Pressure from above led to Arthur departure
Mickey Arthur's resignation as South Africa's coach came in the wake of increasing pressure from administrators over what they saw as the under-performance of the national team.
Arthur quit in dramatic circumstances on Monday, reportedly following an "irreparable breakdown" in his relationship with Graeme Smith. But a source close to Cricket South Africa denied that a rift had developed between coach and captain.
"This is not a Graeme issue," the source told Cricinfo. "Graeme is not that powerful. It looks ugly because he has been through three coaches (Eric Simons, Ray Jennings and Arthur) and three convenors of selectors, but he is still a young captain."
Arthur also said his resignation had nothing to do with Smith. "This is not about Graeme," he told the Hindustan Times."I have absolutely no issues with Graeme. We had and have a very sound relationship. It will all come out in the press conference tomorrow, as he's flying down to keep me company."
Instead, it seems official reaction to South Africa's comparative lack of recent success forced Arthur's hand. The team won just one of the six Tests they played in 2009, and drew their home series against England this month.
"Arthur doesn't handle pressure well at all, and he is facing pressure from a few different sources on a few different issues," the source said. "The board is questioning him on the team's non-performance and on issues like transformation. Even though he has been getting frustrated with these questions, the timing of his resignation is strange."
However, Smith's vice-captain, Ashwell Prince, disagreed that South Africa had performed poorly with Arthur at the helm. "He's had five years in the job, and he's taken the team to the top in both the Test and one-day rankings," Prince told Cricinfo. "I wouldn't have thought he would be under pressure to resign."
Despite their consistently high one-day ranking, South Africa have failed to win ICC events and have instead earned a reputation as the most reliable chokers in the game. Prince took a different view. "South Africa haven't done as well as they would have liked in one-day and Twenty20 tournaments, but those events are tough to win," he said.
Whatever the reasons behind Arthur's resignation, a selection dispute doesn't seem to be among them. "I was very surprised," South Africa's selection chief and a former national coach himself, Mike Procter, told Cricinfo. "We had meetings last Tuesday, and there was no hint of anything like this. I didn't have a clue."
South Africa's Test and one-day squads for their imminent tour to India were announced last Monday. Neither squad contained the kind of shock selection that could force a resignation, and Procter said conflicts with Arthur were rare: "He was very good to work with from a selector's point of view. Obviously, we had the odd disagreement over selection, but that's normal."
Prince was equally bemused by Arthur's decision. "For me, it's quite a surprise," he said. "I will miss him, because the team operates like a family. Just the other day we all had Christmas lunch together, along with our wives and children."
Corrie van Zyl, a former South African assistant coach, will take the team to India in a caretaker capacity. The source denied that Vincent Barnes had, as has been reported, been sacked or had resigned as bowling coach.
Kepler Wessels, the former South African captain and Northamptonshire coach, is one of the contenders to replace Arthur in the long-term, as is the former England coach, Duncan Fletcher, who has served the team as a batting consultant in recent seasons. Arthur is reportedly hoping to further his career with an English county.
Telford Vice and Firdose Moonda are freelance cricket writers in South Africa