LAHORE: Throwing his weight behind beleaguered captain Sarfraz Ahmed for leading Pakistan at the World Cup, head coach Mickey Arthur on Friday said he had been in sync with chief selector Inzamam-ul-Haq for raising a strong side for the mega event.
“Sarfraz has been appointed captain [for the World Cup] without any doubt in mind. We opted for him because we are very much comfortable with him as skipper,” Arthur said while speaking during a news conference here at the Gaddafi Stadium.
The head coach talked to the media soon after the Pakistan squad returned from South Africa on Friday after losing the Test (3-0), ODI (3-2) and Twenty20 (2-1) series there.
Says all are responsible for poor show in South Africa
Asked if he was consulted by the PCB before it called back Sarfraz after he received the four-match suspension by the ICC in a racism case during the South Africa tour, the coach replied in clear affirmation. “Yes, the PCB consulted me, and I and Inzamam and some players were also in the loop when the PCB named Sarfraz the captain.”
All the speculations about the wicket-keeper/batsman’s captaincy chances in the World Cup had now died down, he said. “All the rumours about Sarfraz’s captaincy have been thrown into the bin.”
The Sarfraz-Andile Phehlukwayo racist-remark episode was now over and it was time to move forward, emphasised Arthur.
“What he [Sarfraz] did was wrong and it was worked through. We spoke it through as a team. We educated the team through that process. He apologised and he moved forward and everything was handled properly. And I will not comment further as the matter of sanction is between the PCB and the ICC.”
Answering a question on Sarfraz’s poor run with the bat, Arthur again staunchly defended the skipper.
“Sarfraz has done exceptional work for us up and down the [batting] order. The people should remember that his core area is wicket-keeping and it is mind-blowing that during the long [South Africa] tour he missed just one catch and one stumping; he dropped eight balls in four-and-a-half months,” Arthur said.
On changing Sarfraz’s batting order, the coach said in terms of fluidity in the batting order it was to test who could perform under pressure.
“Sarfraz will be the first one to admit that his batting form has come and gone. We have worked exceptionally hard on his batting going forward. When Sarfaraz plays well, he wins games for us and I am not worried about his batting form,” he said.
Giving his view on this year’s World Cup, Arthur said the forthcoming contests including Pakistan Super League and the five-match ODI series against Australia and England would help finalise plans for the mega event.
“Inzamam and I have been on the same page for a long time. We have 19 players in our plan for 15 [World Cup] positions. PSL has always produced a couple of individual performers. Then we also have the ODI series coming up against Australia [in the UAE] and England [in England]. Through these contests, it is crucial that all our players get a clear picture of their exact role in the team [for the World Cup],” Arthur said.
Though Pakistan under Arthur’s coaching won the prestigious ICC Champions Trophy in England in 2017, the team in the recent past have suffered a string of limited-overs defeats raising questions about their build-up for the all-important World Cup to be hosted by England and Wales in May-June.
Sarfraz and his men have declined significantly in ODIs since late last year.
After failing miserably in the 2018 Asia Cup held in the UAE during September, Pakistan could only draw the three-match ODI series against New Zealand 1-1, also in the UAE, which is considered Pakistan’s second home where they have hosted teams since 2010.
After Sarfraz was suspended for his racist remark during the ODI series in South Africa, the captaincy for the remaining three ODIs and the three-game T20 series was handed to experienced all-rounder Shoaib Malik. However, the change of guard did not bring series triumph for the tourists.
With the World Cup approaching, Arthur said the team needs to fine-tune.
“We need an option where we have to test our spinners in dry condition to deliver in the middle of innings because taking wickets in the middle in ODIs is the key,” he said. “Another one option for wet condition where a good seam bowling all-rounder who can bat at seventh position effectively.”
Arthur hoped that veterans Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Hafeez will benefit the team from their experience in the World Cup to keep opponents under pressure.
Commenting on Pakistan team’s show on their recent tour to South Africa, the coach said though his players lost matches, they fought well while they were away from home for a long time.
“I just think it is really important that I reiterate how proud I am of this [Pakistan] team. We were four-and-a-half months away from home and it is a hell of a long time and the intensity and the passion that these guys trained with has been fantastic. But it is not an excuse for the results in South Africa,” he said.
The coach said each member of the squad was responsible for the dismal results the tourists achieved in South Africa.
“We all are responsible for the team’s failure on the South African tour and no single person should be held responsible for that,” he insisted.
“We need to bring improvement in our Test squad and to perform well on tough conditions which were challenging in South Africa,” the coach added. “No South Asian team has so far won a Test series in South Africa which is always a tough place to tour for every Asian side. And unfortunately Pakistan suffered losses in all three formats despite putting up good fight.”
Apart from three players of the Pakistan squad who played the Test matches in South Africa the rest were newcomers visiting the country for the first time, Arthur underlined.
To a question on the proposed restructuring of Pakistan’s domestic cricket, Arthur denied that he was undermining the structure and added, “the PCB is working on a new domestic structure which would hopefully end flaws of the existing system to produce more talented cricketers in future”.
Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2019