AFTER a chaotic journey that attracted unwarranted controversies and speculations, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) finally announced South Africa’s Mickey Arthur as national team’s new head coach on a hot Friday afternoon.
The hunt that began after Waqar Younis relinquished the post in the wake of the team’s embarrassing World T20 exit earlier this year was hit by one roadblock after the other from its offset as the shortlisted candidates refused to take up the job.
Pakistan’s cricket cauldron that boiled for over a year with a spade of controversies and the team’s appalling run in the limited-overs formats finally exploded after their successive defeats in the Asia Cup and the ICC World T20.
Since losing to hosts Australia in the quarter-final of the 2015 World Cup, Pakistan have remained dismal in the shorter formats.
The Azhar Ali-led side have had a poor win-loss ratio of 0.72 in 20 matches. After being thrashed 3-0 by Bangladesh in Bangladesh, the team have won just 8 games, half of them against the bottom-ranked Zimbabwe.
A coach plays a significant role in the team’s development. With cricket becoming a professional sport, coaching has also evolved over the years. But not in Pakistan!
In the olden days coaches were selected solely on the basis of their superior knowledge of the game. Hence with the aid of the analytics they devised the strategies and tactics that were to be complied with.
Following the emergence of T20 cricket, the instruction-based coaching became obsolete.
Today, coaching is more about the cricketers’ empowerment which encourages two-way dialogue that enables them to discover and enhance their strong areas.
When a cricketer recognises his strengths he is able to apply them at critical stages of the match that transforms him into a thinking-cricketer.
Paddy Upton, one of the contenders for Pakistan’s head coach position, played an essential role in Sydney Thunder’s first Big Bash League title earlier this year by instilling the philosophy of playing to ‘your strength rather than the opponent’s weakness in the unit.’
Upton, who also coached Lahore Qalandars in the inaugural Pakistan Super League, presses upon the players around the world to think and implement the tactics close to their own strengths in the pressure situations.
For him “the quality of decision making in high-pressure moments matters more than the skill” as he revealed in one of the post-BBL interviews.
Waqar’s outdated and dictatorial coaching methods brought him under severe criticism as they resulted in frequent losses.
The video that made rounds on the social media during the WT20 which saw Umar Akmal seeking the legendary Imran Khan’s recommendation to promote him up the order underscored the non-existence of team culture.
It had become imperative that a more rationally thinking, smart head coach took charge to turnaround things.
However what should have been a smooth transition from one coach to another was turned into a mess when the names of shortlisted candidates were leaked out.
The unfortunate Aaqib Javed episode followed by incessant rumours of top-ranked foreign coaches like Stuart Law and Peter Moores being on verge of signing on the dotted line spoiled the show.
When a reporter from this paper approached a top PCB official, who had played a crucial role in the organisation of PSL, he was informed that the foreigners were quite distressed to see their names taking rounds in the international media without anything even remotely finalised.
The various half-baked reports of negotiations posed a threat to their value as cricket coaches. Hence Law and Moores along with Dean Jones and Upton preferred to bow out of the race.
The others, whose names never caught the headlines, covered up their reluctance by citing security as a factor for declining the Pakistan post.
In stark contrast, Sri Lanka Cricket appointed former South African first-class cricketer Graham Ford in the first month of the ongoing year.
Once the decision was finalised, the board came forward and announced Ford as the coach. Certainly, SLC must have approached dozens of coaches, but it ensured the confidentiality which helped to wind up the process smoothly and successfully.
Also, while ex-coach Waqar had emphasised to include head coach in the selection matters, newly-appointed chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq announced the 35 probables for the tour of England just days before Arthur’s appointment that deprived the latter of the crucial opportunity to voice his opinion.
It now remains to be seen how Arthur, who helped South Africa bag umpteen accolades between 2005 and 2010 in all formats, adjusts to this environment here.
*Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2016