Arthur's chance to make Pakistan better
Strapping yourself to the bucking bronco of Pakistan cricket is perhaps the hardest thing to do in cricket. It showed in head coach Mickey Arthur's face during their chase against Sri Lanka, when he looked like an actor trying to convey the growing of a stomach ulcer. "Emotionally, it's tough at times, but we're trying to play more and more consistent cricket. So we're trying to get better in that department, but it is a tough ride now and again."
"I've just been buying a lot more chill pills. No, it's… I don't want us to be unpredictable. As a head coach, you want the team to have structure. You want the consistency levels to be good. Unpredictability as a coaching staff, we don't like. We'd like us to do the basics a hell of a lot better, day in and day out, and that's what we train for every day. So we're getting better. We're making strides in that area." It is hard to see what strides Pakistan are making towards having better structures and being more consistent; they play ODI cricket like they grew up watching their team in the 90s and that is still the blueprint in 2017.
"I sit here trying to build a team for the next World Cup," Arthur said, "And at the end of this competition, we're going to have to reassess and then decide which of the players we can work with, which of the players we can take forward for the next two years to come here in 2019 and really give the World Cup a proper shake-up.
"You look at Fakhar Zaman; you look at Faheem Ashraf, Shadab Khan to a point, Babar Azam, when he came in, Hasan Ali when he came in. So the young guys coming in have taken it as a duck to water, which has been great. They've come in with a great attitude. They want to learn. They want to work hard, and we're getting some results out of them, which is fantastic news."
That there is talent in this Pakistan team is evident: Zaman and Babar, at the top of the order is genuinely exciting, and that Ashraf came in and bowled so well - and quick - is huge. But if the entire team (and PCB) culture doesn't change, all that talent will go down an ODI sinkhole.
"We know that realistically England are playing unbelievably well," Arthur said. "They're a really, really good one-day unit with no apparent weaknesses. So we stressed yesterday - at the end of the game when we sat down and had a quick debrief - we stressed that we need to play our best game, and if we play our best game, we can put them under pressure at different points of the game, and then it's just taking those points, taking those moments, and running with them, like we did this time last year here exactly in Cardiff."
To win, Pakistan might just have to play better than their best game. Some sort of supernatural, spiritual game where Azhar Ali hits gaps instead of fielders, Mohammad Hafeez rags it sideways and they find a real-life, functioning point fielder.
"We won ugly yesterday," Arthur said. "We can't sugar-coat that fact. And wins like we have - like we did yesterday, when you win ugly, you learn a lot about the team. So I guess it gives a lot of confidence. Yeah, a lot of confidence going forward for the players, really. We've got nothing to lose, yes, but we've always said we're in it to win it. When we chatted last night at the end of the game, the last thing I want is for us to go away now thinking that we got to a semi-final, we're okay, we've achieved [something] because that would be a cop-out in my mind."
Pakistan have essentially got to the semi-final thanks to South Africa being horrible, a timely shower and Sri Lanka forgetting how to field. It is not that they haven't played some great cricket at times, but they have also played some horrible cricket at times. "We were written off totally, and probably rightly so, after the Indian clash because we were shambolic," Arthur said. "We were terrible."
As Arthur emphasised, they can't be satisfied with a final-four finish. They should use it to achieve something bigger, like beating England in this form. It would be one of cricket's great upsets.
If England are playing ODI cricket of the future, Pakistan are stuck in medieval times. A few wickets won't slow England down; you need to take out their entire first nine, and also handle their bowlers who attack throughout the 50 overs. "We'll be fine," Arthur said. "You know - we'll be fine. [Laughter]". The laughter was added by the ICC stenographer. We will know if laughter actually follows on Wednesday.
Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber