Will Mickey Arthur be the long-awaited fifth horseman for Pakistan cricket?Pakistan
In biblical accounts the four horsemen show the coming destruction caused by false religion, war, famine and epidemic. It is said the event will herald an unparalleled time of sorrow and great tribulation.
And then, supposedly, will come a fifth horseman who predictably rides onto the world’s stage at the moment of its greatest crisis and make a war to end all wars.
And unlike the ‘deception’ of the first rider, says the account, the fifth horseman will come with the ‘truth’, wielding a sharp sword. And that after that there will be peace and prosperity on earth.
Following the reigns of Richard Pybus (1999), Bob Woolmer (2004-2007), Geoff Lawson (2007-2008) and Dav Whatmore (2012-2014) the Pakistani cricket team now has its fifth foreign coach, Mickey Arthur (2016-?).
As in the biblical description, the first four have brought much tribulation, on and off the field, and the ‘earth’ below us has been shaken, stirred and scorched.
The concept of a ‘qualified coach’ began with Richard Pybus arriving out of nowhere.
He had never coached an international team before but was touted by then-captain Wasim Akram as the best man for the job. Looked at in hindsight, Pybus was indeed deceptive in his promise and fired within six months.
Rehired in 2002, he went unceremoniously with the first-round elimination of the Pakistan team from the 2003 World Cup; an acrimonious period that saw a period of war between the players and the board, resulting in six superstars being axed ? Wasim, Waqar and Saeed Anwar for good.
Under Bob Woolmer’s rule, the Inzamam-led side was accused of being biased toward players with religion inclination, something Woolmer couldn’t control. And there was even a statement from then-PCB chief Naseem Ashraf to this effect which he withdrew quickly.
And then there was supreme acrimony with Shoaib Akhtar, who was asked by Woolmer to shorten his run up after a 350-plus run defeat in the first Test in Australia ? clearly a batting failure.
With the coming of Geoff Lawson (who had also never coached an international team before), Pakistan had a Test famine, winning none of the five Tests and losing two of them, though they made the final of the inaugural World Twenty20.
Under Dav Whatmore, Pakistan had an epidemic of individualism and player power rather than team coherence ? perfectly epitomised in the 2012 World Twenty20 when skipper Hafeez playing a dot balled defensive innings against India and said it was the coach’s instruction, something Whatmore denied but ever so softly.
It was just one case of many where players took upon themselves to set their roles in the team while Whatmore was a silent spectator.
Now comes Mickey Arthur, the fifth foreign coach, with the promise of the new world and immediately indicating that he will be wielding a sharp sword with his opening statement that he will be tough on discipline, fitness and fielding standards and, with a wave of his sword, proclaiming, "I don't want any selfish players around."
Read more: ‘I don’t want any selfish players around’, warns Mickey Arthur
The last time he said that in early 2013, four Australian players, including Shane Watson and Mitchell Johnson, were suspended from selection midway through the Test series in India for not doing their assigned homework. Six months later he was gone, axed just days ahead of the Ashes series.
He had also been let go by home team South Africa in 2010 after a five year stint that saw some good results as he disagreed with team structure.
Perhaps he was too sure of himself at the time, having led South Africa to the top by masterminding a ridiculous strategy for the 2007 semi-final of with an Afridi-style assault on Australia from the word go, making them some 20-odd for six!
The philosophy then was that they had decided to attack Australia like Australia attacked others and succeeded, forgetting that Australia had Gilchrist, Hayden and Ponting in the top 3 while they had Smith and Kallis.
And for someone who said three days ago that he has learned his lessons from a tumultuous reign in Australia, announcing that he will be tough on discipline and selfishness is revisiting a trauma he has yet to come out of mentally by admitting he was wrong.
Or is it that he is on a mission to prove he was right then, the atypical psychological condition of proving to yourself that you weren’t wrong?
And what better fodder than a floundering Pakistani side that is already accused of this malaise as the cause of their decline?
But what does Mickey bring to the table?
He shunted Mitchell Johnson out of the Test side and when his successor brought him back, Johnson was devastating.
He omitted Usman Khawaja from his plans altogether, only for the batsman to stroke back-to-back hundreds in three Tests last season under coach Lehmann.
As coach of the Karachi Kings in the Pakistan Super League, he was unable to control the players, with Ravi Bopara openly questioning skipper Shoaib Malik’s captaincy.
Arthur then replaced him for the next match, despite open rebellion, and then claimed the Kings didn’t deserve to qualify for the knockouts, which they exited in the next game due to a pathetic display.
Arthur failed to gel together a team that had some top players.
Another question has also risen: Why are foreign coaches considered the panacea of all evils for Pakistan’s cricket?
History shows that when foreign coaches fail, they point to a selfish team culture and lack of work ethic. To some extent, they have a point. But they come in knowing this, yet cling to it as a reason for their failure.
Pybus was castigated in public when he was sacked the first time. Pakistan took him back only for him be an absolute failure ? something I was an eye witness to in South Africa during the 2003 World Cup.
Bob Woolmer, after losing the second Test heavily in England on the 2006 tour, manoeuvred himself into an interview immediately, showing himself to be helpless against the vagaries of Pakistani players. So what were you there for, Bob?
The South African will have to decide: Is he in this for the money? ? And then transition to another offer as he has no long term job after being sacked by Australia ? Or is he committed enough to take on the Pakistan Cricket Board officials who interfere in team selection and mitigate merit for nepotism and favouritism?
The conniving masters have played it well, leaving it to Ramiz Raja and Wasim Akram to recommend the coach.
The plan is obviously to make it their choice which will lead to them defending even the most shambolic of coaching strategies on the airwaves and off the field on foreign tours as they can’t really undermine their own reference.
Mickey Arthur has his strengths.
He started and played his cricket in one of the best domestic structures in world cricket during the apartheid era when the best talent in his country played only that at home.
He was a successful cricketer in the ‘90s who retired in 2001 but not good enough to break into the South African side. He also took South Africa to the top of ODI rankings where Pakistan currently languish at No.9.
So his timing to take over couldn’t be better.
But he has his weaknesses too.
The South African team has a reputation for operating on auto-pilot and Arthur failed to provide the flair that teams need to tackle something they had not planned for. He believes in a regimen that is outdated for the 21st century.
Having said that, he will find in selector Inzamam a colleague who is equally a taskmaster and tough on discipline.
He will be comfortable with fellow countryman Grant Luden, the team trainer, and Grant Flower of neighbouring Zimbabwe. In Sarfraz Ahmed, a man of true grit, high energy and a good listener and in Azhar, a man of patience, honesty of purpose and self-awareness that he needs help with in-game strategy.
And he will start without the petulant Afridi, Umar Akmal and Shahzad and a PCB on the back foot. He will also have to wait a few months before re-imposing authority on selection and encouraging palace intrigues in the team.
It is now up to Mickey Arthur to decide whether he is going to be the comical Mickey Mouse or provide the principled and strong leadership of King Arthur.
And, more poignantly, will he be the long-awaited fifth horseman for Pakistan cricket?