Pakistan's players returned to national duty in New Zealand in worse shape after a five-week break, according to coach Mickey Arthur. Maintaining high fitness standards for Pakistan's cricketers has been a particular challenge for Arthur, and on a tough tour in which Pakistan were blown away 5-0 in the ODIs before bouncing back to clinch the T20I series, their lack of match fitness was at times exposed by a fresher looking New Zealand side.
Arthur deemed the ODI showing unacceptable, saying his focus was primarily on the 2019 World Cup, for which he would in future look to manage players' T20 commitments in a way that did not compromise their match fitness when they turned out for Pakistan.
"I saw that players returned in a far worse state physically and technically when they were away from us for five weeks," Arthur told ESPNcricinfo. "Of course I want our players to make extra money, so I will be reasonable with our management plan. But some players came back far worse from T20 competitions in all departments. It's just so important to manage the players individually because each case is different."
Pakistan's last international commitment before the New Zealand tour was against Sri Lanka, a tour which ended on October 29. Since then their players have taken part in a domestic T20 competition, some played in the BPL, some in the T10 tournament in the UAE and one - Shadab Khan - in a few matches in the BBL. That broke a period in which the management's oversight of players' fitness was very hands-on, perhaps even too overbearing. Last August, for example, because of a board mix-up, some players ended up returning to Pakistan from commitments in the CPL and England just to take fitness tests in Lahore and then fly back.
But fitness levels after this break will only reinforce the need for that kind of strict approach. Pakistan's players did undergo fitness tests in Lahore before the New Zealand series but without senior management present. Arthur has clamped down hard on several occasions in the past.
Arthur stressed the importance of planning towards the 2019 World Cup in England more than once, saying everything they did in the time between should ensure players' peak physical condition during that tournament. That, he said, would mean having to rest players strategically, drawing a comparison between Hasan Ali and Trent Boult. Hasan had a disappointing ODI series with the ball, conceding 217 runs in 33.5 overs and taking just six wickets. On the other hand, Boult was arguably the best bowler on either side with 9 wickets in four games, including 5 for 17 in the third ODI, the second-best figures in his career.
"I want a conditioning window and technical window outside of series time to improve our players in all departments," Arthur said. "It's hard to do it in the middle of a series. The example I used was Hasan played all competitions after Champions Trophy while Boult had a three-month conditioning process. We see the difference in terms of freshness and performance. I want us to manage our players according to what we think their needs are. The players we think are going to play in the World Cup have to be in optimum condition for it. Even if it means resting players for games and series."
Arthur insisted he did not wish to place a moratorium on Pakistan's players taking part in foreign T20 leagues, but did say there would be a more uncompromising line on player fitness. "My concern is the players need to be working hard off the field in terms of fitness during all these competitions, not coming back in worse shape. I want them to make money but not at the expense of performance for Pakistan."