Not too long ago, Mickey Arthur was in the firing line in an emotional press conference after Pakistan’s loss to India, where he was even forced to “take the blame” for some team selections.
He might not have expected then to be addressing a much happier press meet a little over a week later as the coach of a Champions Trophy semifinalist.
The ride over the last few days says everything about Pakistan cricket and its famed unpredictability. A few of their players even love the tag, but Arthur would rather see his side be consistent than ‘unpredictable’.
“I’ve just been buying a lot more chill pills,” he laughed on Tuesday (June 13), ahead of the semifinal against England. “I don’t want us to be unpredictable. As a head coach, you want the team to have structure. You want the consistency levels to be good. Unpredictability as a coaching staff – we don’t like it. We’d like us to do the basics a hell of a lot better, day in and day out, and that’s what we train for every day.
“Sometimes that’s our strength – our unpredictability. That’s what makes it very interesting. Emotionally, it’s tough at times. We give the guys clear roles, and the guys know what they need to do. It’s just we do sometimes make it difficult for ourselves. But the guys are working extremely hard. We’re evolving as a team. As we’ve said consistently, we’re coming from a base of No. 8 in the world. So we’re trying to keep evolving. And wins like we have – like we did yesterday, when you win ugly, you learn a lot about the team. I guess it gives a lot of confidence.”
In a reflection of his varying moods over the last few days, Arthur was blunt in his assessment of how “shambolic” Pakistan were against India, but also effusive in praise of their quick development.
“We were written off totally, and probably rightly so, after the Indian clash because we were shambolic. We were terrible,” he said. “It’s just shown the resolve the players have had and certainly the belief that [I] as coach have had in our boys. I’m incredibly proud of how we pulled ourselves off the canvas after India, and I’m incredibly proud of some of the honest discussions we’ve had as a unit and as a team because that for me has shown maturity beyond the years of the team, and that stands us in good stead going forward.
“When you can sit in a dressing room and have mature conversations, your team is evolving. A year ago, we could not have mature conversations in the dressing room. We’re now having mature conversations where players are looking at their performance and judging themselves without fear of any recrimination. I think, when you can do that, the team is in a good place. And we had a couple of those after the Indian game.
Arthur on Mohammad Amir:
“His best years are ahead of him. He’s bowling better and better. When he gets the ball to swing, he’s a difficult customer. He realised yesterday pretty early it wasn’t swinging and pulled his length back and bowled with a fair amount of pace. He showed what we know he can do with the bat yesterday.
“We’ve often tried to say he’s going to be an allrounder. He’ll be a bowling allrounder obviously, but we think he’s better than just being a talented batsman. And I think yesterday he showed that he has that ability. Technically, he was very good. His reading of the game was excellent. His balance between attack and defence was very, very good, and he handled the pressure situations excellently.”
“I sit here incredibly proud of every one of those guys in the dressing room because I know how hard they’ve worked, and I know how hurt they were after their Indian clash. And for them to have come back and dusted themselves off is a really good effort.”
Arthur, however, was not content with being semifinalists and said his team was desperate to “go to London” for the final.
“We won ugly yesterday. We can’t sugarcoat that fact,” he said. “We’ve got nothing to lose, yes, but we’ve always said we’re in it to win it. The last thing I want is for us to go away now thinking that we got to a semifinal, we’re okay, we’ve achieved, because that would be a cop-out in my mind. We certainly want to come out and put our best game forward and win. We want to go to London. We’ve always said that. That’s been our mantra right from the start of this competition.
“We didn’t get to London. We were in Birmingham, and we’ve come to Cardiff. We want to end up in London. We certainly didn’t want to be just making up the numbers in this competition, and we’ve shown that we weren’t. Now we need to go one step further more and never be satisfied. That’s a mantra of ours.”
To get to London, though, will not be easy as they have a strong England side to get past on Wednesday. Pakistan were thrashed 4-1 by England in an ODI series last year, but Arthur took confidence from the fact that they won in Cardiff – the venue for the semifinal.
“We know that realistically England are playing unbelievably well. They’re a really, really good one-day unit with no apparent weaknesses,” he said. “We stressed that we need to play our best game, and if we play our best game, we can put them under pressure at different points of the game, and then it’s just taking those moments and running with them, like we did this time last year here exactly in Cardiff.
“We learned a hell of a lot from that England series. We actually went back after that series and assessed where we needed to be, and we kind of copied the blueprint that England had used a little bit. You’ve got to have the players to do that, but we certainly tried to revamp our team as best we could at that time.”
Pakistan have had a tough time in ODIs since that tour, but Arthur was confident they were getting better and would give the World Cup 2019 a “proper shake-up”.
“If you look at us across all forms, we’ve had some incredibly tough tours, but we’ve played well,” he assessed. “We’ve had some very good series in Test cricket. Twenty20 cricket, I see we’re at No. 2 in the rankings. And I do think our one-day team is getting better and better.
“Now, I sit here trying to build a team for the 2019 World Cup, and at the end of this competition, we’re going to have to reassess and then decide which of the players we can work with, which of the players we can take forward for the next two years to come here in 2019 and really give the World Cup a proper shake-up.”