Taking the Mickey: Pakistan’s perennial plot twist

Isabelle Westbury Columnist

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    A lot has been made of England’s transformation since their beleaguered 2015 World Cup campaign Down Under.

    Back then, their 50-over tournament came to a fitting culmination as England scraped a win in a rain-ridden dead rubber against minnows Afghanistan. In effect, their revival started as all good English revivals do – drowning in a beer-swilled haze of good intentions.

    England are indeed a team reincarnate. Throughout this year’s Champions Trophy we have heard ceaselessly that, in the 49 ODIs since that disastrous trip, England have reached 300 or more runs in 24 of them. Before that, they had scored over 300 in just 34 of 644 ODIs.

    This is a side which has indeed embraced a new era of raw hitting and sheer pace, and which possesses a stubbornness which has kept the likes of Stuart Broad out of the side throughout that period.

    Few teams, coaches nor captains would have persevered with such a move. England did. There is, therefore, much to celebrate, despite the knock-out stage capitulation – that is still one habit we must learn to overcome.

    However, turning away from England for a minute, there is another team in this tournament who have found themselves duly transformed.

    Ironically, there’s has manifested in an almost opposite manner – that of understated precision. Pakistan’s last defeat of England in the knockout stages of a major limited overs tournament is remembered for two things – firstly the self indulgent speech of then captain Imran Khan on receiving the coveted 1992 World Cup trophy, and secondly the ferocity with which Pakistan’s seam attack, spearheaded by Wasim Akram, blew away England’s batsmen.

    This was the age of Waqar Younis, Imran Khan and Wasim Akram, for whom aggression, arrogance and speed was a winning formula. These were fast bowlers at the height of their power, unrivalled since the West Indies’ fearsome foursome over a decade earlier.

    For years it came as a constant surprise that Pakistan, who share a 3200-kilometre border with India, could produce such a rabid pace attack while their neighbours struggled for decades to find an effective seamer who could exceed 130kph.

    A different millennium and Pakistan find themselves once again in a limited overs final, once again having overcome a highly fancied England side.

    It hasn’t all been such a smooth transition of course; we are well versed on the corruption, political turmoil and inconsistency that has plagued Pakistan cricket in the interim.

    Pakistan’s most recent chapter however, has been heavily influenced by one man – Mickey Arthur. Before taking over as Pakistan coach, most of us this side of the Pacific knew of Arthur for one reason alone – his infamous clash with a handful of Australia’s top players for imposing homework on them – ‘homework-gate’.

    Australian cricket captain Michael Clarke (R) talks with coach Mickey Arthur (L) as Clarke struggles with a hamstring injury, in Melbourne on December 25, 2012, before Australia takes on Sri Lanka in the second cricket Test match starting on December 26 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). AFP PHOTO/William WEST

    (Image: AFP / William West)

    Australia’s brusque confidence perhaps didn’t suit the South African. Instead, like so many of his current players, Arthur wound his way towards Pakistan’s national side via their Twenty20 tournament, the Pakistan Super League, or the PSL

    Arthur’s brief stint in the PSL was nothing if not inglorious, as his team, the Karachi Kings, came fourth in a five-man tournament. Yet it was enough to propel Arthur to the role of Pakistan head coach and crucially, to have given him a taste of contemporary Pakistan cricket, confined as it is to the outskirts of the global game.

    Arthur’s tenure might be defined through a comparison to the Pakistan side of 1992. Where Imran’s cornered tigers were perceived as being both supremely confident and at times unruly, Arthur’s Pakistan possess a humble sincerity, allowing them to become masters of controlled precision.

    While Misbah-ul-Haq may longer be at the helm, his quiet understatement prevails within today’s ODI team.

    According to the Champions Trophy’s analytics supplier, CricViz, in this year’s tournament Pakistan’s seam bowlers average speeds were more than 2kph slower than the tournament’s fastest attack, Australia. In their semi-final against England, Pakistan’s average seam bowling speed was 132.8kph, compared to their opponent’s average of 136.8kph.

    While England looked erratic and out of control, Pakistan, once the masters of that art, were now the purveyors of controlled precision. Instead, Pakistan’s seamers turned to deviation off the pitch, producing 0.56 degrees of it to England’s 0.48.

    It wasn’t just their bowling either; Pakistan’s clinical and athletic fielding versus South Africa in another must-win match just days earlier was in stark contrast to the Proteas’ tired display.

    Such a comparison would have been unheard of just a couple of years ago and many of today’s cricket fans will have grown up watching replays of Jonty Rhodes flying through the air to demolish the stumps – and Inzamam-ul-Haq doing the same but in an entirely different manner.

    England’s resurgence over the past couple of years is no doubt remarkable. Pakistan’s tale, however, is a never-ending blockbuster. Arthur has much credit to take, but he, as everyone else, can only be left wondering what the next plot twist might bring.

    Isabelle Westbury
    Isabelle Westbury

    Isabelle Westbury once got a duck in an ODI and since then has found a more fruitful career penning columns than hitting runs. She does, however, captain English County side Middlesex, albeit from the lower order. Follow her on Twitter here.

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    The Crowd Says (7)

    • June 18th 2017 @ 10:56am
      Yangbong said | June 18th 2017 @ 10:56am | ! Report

      Great article. I always thought Arthur was poorly treated by Australia after ‘Homework Gate’… I assume it’s a typo but the Indian border is longer than 3200 metres.

    • June 18th 2017 @ 3:03pm
      AGordon said | June 18th 2017 @ 3:03pm | ! Report

      I can see where the author is drawing comparisons between England and Pakistan in ODI cricket but I think the “resurgence” in English ODI cricket needs to be put into some perspective.

      England is 4th in the rankings for a reason. They’ve played Australia in a series once since the World Cup and lost, played in India in a series and lost, played South Africa one series in SA and lost but then won recently at home, but managed to lose 6 for 20 in the game they lost. All other games have been against sides below them including Ireland.

      Are they playing better – for sure, but they were starting from such a low base, they could only improve and it’s great they’re competitive but play some series against side above them when these teams are fair dinkum and see how much of a resurgence has actually occurred.

      Can’t agree Mickey Arthur was poorly treated. Recently Roar articles have pointed out the crucial role of man management in world cricket. This was obviously lacking in his dealings with the Australian side but seems to in lace with Pakistan. Good on Arthur for finding his niche, but asking adults to do “homework” then treating them like kids when they didn’t?????

      • June 19th 2017 @ 2:19am
        Bakkies said | June 19th 2017 @ 2:19am | ! Report

        ‘Good on Arthur for finding his niche, but asking adults to do “homework” then treating them like kids when they didn’t?????’

        What makes them think they are above that when they are getting flogged on the pitch?

        Heck Rod Macqueen made his players do self appraisals and come up with they need to work on even though his sides were winning.

      • June 19th 2017 @ 8:24pm
        Vic said | June 19th 2017 @ 8:24pm | ! Report

        Depends of course on whether these adults think the coach has something to teach them or not. The Aussies thought he didn’t. The Pakistanis thought he had some useful homework to dish out, and were not too proud and arrogant to go home and learn it. Wonder who were the winners?

    • June 18th 2017 @ 5:16pm
      Tanmoy Kar said | June 18th 2017 @ 5:16pm | ! Report

      A well-compiled article, nice to read. Actually Pakistan did a favour to India by eliminating England from the Champion’s Trophy, now to win the Trophy India need not have to play England or Australia the favourites.

    • Roar Guru

      June 18th 2017 @ 5:43pm
      Camo McD said | June 18th 2017 @ 5:43pm | ! Report

      Would be great to see Pakistan get a win today at The Oval. Feel either Arthur was unlucky to be sacked after one poor series or Lehmann is incredibly fortunate to not have been sacked 4-5 times already.

      Was very lucky to have been at that WC final in ’92. Great day. Gee is that a crack at Imran above? If only more people were self-indulgent enough to want to build cancer hospitals 🙂

    • June 19th 2017 @ 10:29pm
      Davsa said | June 19th 2017 @ 10:29pm | ! Report

      Mickey Arthur simply joins a line of excellent SA coaches making their mark in world cricket . Gary Kirsten is an icon in India having won the World cup with them and now Arthur with Pakistan . Arthur was treated poorly by an arrogant Aussie set up that thought they only had to pitch to win a game. He is supping on the warm wine of revenge and has made a major statement to world cricket . Both the current SA and Australian coaches totally misread and misunderstood the conditions of this tournament , choosing instead to attempt to blast out the opposition . But the final brickbat is reserved for England for thinking that SA and Australia were their biggest threats and prepared pitches what they thought were so well suited for their limited attack but played so well into the hands of the sub-continent teams whose bowling variety was so much more adapt. Mickey you are THE MAN…

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