Mickey Arthur, until recently Pakistan’s team director, talks to Amer Malik about balancing his dual roles in county and international cricket, how the schedule hampered Pakistan in the Asia and World Cup, and where Pakistan cricket should go next.

Since 2016, the name of Mickey Arthur has never been far from the higher echelons of Pakistan cricket. He started off as head coach, leading the side to a memorable win in the Champions Trophy in 2017. After a poor 2019 World Cup campaign, Arthur was let go. He went on to take the reins at Sri Lanka, then moved to a full-time coaching position in the County Championship with Derbyshire in 2022. Then Pakistan came calling again.

When Najam Sethi was reappointed chairman of the PCB in late 2022, one of his first moves was to offer Arthur a position as the Pakistan team director. He accepted, but with strings attached, juggling his roles with Pakistan and with Derbyshire. On the field, results have been mixed. Pakistan failed to make the final of the Asia Cup and the semi-finals of the World Cup, while in Test cricket, a 2-0 victory over Sri Lanka was a strong result and they performed creditably despite being beaten 3-0 in Australia.

Following the World Cup, changes were made at the PCB. Mohammad Hafeez was installed as team director, with Arthur moved aside. He caught up with Wisden.com for an honest appraisal of where things went wrong and where they didn’t.

Were there any difficulties in balancing your roles with Pakistan and at Derbyshire?

No not at all, I gave considerable thought to it, as I wanted to be able to do justice to both roles. My main role was with Derbyshire. When Najam Sethi came in he wanted me to come on board again, but I’ve got a really good contract with Derbyshire and was in the middle of a project; I did not want to give that up and go to something that as we know is as insecure as any role with the PCB because this is my livelihood.

Najam asked me to create a structure that I thought could work. I gave it a huge amount of time – getting up early in the morning to do my PCB work, then my Derbyshire work to the best of my ability, once more in the evening catching up with more PCB work. It was tough, but I gave both roles my full 100 per cent commitment.

The key for me was setting up the structure with coaches I knew who would be able to do a good job, hence Grant Bradburn as he had worked with me in the environment before, he knew how it worked and what I wanted, then adding some international spice with the likes of Morne Morkel and Andrew Puttick. We brought in some very good local coaches too. Among other things I designed and constructed a whole structure for the National Academy, so I spent a lot of time doing that, it wasn’t just the structure for the national team, it went beyond that.

How do you characterize your role as a coach, and what does it entail daily, especially in respect to a domestic role versus an international one?

Domestically it is a little different, what we’re doing here at Derbyshire is creating a 12-month programme to make our players better, so there’s a lot more coaching and understanding of match situations.

Internationally I found it’s little tweaks, but it’s managing the environment too, as well as strategizing both tactically and game-playing-wise for individual roles. I found that to be the difference. I went in, managed the Pakistan side with clear communication, making sure players understood their role with well-defined strategies. Whereas domestically it’s still more about player development, and to make sure they can become the best they can be, because they’re developed once they reach that international level.

What was the major difference from the Pakistan side you left in 2019 to the one you inherited in 2023? And how different was your role this time around compared to the previous experience?

The role was a little different because I joined as director, so I still allowed Grant and the coaches their respective space and empowered them to do their roles, though I clearly oversaw that and challenged them throughout the time. My role from 2016 to 2019 was very much hands on, it was literally everything. I wasn’t a control freak by any stretch, but it was my baby and I managed it very carefully, albeit in a different way.

The major difference with the players was that they had grown up. Having left them in 2019 they were young boys with immense talent who were finding their way in the game and were very impressionable. They were open to change as well as understanding the requirements we wanted from them and then implementing them. What I acquired this time were boys that had made their mark in international cricket – champions of the game, who have reached there by playing in a certain way – and probably won’t be as open to change. There was a marked difference, and it’s not to say I didn’t really enjoy them, it was just handling them in a different way.

You brought a few Pakistan players to Derbyshire. Aside from offering playing experience and a fresh environment, what else does Derbyshire provide in terms of player development?

I think our structure and system provides a wonderful coach development opportunity. Our coaching staff is outstanding, Ajmal Shahzad is a great bowler as well as a very good bowling coach. We just brought in Ben Smith to help with our batting, last year we had Ian Bell with us, we have good young coaches in Chris Highton and Alex Hughes within our infrastructure, so it provides an opportunity for those young Pakistani players to come in and develop their game. For us at Derbyshire we don’t have the big budget overseas players, our budgets are a little smaller to those of the Surreys and Lancashires of the world – not to mention Yorkshire, hence why we lost Shan [Masood, who moved from Derbyshire to Yorkshire between the 2022 and 2023 seasons]. But what we offer is niche coaching, a structure where they’re going to develop in different conditions.

I brought in Haider Ali, because I watched Haider in my last year with Pakistan when he was with the U19 side, observed him in the nets, and thought his career had been stunted a bit, which annoyed me to an extent, because I think he is a wonderful talent, but he has never had a clear role defined for him. So, I bought him in to develop his game, and I wanted Zaman Khan to come in and bowl in different conditions – and he was superb. On the back of that he got a Hundred contract, he’s in the Big Bash now and above all he’s playing consistently for Pakistan in T20 cricket. So, I feel we’ve done our job in developing those players.

What did you think you could offer and contribute towards the betterment of Pakistan cricket – second time around?

Second time around I thought I could offer a massive amount because I knew the structure, knew the system and the personalities. It wasn’t like coming in from new, I understood everything about that environment. I felt I had unfinished business from 2019.
For me those young boys were developing beautifully and that got taken away from me, I certainly wanted to continue after 2019. And to emphasize, it was a structure that I really knew well.

Despite being the host, Pakistan had a frantic and demanding schedule at the Asia Cup – do you feel that the continuous long-distance travel contributed to the players’ mental and physical fatigue – thus affecting performance?

Yes, without a doubt it did, but those were the cards we were dealt, so, I’m not sitting for one minute and making that an excuse. That was the hybrid model the Asia Cup had given us, and it was important that we still got games in Pakistan. We had to make the best of it, but it was very tough. Due to my schedule, it only allowed me to be with them for a partial period of time. For the players it was literally: finish a game in Pakistan, shower, then straight to the airport, overnight flight back into Sri Lanka, then playing a game two days later, and they had to do this at least three times. It was incredibly tough for the players and I found that they very clearly burnt out towards the back end of the tournament. Unfortunately they took that into the World Cup, which was incredibly disappointing.

One of the toughest games in the World Cup would have been against India in Ahmedabad. How did you prepare the team for what would be a hostile reception and intimidating atmosphere, especially when the majority of the team wouldn’t have experienced anything like it previously?

It was very interesting, and the one thing that was forgotten with all the rhetoric, was that our whole team had never played in India before, so every venue they went to was a new experience. We certainly wanted to remove that from their mindset, just for them to focus and play to their optimum – because ultimately, it’s a contest between bat and ball. We tried to take the ground and the conditions out of the equation too, and prepared the best we could for the event at hand.

It was extremely tough not having any Pakistan support, because the one thing that really drives the Pakistan team is the incredible and unbelievable support they receive at grounds and hotels. You go around the world and you see the ‘Sea of green’, it’s truly amazing! Here we never had that, and that was quite tough in a World Cup, particularly for the players. As you can imagine it was a tough hostile environment in Ahmedabad, but we were expecting this, and to their credit our players never moaned or complained once, they cracked on and tried their best – nevertheless it ultimately does play a role in motivation when you can’t see or hear that support base around you.

During the World Cup, there was conjecture about player disagreements and leaked private WhatsApp conversations – did this negative speculation have an adverse effect on team morale? How were you able from a coaching perspective able to maintain the status quo?

The outside noise with Pakistan is incredible, you just have to check your Twitter feed to see so many fires that are ignited out there, that have absolutely no truth attached to them. You end up – and I found this out the first time – you’re just constantly extinguishing those fires and chasing your tail. What we knew within our team was our game plan, and the defined roles that the players had, and we cracked on with it. There were unequivocally no massive disagreements with the players – in high-performance teams there will always be one or two differences in terms of what happens on the field, I personally think that is very healthy. Once you have players challenging each other, and more so great players, which Pakistan have, it then creates a good healthy environment, as long as it never becomes personal, which it never did. A lot of the noise was created by what was going on outside by the chairmanship and media. That was the issue, in the team we were calm and very focused on the job at hand.

With all the changes that have transpired at the PCB in the last 18-24 months, were you not apprehensive before accepting the post due to the unpredictability of Pakistan cricket?

Yes, that’s why I would never have accepted the position full time, hence why my role with Derbyshire is my full-time profession, and that was never going to change. I wanted to go in and help Pakistan cricket and I did because I trust Najam Sethi implicitly. We have a very good relationship, and I went in to try and help him because I owe him a lot; he’s the one who gave me my opportunity to return to international cricket after I had been sacked by Australia. He and I built up a good relationship. One of the reasons I returned was to specifically work with Najam again.

Past players and a section of the Pakistan cricket media questioned your dual roles, claiming you wouldn’t be able to fully devote your time to Pakistan, and with Derbyshire finishing near the bottom of Division Two in the County Championship, were they justified in their criticism? Some even referred to you as the ‘Online coach’.

To be honest I just found those comments and claims to be unbelievably ignorant, because anybody that knows me will also know that I will not commit 100 per cent if I can’t do it. At Derbyshire we’re part of a process, last year was my second year as part of that process. It took me two years as I had inherited a Derbyshire side that had contracts all signed and sealed till the back end of last year. This year we lost seven players and have replaced them, and for the first time I have the side I want. Every player now with Derbyshire is a player that I have signed. We’ve either re-signed them and extended their contracts or we’ve brought them in. so they become my team this season and ultimately, I’ll be judged on their performances now.

With Pakistan I was never an ‘online coach’ I put together the coaching staff, I was in constant contact with them every single day and knew exactly what was going on within the team. If there were any situations that needed clarifying, then I would be on the phone with the players. If Grant Bradburn or any of the coaches needed my help with anything I was always available, I went over all selections, game plans and every precise strategy. I took that role knowing I wouldn’t be in the dressing room every day, however my understanding with Derbyshire was once the season had finished, I could do just that. The next day I boarded a plane and joined the team, and I was due to be with them consistently till the end of the Australian tour and then back to Derby. The understanding I had in terms of my contract has been fulfilled day in day out.

What level of qualifications should a coach or director hold to manage an international team?

(Laughing) Twenty-five Test matches as the job spec says now! It’s the one thing that annoys me a little bit, in that there are many career coaches out there. Coaching is a career, not just a whimsical thing where you say ‘I‘ve finished now, and I’ll become a coach.’ You have to invest in that. Obviously, players that have played the game are qualified to become very good coaches, but there’s still a process to be followed, because it’s not only about just solely understanding match situations, the higher you go it’s more about dealing with people, man management, communication, and most importantly it’s about delivery in terms of your strategies and game plan.

A lot goes into coaching. You’ve got to put in the hard yards and the apprenticeship. Maybe start off at a high-performance centre, or start by taking charge of a junior side.. Once you’ve cracked it, and you can communicate freely, then progress. Other than that, I just don’t think you can waltz in and take charge of a national side, I still firmly believe it’s a role you have to do the time for. Being an ex-player gives you an edge, but you have to apprehend the complexities that come with it.

Finally, as a coach, do you believe Pakistan cricket will ever evolve in terms of its current domestic infrastructure, and what steps should be put in place to allow Pakistan’s players to progress further and compete in the modern era?

How long have you got? I continually witness Pakistan cricket nailing itself in the foot. The talent is there, what it needs is a good structure, good leadership, as well as continuity and sustainability, along with proper direction. Through 2016-2019, and thanks to Najam, we had the players trusting the process. So, when I’d sit down with Inzi [former chief selector Inzamam Ul Haq] with whom I have a brilliant working relationship, and selected a team and then communicated this with the team, they knew there was a sustainable structure there, because me and Inzi were providing a form of continuity. I can then say to a player, take Fakhar for an example, that you’re going to play the next ten ODIs. We know he will win us games, it’s high risk at times, but at least this way the players start trusting the structure and believing in the selection process, and play for the team.

If it’s constant change and instability, players go into self-protection mode, and they end up playing for themselves, just thinking about the next tour. It’s frustrating to witness that because players aren’t given a proper chance, there’s no honest communication and they know things are always going to change.

Domestically there’s so much talent out there. As I mentioned earlier, we put together a high-performance structure which we were going to implement, but this got lost in the wash with the change of chairmanship. Again very disappointing. I still think Pakistan cricket shoots itself in the foot and could be better.