Mickey Arthur's hunt for No. 1 continues
Mickey Arthur knows what it means to hunt. His five years with the South Africa team were spent in pursuit. He went in search of the world No. 1 Test ranking and a major limited-overs trophy for almost that entire period and his only reward was about four months as the top Test team, a period so short few remember it.
What Arthur does not know is what it is like to be hunted. The time South Africa spent at No. 1 was never thought of as comprehensive, especially as the achievement was more a result of Australia's 2009 Ashes loss than South Africa's run of form. It came to an almost unnoticed end, so Arthur has never really known the anxiety that comes from being followed by a chasing pack.
But the South African side he built is in that position now and Arthur is the one hunting them. He thinks he knows the difference between what his former chargers and his current ones, Australia, may be feeling.
"Expectation is the biggest thing for a No. 1. When you are getting to No.1 you're always chasing a dream. And then when you're there your focus changes because the expectation to defend that title is massive," Arthur said. "It is two different mind sets.
"It probably is a little bit more difficult to adjust because every time you go out there you are expected to win. When you win, that's what you're expected to do and when you lose, people get on your back."
At least five of the players in Arthur's Australian side also know what that's about. Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus and Michael Hussy were all part of the set up when the Australians ruled the cricketing world and have made it their mission to get back there. The rest are experiencing something Arthur is all too familiar with.
"Those guys who have been there have gone back to chasing that dream again. But the new players don't know what being No. 1 is. That's a goal and a challenge that we've set for ourselves. We're also chasing."
To begin that quest against South Africa has put Arthur back into a position with which he is completely comfortable, especially because of the similarities he can draw between the two squads. "When I look at the time that Graeme [Smith] and I got together for South Africa, it was kind of the same as the time Michael and I have come together for Australia," he said. "We've both had good entrenched players and then some youngsters coming up so the journey has been the same."
Arthur could even go as far as identifying common touches in the strongly bullish Smith and the quietly classy Clarke. "Graeme is a phenomenal leader. He has an aura about him and when he talks, people listen. Michael Clarke is exactly the same. They are very similar characters and [there are] definite parallels between them. They are both very positive and lead by example. They both prepare meticulously and when they play well the teams they lead tend to be successful."
Even though Arthur is no longer part of the South Africa set-up, he appreciates how the side has grown since he left: "It is very gratifying to see that those guys have matured. They are battle-hardened players and to see the same faces here this time just means they have a lot more experience this time."
Australia shape up a little differently. While they still have the same core group, they have a few obvious softer areas, something Australians sides of old rarely spouted. The opening partnership is one of them, the injury spate another. But it is the allrounder role that Arthur seems concerned about.
"It was frustrating to lose Shane Watson, because we had been so meticulous in our planning for him," Arthur said, referring to Cricket Australia instructing Watson to return home after three Champions League T20 matches to prepare for the Test series. "We had a plan for every one of our players and to lose Watto on the eve of the series after we had done all that planning was disappointing."
A similar thing happened to Arthur four years ago. Ashwell Prince injured his hand the day before the first Test between South Africa and Australia in Perth and had to be replaced by JP Duminy on the morning of the game. South Africa went on to win that match and the series, incidents Arthur can no doubt draw inspiration from.
The success he achieved with South Africa in Australia in 2008-09 made Arthur the first coach to lead an opposition team to a series in in Australia in 15 years. Now, he may be considered in prime position to ensure South Africa do not break through again, simply because of his insider knowledge, but Arthur is not banking on that alone.
"I know the guys personally. I know exactly what makes them tick. I've seen them prepare and train, and I know what their thought processes are around the dressing room," he said. "[But] I can only prepare the players that I've got. I'm not going to influence massively what happens out in the middle.
"I do bring an intimate knowledge of the South African team. I know the little idiosyncrasies of each of them. Whether that can be used to win a Test series, I'm not sure. But I'll certainly be giving a lot of the information to our players."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent