In a detailed interview, the Pakistan Head Coach Mickey Arthur spoke about his satisfaction with the recent match-winning performance of Faheem Ashraf, Pakistan's preparations and chances in the Champions Trophy, the teams to watch out for at the Champions Trophy, explained his point of view regarding Umar Akmal's fitness issues and looked forward to the iconic India-Pakistan clash at Edgbaston.
By Saj Sadiq (4th June, 2017)
PakPassion.net : How much did you know about Faheem Ashraf before his blistering batting display against Bangladesh?
Mickey Arthur : We held a fringe players camp for 30 of the players that we thought would be close to the squad at some stage. Inzamam-ul-Haq and the selection panel got those 30 boys together so the coaching staff and I could have a look at them and Faheem Ashraf was one of those 30 players and he really impressed us during that five-day camp we had. So much so, that we kept him in for the next camp where he impressed all of the coaches and the selectors again. That's why he got an opportunity to go to the West Indies where he didn't play a game but we worked and worked with him and all the coaches saw something in him that we thought could be quite good. He's a diamond that we have just got to smooth over and cut, but he has potential to be quite good for us.
PakPassion.net : Do you think it's a fair assessment to say that Pakistan are underdogs in the Champions Trophy?
Mickey Arthur : I think it's totally fair. If you look at the rankings we are number eight in the world and cannot run or hide from that. We are at number eight because we have not played well or consistently over the last three or four years period when they do the rankings. We've worked extremely hard on our One-day game over the last year and it's been a priority for me and my coaching staff since we've come in. But we are getting there and we are getting better but the underdogs tag is fair. For us this tag gives us the opportunity to prove a lot of people wrong and it gives us an opportunity to play with freedom as we are not playing with a massive expectation and people are not expecting us to get through. Everybody is mentioning India, Australia, England and South Africa as potential winners but we are here to cause a surprise. I said to the players we have nothing to lose, so play with freedom but understand that we are here to win the Champions Trophy and we are not here to just make up the numbers.
PakPassion.net : You mention playing with freedom, but that has not been evident for the Pakistan top order in the One-Day format in recent times has it?
Mickey Arthur : Interestingly in the last year we rank three out of teams getting scores of 300 or more in One-Day internationals which is very pleasing and we've got six scores of 300 or more since the start of the England series. We are trying, we are trying hard to play with a bit of freedom and we are working hard on our dot-ball percentages and on rotating the strike. We've analysed all of our batsmen's strike rates and we've spoken to them individually and collectively. We need to get those strike-rates up a little bit and that's the difference between getting 270 and 300.PakPassion.net : The opening slots in the Pakistan One-Day team must be a concern for you?
Mickey Arthur : Azhar Ali is a wonderful player and technically he is one of our best and his record in Test cricket in the last year has been outstanding. In English conditions if the ball is seaming around then he can play a very important role for us. Ahmed Shehzad has come back with a point to prove and he's showing that intensity in his game that wasn't there previously. He knows exactly what is required of him and he is going about his business in a decent manner and he is working extremely hard. Then we have Fakhar Zaman, let's see what he can bring to the party. I think we have a good choice of openers to pick from for the first game against India.PakPassion.net : There have been calls for Pakistan to adopt a more flexible approach to the One-Day batting order. Is there a temptation to send Imad Wasim or Sarfraz Ahmed up the batting order?
Mickey Arthur : Yes I think that's a fair call. I think what we have developed with Imad at number seven and Sarfraz at number six are roles which are undervalued in One-Day cricket. These are the pressure roles and ones that define games. These two are batting at the end and they've got to get the team over the line and those roles are so important. Babar Azam has played beautifully at number three and Hafeez has shown all the right attributes at number four since we gave him a clear role and told him the parameters we want him to bat in. He's had some success and I thought his innings against the West Indies in the final ODI was phenomenal and encompassed everything we have spoken about. However, the 88 that he got in the 1st ODI in the West Indies we thought he should have scored quicker. We had a good honest chat after that innings in the 1st ODI in the West Indies and to be honest, he has shown all the attributes of a genuine number four. Then having an in-form Shoaib Malik at number five is wonderful for us because he has won us numerous games in that position. When we reach 300 in a ODI it's normally on the back of a Shoaib Malik cameo somewhere and he is vital to us so 6 and 7 are vital positions to us and Imad and Sarfraz are doing well there for us. PakPassion.net : You've been the Head Coach in some huge clashes over the years, but none comes bigger than India versus Pakistan does it?
Mickey Arthur : I'm unbelievably excited about the match on Sunday. It's a game that when I saw the fixtures come out I immediately got excited about. The buzz, the passion, I think it's going to be wonderful and I think it's going to be an amazing day and an amazing game. I've been fortunate to coach in some big games but never in a final of an ICC event, but nothing provides the intensity, adrenaline and passion of an India versus Pakistan clash and I am really looking forward to experiencing it.PakPassion.net : Any specific plans for Virat Kohli on Sunday?
Mickey Arthur : We will plan for everybody in the opposition team just like we always do. If we only have our eye on Virat Kohli then we are missing the ball. We have to plan for everybody and go about our business like we always do. We will put our plans together for every player that we think is going to be effective and we will try and pick a team that fits the tactics we want to play. Our planning will be methodical and will be very good as it always is and it won't just be centred around Virat Kohli.PakPassion.net : Do you think England are the favourites to win the Champions Trophy?
Mickey Arthur : Look, there are some wonderful cricket teams at the moment. It's hard to pick a favourite but I guess England would be a nose ahead because they have home advantage. But other than that the sides are very closely-matched. I've been watching the England and South Africa ODIs and they are phenomenal games of cricket with no fear of failure and guys are coming in and whacking the ball. Then when we were in Australia in good batting conditions, Australia were just amazing and came in and took the game on right from the start. I think the game has changed and you have to attack all the time and this is something we have been working on. Our batting is getting there but our bowlers are looking to take wickets so you'll see more attacking fields and us searching more for those wickets because that is the only way of curtailing the run-rate especially against teams who bat all the way down. It's going to be a great competition.PakPassion.net : The Champions Trophy match against South Africa is going to be special for you isn't it?
Mickey Arthur : Yes but I guess the novelty has gone a bit as I coached against them when I was coach of Australia. But I have always had an eye on South Africa because many of the players came into the side under my watch. Morne Morkel, AB de Villiers, Hashim Amla, JP Duminy, all these players came into the team under my watch and I have always had a special place in my heart for them and I always watch with a very keen eye. But I would certainly love to turn them over when we play against them.PakPassion.net : Was there more to Umar Akmal being sent back to Pakistan than a fitness issue?
Mickey Arthur : Absolutely not. Every one of our players in the Pakistan team know the standards and they know what levels of fitness that they have to maintain and adhere to. We are not settling for mediocrity and for us to compete in a One-Day tournament, we have to be quicker between the wickets and we need to be able to potentially run 12 singles in the shape of six twos an over. It also helps in our fielding because we are able to concentrate for a longer period of time. Our fielding has gone up considerably since the tour of Australia and we have put a lot of effort into that because the guys are fitter. Obviously, just because the guys are fitter doesn't mean they will score more runs and take more wickets but it gives them a far better chance of doing that.PakPassion.net : Do you think there is an underlying issue with Umar Akmal that needs to be fixed before he returns to international cricket?
Mickey Arthur : We have got standards and we are not going to accept mediocrity. Those are the standards and if people do not adhere to those standards then they have not shown a hunger to play for Pakistan. We are not talking about massive standards here, we are talking about the minimum requirements which are less than the requirements I had with Australia and South Africa but it's a starting point for us and it's a reference point. Umar Akmal missed the tour of the West Indies because we gave him five opportunities to pass the fitness level and he never got close to passing in any of them. If it was me and I had missed a tour because I was unfit, then I would have gone back, trained hard and made sure I did the right things so that it never happened to me again. PakPassion.net : What happened with Umar Akmal when he arrived in England for the Champions Trophy as some say he is being singled out?
Mickey Arthur : Well he arrived here and we did our mandatory fitness tests. There was no witch-hunt as we have fitness tests every two months to check where our players are and their fat percentages. It was a routine test and he failed. We gave him another opportunity and he failed again. So we have given him seven opportunities to pass this test. We have not been unfair to him, we want him to pass as he is a wonderful cricketer but Umar Akmal needs to go away and think about what he wants to do about his future and think about how hard he wants to work to get back into the Pakistan team.PakPassion.net : What did you say to Umar Akmal before he left the squad to return to Pakistan?
Mickey Arthur : I said to him, Umar the ball is in your court. We think you are a wonderful player and I put my neck on the line to get you selected after you were dropped because I thought you were a wonderful player. Umar arrived in Australia unfit, in fact he was one of a couple of players in that condition. My worry is what do they do outside of our system as we cannot be getting them fit when they arrive into our setup. We have too many other things to do, we have to get them batting, bowling and ready to roll, we cannot get them fit as well. We want players who look after themselves because that eventually transfers into the cricket you play and it's part of your discipline and part of your work ethic. PakPassion.net : Do you think the issue of fitness isn't taken seriously in Pakistan cricket?
Mickey Arthur : Fitness is a personal responsibility. After the tour of Australia we put our marker in the sand and said we are going to have some standards you guys are going to have to adhere to. Yes we will give you opportunities to meet those standards and there were a couple of players who failed the tests the first time but they passed it the second time and got through those tests because they suddenly knew what the standards were. Gone are the days when cricket was just about hitting a cricket ball and taking wickets. There's a lot bigger responsibility that players have because the schedule is so tough and the players have to be so unbelievably fit. What it also does is that it prevents injury and it allows you to recover quicker which is crucial as games are coming thick and fast. So those are the standards and I make no apologies for that and any guy that does not get to those standards will have the same issue again. I'm hoping this sends a proper message to say we are serious about it and are not happy to just wallow in mediocrity anymore. We want you to be doing the work behind the scenes that nobody sees to maintain your shape and fitness.