as one. I still think we can get better. I still think we can challenge ourselves a bit more.” READ: Mohammad Hafeez ruled out of Pakistan’s ODI series against West Indies

He also expressed how Misbah and Younis have a great strength of mind, and how they like to set examples as leaders. Arthur said, “When we arrived in England it was Ramadan and we were training. Misbah, Younis and a lot of others observed Ramadan to a T in terms of their eating habits etc. At the outset I said to Misbah: it is going to be quite tough. This is our preparation time and we are going to be putting in a lot of work. He said, “Coach, don’t worry about us. We can work as hard as you like and we have to.” He worked extremely hard. It was an inspiration to see him go about his work ethic.”

He added, “Misbah and Younis have played a massive role in motivating younger players. They are very meticulous in their preparations. They are fit, they do their gym work, rehabilitation, recovery, they hit enough balls, they know their games at all times, their routines are so structured and they get their rewards for doing that. Younis went through a rocky road in the first three Tests [in England], but he still backed what he was doing. He still knew that was the right way to go about his preparation. Every day he would do the same whether he got a nought or a fifty. He just had that strength of mind.

Meanwhile, Younis had struggled throughout the Tets series before he finally came back with a magnificent double-hundred in the last Test. Arthur said he was not worried about Younis then, when he failed to perform in the first three Tests.

“I wasn’t, to be honest. I had not seen a hint of panic in his eyes, or desperation. He listened to the advice we gave. He took it on board. And yet he knew there was a big score round the corner, because he was just ticking every box. Myself and Grant [Flower, batting coach] just wanted him to stay still at the crease. We thought he was moving too much, and when he was moving, his weight was going across the crease and not forward, not at the ball. So it was impossible to hit the ball straight. In the last Test he did that. And the strength of mind that he had in him, he just continued backing himself, still being a brilliant team man, still being brilliant around the changing room,” he said.

When asked to emphasize on Mohammad Hafeez who had apoor run of form throughout the England tour, after being bogged down by injury, Arthur said,”Hafeez is a very good cricketer. And all cricketers go through this little period where they don’t make as many runs as they would like. He had one or two starts which he did not capitalise on. Opening the batting in international cricket is tough. You are facing [James] Anderson and [Stuart] Broad and they are quality bowlers.”

He also felt bad for Shan Masood, the left-handed opener. “I also feel so sorry for Shan Masood. He is everything that Pakistan cricket needs. He is talented. He is fit. He is very intelligent. He will be the heart of any team because of his work ethic and everything he puts into his game. I felt so sorry for Shan because he kept getting out to Anderson. And Anderson has done that to plenty of batsmen around the world. If you compare the two, Shan would just go and work and work, whereas Younis knew what his routines were and he used his experience. I hope Shan learns from this experience. He will be back at some stage. If you want to build a team culture, Shan Masood is a guy you are building it around because of what he brings to the table.”

Arthur also admitted that it was his decision to drop Hafeez and put Asad Shafiq up the order. “Yes. Technically, Asad Shafiq is our best batsman. When he gets forward he is sideways on. Look at him: short, balanced, punches well off the front foot, cuts exceptionally well. At times I could almost visualise Sachin Tendulkar. That is high praise, and I have told him that.”

He wants him (Shafiq) to bat at No.3. “Technically your best player should be batting at No. 3. I was really impressed with Asad, who really wanted the opportunity to bat up the order. He batted up the order at The Oval after getting a pair in Birmingham. And then got a hundred, and that says so much for his temperament and skill,” he said.

Arthur also praised Sohail Khan for his splendid bowling performance in the Test series. “Sohail Khan came in and did exceptionally. He gives so much effort. But he realises that his fitness levels need to improve. I have had this conversation with him, but he thinks he is fit enough. I had Sohail in my BPL side and he impressed me so much because he was always batting and bowling in the nets. He has got skill. He swings the ball, bowls at a decent pace, he can bat a little bit. He had five wickets at Edgbaston. He had five wickets at The Oval. But he needs to improve his fitness.

When talking about Mohammad Aamer, who returned to Test cricket, after a gap of six years, Arthur said, “I can’t speak more highly about Mohammad Aamer as a cricketer, as an individual. He is an awesome bowler and such a nice fella. And the way he handled himself through the series was impeccable. He always was going to get the stick. He wanted to win the English public over by his actions, by the way he performed, by the way he continually ran in for Pakistan. And he did all that. He told me he was incredibly nervous going into that first Test. I felt it. But once he got that out of the way, he was just getting better and better. He did not get just rewards on the England tour because there were a lot of dropped catches off his bowling.” READ: Mohammad Aamer: Relieved on clearing one of the toughest exams of my life

Asked what was his advice to the bowling attack after the tour to England, he said, “I have told the whole bowling attack they need to control the run rate. Every time we took the new ball, England got off to a flier. We would bowl three good balls, cut for a four. We have got to be able to eliminate those bad balls. There is going to be times where there will be streaky fours, but I am talking about the rank bad balls.”

Arhur wants his bowlers to control the run-rate in Test matches as the approach important Test series’. “I have told my bowling unit that if you get your line right you cut the field in half. If you get your length right you cut that half of the field in half as well. Then you can defend quarter of the field, but if you are getting your lines, and lengths wrong you can’t defend. People can score all round the wicket. So I would like us to be able to bowl our stock ball a lot better because we need to control the run rate a lot better than we did with the new ball. And that gets masked in the UAE because if the run rate gets out of hand then the spinners come in and then you start controlling the run rate. I want us to be able to be control the run rate with the new ball, particularly in the Test series in New Zealand and Australia coming up,” he said.

When asked if he felt being with the Pakistan team is like being with South Africa where he had the trust of Graeme Smith and other players, Arthur said, ‘I feel very comfortable with the Pakistan team. I feel very comfortable with the captain. They have allowed me to create the structure that I wanted to create. And I am very thankful for that because they could have made things difficult. They know that Pakistan cricket has so much scope to improve. The job of a head coach gives you the respect early on, but over a period of time you’ve got to earn the trust. And I think I have earned the trust. Younis acknowledged me and the support staff when he scored the double-century. That was a real nice gesture.”

Asked what plans Pakistan has after Misbah and Younis call it a day, he said, “It is hopefully too premature to think about that at the moment. They will be around for a while. I hope they don’t go out together as that would create a hole at No. 4 and 5. But Younis has just got a double and Misbah has played exceptionally well. So I think there is still time.”

Asked how will his team maintain the No.1 Test ranking, Arthur said, “I said to Misbah the other day: how do we do it? He said, “We just have to win every Test we play.” India are playing 13 Tests at home and barring three Tests against West Indies in the UAE, we are playing three Test series overseas – in New Zealand, Australia and the West Indies.”