*Pakistan coach ask his boys to put their ‘best game together’.

*Arthur expects the middle order to come up with a better performance.

*He also feels Mohammed Amir’s best years are ahead of him.

Following the humiliating defeat against India, an emotional Mickey Arthur came out to face the media. In the media interaction at Edgbaston on that day, Arthur promised the press that Pakistan would bounce back strongly in this ICC Champions Trophy and that’s exactly they have done. Back to back victories against South Africa and Sri Lanka have taken Sarfraz Ahmed’s team to the semis, which very few people had predicted at the start of the tournament.

However, in the final four stage at Cardiff, this young team will face the tournament favourites England – a team which has been playing some exceptional white-ball cricket in recent years.  Thus, it is going to be a tough ask for Pakistan, arguably the most inconsistent and unpredictable international cricket team in the world.

Meanwhile, if you believe in the point of view of Arthur, the unpredictability factor is actually the strength of Pakistan cricket. In his pre-match press conference at Cardiff he spoke about giving England a tough time by playing their best cricket ever.

Here is what he had to say in the presser.

Q. After yesterday, Mickey, I suppose the first question is how do you, as a coach, follow Pakistan cricket? I mean, just the shots of you in the balcony, emotionally, it must be an interesting ride.

Mickey Arthur (MA): Yeah, that’s what makes it very interesting. It is. Emotionally, it’s tough at times, but we’re trying to play more and more consistent cricket. So we’re trying to get better in that department, but it is a tough ride now and again.

Q. What about just from a coaching perspective, you know, you’ve obviously been working for this side for a long time now, but the batting still is incredibly odd at times. You know, what are you trying to get the players to think? They don’t seem to go about one-day chases the way that every other team in world cricket seems to go about one-day chases.

MA: Yeah, so sometimes that’s our strength, that’s our unpredictability. Look, 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. We were probably a little bit soft at times yesterday.

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 number 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. So I guess it gives a lot of confidence. Yeah, a lot of confidence going forward for the players really.

Q. Mickey, how do you see this one year as Pakistan coach? When you came, Pakistan were at 8, and then at 9. They were fluctuating between 8 and 9, and now it’s safe to say that they have qualified. How do you see this one year? And second question is what is your take on FakharZaman’s two performances in this Champions Trophy?

MA: First of all, in terms of the year, it’s been interesting. I think, if you look at us across all forms, we’ve had some incredibly tough tours, but we’ve played well. Test cricket, we’ve had some very good series. We were poor probably in Australia and got exposed there just a little bit. But other than that, we’ve been good.

Twenty20 cricket, I see we’re at number two in the rankings, which shows a tremendous improvement in where we are, 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 shakeup.

Q. And Fakhar?

MA: He’s been fantastic. I guess it’s a breath of fresh air when you see a young player come into the side and take the game on. And the good thing for us is the young players that have come into the side have all come in with a really good spirit. They’ve played well, you know. You look at Fakhar, you look at Fahim, Shadab to a point, Babar, when he came in, Hassan Ali when he came in.

So the young guys coming in have taken it as a duck to water, which has been great. They’ve come in with a great attitude. They want to learn. They want to work hard, and we’re getting some results out of them, which is fantastic news.

Q. The middle order seems quite fragile at the moment. Are we expecting any changes for tomorrow?

MA: Safi and I are meeting at 3:00, we’ll have a discussion. Look, middle order has been exposed just a little bit. Ideally, we’d like to probably get Sarfraz and Malik maybe in a little bit earlier, but that’s something that we need to discuss. Whether it happens now or whether it happens at the end of this competition will be debated later.

Q. Mickey, do you think that winning is a habit? And what do you hope the difference between the sides will be in the semi?

MA: Winning is a habit. It certainly is. Look, we came here last year at the back end of a very tough one-day series against England and managed to get a win here in Cardiff against them, against probably exactly the same side.

We know that realistically England are playing unbelievably well. They’re a really, really good one-day unit with no apparent weaknesses. So we stressed yesterday – at the end of the game when we sat down and had a quick debrief, 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 points, taking those moments, and running with them, like we did this time last year here exactly in Cardiff.

So hopefully, hopefully we can put our best game together tomorrow, and then who knows?

Q. Mickey, in this ICC Champions Trophy, Shoaib Malik, Mohammad Hafeez, Babar Azam, they failed to score 50 runs. Is this concern for you?

MA: Yeah, of course, it is. Funny thing is they’re all working extremely hard. At times they’ve shown flashes. I think, had we finished at Edgbaston, hopefully, there would have been big innings in there for Babar, who was 30 not out, and Malik was about 15 not out and playing consistent – really well. Hopefully, they would have got the confidence out of that. They didn’t, but, you know, they come into the next game, I suppose, a little bit undercooked, but we know they’re very, very good players who on their day can win games for us.

And it’s a shortened tournament, you know, so it’s hard for batsmen to get going at times.

Q. Mickey, just going back to last year, obviously, you won that final game here, but you lost the previous four. What did you learn from that series in terms of the difference between the sides in one-day cricket? And also the fact that you’re going to be playing against a pretty different England bowling attack this time round, how do you think that their bowling might pose a few more problems for you?

MA: Yeah, look, I think we learned a hell of a lot from that England series. That was certainly my first series with Pakistan in one-day cricket, and to see the gulf between the two teams then and this brand of cricket and the style of cricket and the disciplines was pretty heartening. So we actually went back after that England series and assessed where we needed to be, and we kind of copied the blueprint that England had used a little bit. You know, 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.

Bowling attack, I think was pretty similar. Or remind me.

Q. Only Wood and Stokes survived in that game.

MA: Did Plunkett not play?

Q. No. It was Willie, Jordan, Wilson, no Ali, no Rashid.

MA: Yeah, that’s true. The spinners were – I’m confident we – touch wood – play spin quite well. It was good to see Wood last year. We’ll be fine. You know – we’ll be fine. (Laughter). I’m certainly not going to have a go back to the players. We’ll have our team meeting tonight. We’ll be okay

Q. The other day, Mohammad Hafeez said he loved the fact that Pakistan were such an unpredictable side. As a coach, having sort of coached teams such as South Africa and Australia, have you had to alter your approach because you’re now coaching Pakistan or have the players had to alter theirs because you’re now their coach?

MA: I’ve just been buying a lot more chill pills. No, it’s – 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.

So hopefully, as I said, if we can put our best game forward tomorrow and do the basics really well, we give ourselves a chance.

Q. Mohammad Amir is, I guess, a controversial figure in this country for the reasons we all know about. He’s made significant contributions with bat and ball in this tournament. Where would you say his cricket is at the moment, and also his sort of mentality?

MA: His best years are ahead of him, to be honest. I think he’s bowling better and better, and he’s bowled better and better through this tournament. When he gets the ball to swing, he’s a difficult customer. He realized 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.

I think for him, we’ve often tried to say he’s going to be an all-rounder. He’ll be a bowling all-rounder 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, I thought he was very good. I thought his reading of the game was excellent. I thought his balance between attack and defence was very, very good, and he handled the pressure situations excellently. So very, very happy as to where he is.

And as I said, I do think his best cricket is ahead of him.

Q. Before the start of the tournament, Sarfraz had been saying that Pakistan has nothing to lose in this tournament. Are you still of the same mindset as before the semi-final, or do you think that Pakistan has clicked at the right time?

MA: Oh, look — clicked? I mean, we won ugly yesterday. We can’t sugar coat that fact. 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. That’s something we’ve spoken about. It’s something that we’ve worked at. Again, 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. We want to keep improving every day.

Q. Mickey, after just one defeat, all sorts of verdicts come out, sack the coach, sack the captain, and blah, blah. Is it discouraging for the team and the management?

MA: No, we’re used to it, to be honest. That happens anywhere in any country, more so in Pakistan, I’ve got to be honest. They’re very quick to judge. No, I mean, that’s par for the course. That’s just what happens. And you just hope that there’s some sense with the powers that be who know the journey you’re on because it is a lot of — there is a lot of stuff written that is so far from the truth that it’s frightening sometimes.

Q. Mickey, you spoke about shaking up the World Cup. Do you feel you’ve shaken up this tournament with the way that you’ve performed so far? And also, even though you say your expectations have risen, is there pressure, or do you think that’s more in England as tournament hosts and probably favourites?

MA: Yeah, I look at it — but I think it’s something England play well with. I think England have — I mean, they’ve evolved into a magnificent side over the last couple of years — in one-day cricket, they really have — and we’ve watched them closely.

Yeah, we probably have. Again, after — I mean, we were written off totally, and probably rightly so, after the Indian clash because we were shambolic. We were terrible. It’s just shown the resolve the players have had and certainly the belief that myself 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, 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.

And to see the guys, see how they’ve come back, 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 hard they — and how hurt they were after their Indian clash. And for them to have come back and dusted themselves off is a really good effort.

Q. I just wonder whether you have any thoughts on the change or potential change at the top of the order for England with Jonny Bairstow replacing Jason Roy and your potential plans?

MA: Is that happening?

Q. We expect so. Potential plans for both of those players in place?

MA: Look, I mean, they’re both good players. I was particularly worried — we had a discussion on the bats this morning. I was particularly worried that Roy hadn’t fired yet because I think he’s very close to something quite good. So if he’s not playing, that wouldn’t be too bad.

Q. Mind games there, isn’t it? A bit of mind games?

MA: No, I never use mind games (laughter).

Yeah, so, look, Bairstow is a great player, and Bairstow came off the canvas against us last year hitting. He wasn’t supposed to play a half an hour before the game, got roped in for Buttler, and got Man of the Match. So that incredible performance. The only thing I will say, I know that Bairstow has opened at county level, he’s never done it internationally, and I think that’s a different ball game.


Courtesy: ICC Media

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