Pakistan news August 3, 2017

'There's no comfort zone for anybody' - Arthur

Pakistan coach, Mickey Arthur, stressed on the need to maintain minimum fitness standards ahead of the new season © Getty Images

Mickey Arthur has urged the Pakistan players to return to training from August 22, ahead of a full series against Sri Lanka in October. Pakistan have not played any cricket since the Champions Trophy, which they won in June, but Arthur believes four months without top-level cricket will not affect the side as they prepare for the new season. Since their return from the Champions Trophy, a few players have been on holiday while others, like captain Sarfraz Ahmed, are in the middle of county stints.

"I've sent emails out to the players. They deserved everything they got after the Champions Trophy," Arthur said. "It was a phenomenal achievement by all of them and I'm so proud of the way they fought back, their commitment, their work ethic - everything was outstanding, but it's finished now, it's gone, that's done. We come back here for the camp from August 22."

Arthur made it clear that players will have to meet a "minimum standard" of fitness to be considered for selection. "There's no comfort zone for anybody," he said "The celebrations are now over, it's now time to get back to work, get back to the hard work. We have had eight guys here over the last couple of days working extremely hard. We're under no illusion that the Champions Trophy was just the start of the journey, we've got to keep pushing to keep getting better and better, and that we'll only do with real hard work. There's not going to be any hangover from the Champions Trophy, I can assure you that."

According to the ICC's Future Tours Programme, Pakistan were scheduled to tour Bangladesh in August, but the tour was called off after talks between both boards failed. To counter the dry spell, the Pakistan Cricket Board has organised a conditioning camp, not just to enhance fitness levels of players but also help the team management identify players who can fill the void left by the retirements of Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq.

Arthur believes competition for places should spur the contenders. "We can keep Azhar Ali opening the batting or we can move him to three. If we do that, we are looking for two opening batsmen," he said. "Shan Masood started the last Test, Ahmed Shehzad was in the West indies but didn't play in the last Test. Sami Aslam is playing particularly well at the moment, so there's good competition for the opening spots.

"If Azhar Ali bats at three, we've got Asad Shafiq and Babar Azam. We took Usman Salahuddin with us to the West Indies, he impressed with the way he worked and the way he trained. His technique was good. Haris Sohail has come back really well, he offers us left-arm spin, so we are looking for a fifth bowler and he becomes an option. Basically, we've got strength and depth. We've started moving into a position where we can play players and give them extended runs because we've got enough pushing through in order to keep our standards high, in order to do the job that's required."

Arthur was also forthcoming on the controversy surrounding Umar Akmal. Umar had been axed from the Champions Trophy squad after failing two fitness Tests and was also omitted from the list of central contracts. "Umar Akmal failed several fitness tests, what do you want us to do?" he asked. "I would have thought if you've failed one or two you would never put yourself in that position again. Well he's had several opportunities and hasn't passed one, so that's up to him.

"We've got enough in order to move on without any player that doesn't fit into our standards and requirements. All the balls are in his court (now), I can't stand here and say anybody is excluded from playing for Pakistan, it's up to him. What I do know is anybody coming into the team needs to have minimum standards."

Umar Farooq is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent