Six months into his coaching assignment with an unpredictable team, Mickey Arthur is getting things into shape. Arthur, who lifted his native South Africa to the top of rankings between 2005-08, passed his first assignment in flying colours, drawing a tough Test series in England 2-2.
His next tough assignment is five Tests matches across Trans-Tasman that is New Zealand and Australia. The first leg proved tough and resulted in a 2-0 thrashing. This has left Arthur disappointed but he is confident that the team will learn its lessons.
The theme line from New Zealand is: adjust and adapt to different conditions quickly and find ways to do well in foreign conditions.
After the Hamilton Test, Mickey gave a detailed interview to ARY News, describing in length various reasons for team’s defeat and multiple problems which need to be addressed. Here are excerpts of the interview:
Q: Mickey, your analysis of the two Test Pakistan lost in New Zealand?
Mickey: I will talk about both the losses in one answer. We didn’t adapt quick enough to the conditions which was disappointing. The conditions were tough. The wickets that we played on were some of the greenest I have ever seen in Test cricket, but we needed to adapt quicker and we needed to find ways to play on them. We didn’t and so that was disappointing.
There are no excuses but obviously not having a practice match having the only practice match washed out and then probably only two practice sessions as such (outdoors) meant that we went under prepared for the first Test in terms of getting used to the conditions. But we are a good team and we should adapt quicker so pretty disappointed the way we lost in New Zealand.
Q: Would you have, in hindsight, played Yasir Shah in the second Test. More so, because New Zealand played left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner?
Mickey: I think we were right in not playing Yasir in the second Test and going with four seamers. Playing Yasir in the first Test was right. I think that if we bowled better in the first innings, specially first morning, when we had ideal condition for bowling then it would had been the right decision.
Q: Was dropping Rahat Ali in the second Test, after his four wickets in the first Test, a difficult decision?
Mickey: That was very difficult. We are lucky that we have a very good bowling unit and I have explained that to the bowling unit. I think our bowling unit has bowlers who have different and specific roles.
We have Amir who swings the ball at good pace, we have Rahat, who because he is taller, bounces and also swings the ball, and then we use Wahab as our strike bowler who is our enforcer who bowls with pace, bowl bouncers and reverse swing.
He is particularly proficient when the ball reverse swings. Then we have got two right-arm bowlers Sohail Khan and Imran Khan. We have Sohail who swings at a decent pace and Imran is very good on pitches that seams around, hence we always pick our attack based on conditions so that was difficult to leave Rahat.
We were a little bit worried about Rahat in the game at Christchruch that he probably went at a rate of two and half (per over) and we want him to control the run rate little bit. We need Wahab at Hamilton because we thought we could do with the pace. So we pick our attack on the horses for courses basis.
Q: So you think allowing New Zealand 271 was the turning point, as bowlers did not utilise the conditions well?
Mickey: Definitely, that was the turning point. I thought that 270 was the par score on that pitch. We should certainly have bowled well. We bowled well on the second day, but on day one they being 77-2 at the end of the day was too big we weren’t ruthless enough. I think the par score should have been 44-3. There were certainly the best conditions for bowling. We didn’t utilisee and that pushed us behind the eighth ball in the game.
Q: We have been making some make-shift arrangements in Tests since the tour to England, with Asad Shafiq tried at number three and Azhar Ali sent as opener. Has that affected the batting order?
Mickey: No not at all, Asad Shafiq wants to bat at three and there is no issue with that. We thought that coming into the first Test we should get back to having our four, five and six with Younis Khan, Misbah-ul-Haq, Asad and Sarfraz that we get our experience through the middle.
Babar Azam batted very well at number three in one-day cricket so we thought that he could adapt and he adapted well. Azhar is not a make-shift opener, in fact he started his international career as an opener, and he is an opener by trade and certainly nothing make-shift about Azhar.
Q: Then what would attribute to batting failures. We batted well in England in conditions tough for our batsmen but came a cropper in New Zealand?
Mickey: It was just a matter of adapting to conditions.The conditions in New Zealand were very different to England. The pitches had bit more pace, bounce and certainly seamed a lot more than England.
I think not adapting to the conditions was the biggest drawback and we need to be able to adapt to those conditions quicker and make sure that we find ways to get the runs. The most important thing in conditions like that is getting your defense right and we didn’t get the balance between defense and attack right at all and that’s something we have been working hard on and we will continue to work hard for our preparations before Brsibane (First Test against Australia).
Q: A lot of people believe that Asad looked frightened at the crease in the second innings at Hamilton. What was the matter?
Mickey: Asad Shafiq is a fantastic player and technically very good. I have no issues with Asad. He is fine and I am sure he will come through well and will score a lot of runs for us. I am not overtly concerned about him at the moment.
Q: Our tail is too long and is the worst among all the Test playing countries. Is that concerning?
Mickey: It is worrying and something that we must continue working hard on. We must get our tail end batsmen in the nets all the time and we are working on their technique. We have to get that right because once we lose Sarfraz our top seven, particularly against good bowling attack, then the rest aren’t getting us runs that we need. These tail-end batsmen need to give us runs and good results.
Q: Was there a plan while chasing 368 on the last day of the Hamilton Test? At one point it looked Pakistan could have won. Azhar and Sami took 60 overs to score 131 and that was too slow, wasn’t it?
Mickey: We sat down and discussed. The plan was very specific and was written on a board and everybody knew what was needed, because we want to play the brand of cricket where we go on and attack and win the game and not the brand where we settle for a draw.
Had that plan got successful it would have given us massive confidence going forward. We want to be aggressive and be positive. The plan was very simple and it was to get to lunch at 95 with no more than one wicket down, and then we need to accelerate in the second session and score about 3.5 an over which would have let us to get 160 in the last session, and we thought that if we had wickets in hand then we could have given it a go.
We did well in the first session, but in the second session we were too slow and went with Sami, Babar and Sarfraz. We needed big innings from one of them, but when they were out and when we went four wickets down then we need to play for a draw. This was the plan but we got skittled by the second new ball.
Q: We saw two major issues hurting Pakistan, the slow over-rate and slip fielding. Aren’t these big issues?
Mickey: These are two big issues and are very concerning. I have been talking about the slow over rate since I came into this job. I have been giving players updates on slow over rates after every session and ultimately that’s all I can do.
I have been hard on it and players are paying the price through fines. We got our captain suspended and they are fined every game now and losing money. There is no more that we can do from a coach and support staff’s perspective and players need to make a conscious effort, get between the overs quickly and have just got to bowl the overs on time.
The slip fielding had a contrast because we didn’t drop any catch behind the stump in the first Test and that was pleasing. That’s an aspect of the game where fielding coach Steve Rixon makes every effort to improve, but in the second Test we were poor.
We have identified slip catching as an important area and work really hard daily, but at Hamilton it was the other way round. We let go two catches in the slip and we can’t afford lapses in concentration and execution of skills on the tour of Australia. We keep talking about both these issues and are working on them.
Q: Are you satisfied with Mohammad Amir and Sohail Khan? Sohail has an issue as he has not got a single wicket in the second innings of the last four Tests?
Mickey: Sohail Khan has that issue and had not been able to back up and we have spoken to him about it. We have to look at it going forward whether we can afford to take a bowler into a Test that doesn’t back up in the second innings.
This is a big risk if we are playing with three quick bowlers and Yasir. We have to weigh that Sohail is aware of it, and to be fair with him he has worked harder at it. He is at his best fitness at the moment but that’s something which we need to weigh up when we sit down and select teams.
Amir is getting better with every game. His line is good and we get feedback and look at areas where they bowl all the time. Amir’s grouping to left handers are exceptional but his line to right handers is not where it should be because primarily he is bringing the ball across and he hasn’t got to swing back much. We are working extremely hard on that.
Q: Does the 2-0 result in New Zealand makes the Australia tour more hard. More so because Australia will pound on Pakistan like wounded tigers after losing to South Africa?
Mickey: Australia tour is always difficult. It is a tough place to come and tour and everyone knows that, irrespective of where Australia are at the moment, there are many young good talented players and as long as they are getting confidence they will be tough team to beat.
We have to be at the top of our game. These are two tough periods for us – New Zealand and Australia – in tough conditions but we will be well prepared. We have to work very hard and we won’t leave any stone unturned in terms of our preparations, and we will get the guys well prepared and get the execution well.
They will definitely come hard on Pakistan. I have coached South Africa and Australia, and when these teams come to your conditions, you try and rust them up. It is difficult for them to tour in your conditions so it is going to be a lot tough when we come to their conditions. We need to make sure that we are up to those challenges.