Mickey Arthur laughed. In fact, as he tried to explain what it is like to be the coach of Pakistan – tasked with installing a sense of order in a team that seem to thrive on chaos – he laughed a few times. Arthur has always been an affable man with the media, but it was clear that the ride he is on is more amusing and bemusing than anything he has encountered before.
“Emotionally, it’s tough at times,” he said. “But we try to play more and more consistent cricket. We’re trying to get better in that department, but it is a tough ride now and again.”
If Arthur’s job was not frenzied enough already, on Tuesday (June 13) he was trying to both reflect on a chaotic win over Sri Lanka the previous day as well as plan for a Champions Trophy semifinal on Wednesday. The game to come is against England, a side on whom Arthur says he has tried to base Pakistan’s approach to one-day cricket since meeting them in his first series in charge last year.
England won that series 4-1, racking up the highest ODI total in history in the process. But Pakistan also showed their ability to bounce back from anywhere by winning the final match of the series when they chased 303 to win in Cardiff, where the two teams will meet on Wednesday.
That was just a glimpse of Pakistan’s unpredictability – something that Mohammad Hafeez has said he loves about the team. Having coached two of the more predictable sides in the world, South Africa and Australia – ironically with less success – it is something that Arthur is having to adjust to. “I’ve just been buying a lot more chill pills,” he joked. On a serious note, he added: “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. 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. So we’re getting better. We’re making strides in that area.”
Arthur labelled Fakhar “a breath of fresh air” and said he was encouraged by how well the younger, less experienced players have taken to the game. © Getty
Two wins on the trot might suggest as much, although the nature of the win over Sri Lanka did not. With Pakistan, successive victories do not necessarily mean that the side has clicked. “Clicked? I mean, we won ugly yesterday,” Arthur admitted. “We can’t sugar-coat that fact.”
He said that having come into the tournament with no expectations, Pakistan effectively had nothing to lose on Wednesday but that he did not want his players thinking that way. “We’ve got nothing to lose, yes, but we’ve always said we’re in it to win it. When we chatted last night at the end of the game, 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, and 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.”
Pakistan have done more basics correctly since their humbling defeat to India in their tournament opener. The fielding has been unrecognisable, helping a much-improved bowling unit restrict South Africa to 219 for 8 and Sri Lanka to 236 all out. But the major advancement appears to have been mental, which Arthur puts down some honest conversations.
“I mean, 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 us as coaches have 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 – maturity beyond the years of the team, and that stands us in good stead going forward.
“I’ve always said, when you can sit in a dressing room and have the 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.”
Better selection has also helped. Fakhar Zaman was given a debut in the wake of the India defeat and has 81 runs off 59 balls in two innings since. Against both South Africa and Sri Lanka he got Pakistan off to a flier, transferring pressure onto brittle opposition. Junaid Khan also returned, and has taken five wickets in those games whilst conceding less than five runs per over.
Arthur labelled Fakhar “a breath of fresh air” and said he was encouraged by how well the younger, less experienced players have taken to the game – 23-year-old Hasan Ali being another case in point with a combined 6 for 67 from the last two games.
Of course England will represent a less flakier opponent than South Africa or Sri Lanka. As well as possessing an intimidating batting line-up, their bowling attack has improved over the course of the tournament and will be a greater threat than they were in last year’s match in Cardiff. Arthur was offered an opportunity to evaluate their threat to Pakistan’s batsmen. “We’ll be fine,” he said, a little hesitantly. “You know, we’ll be fine.”
And then he laughed.