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Feature

How Mickey Arthur's Pakistan stint unravelled

In his first interview since his exit, Arthur discusses his final days in charge, and his worries about Pakistan cricket's future

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
01-Feb-2024
Babar Azam and Mickey Arthur were the biggest casualties of Pakistan's league-stage exit from the World Cup  •  ICC via Getty Images

Babar Azam and Mickey Arthur were the biggest casualties of Pakistan's league-stage exit from the World Cup  •  ICC via Getty Images

It was a smoggy Wednesday afternoon in November, and Mickey Arthur was puzzled. He stood on a balcony at Lahore's Gaddafi Stadium, the headquarters of the Pakistan Cricket Board. He'd been speaking to the PCB's Cricket Operations Director Usman Wahla, discussing logistics ahead of Pakistan's Test tour of Australia in December. He'd been asked to wait after a meeting with the chairman had broken for a recess, and he couldn't understand what was taking so long.
Most of the cricketing world's focus, even in Pakistan, wasn't on Lahore. It was World Cup semifinal day, and New Zealand were giving India a bit of a scare in a tall chase, with Daryl Mitchell and Kane Williamson's entertaining partnership ensuring the game in Mumbai would be a contest rather than preparation for a coronation. In Pakistan cricket, however, a storm was brewing, and attention would soon shift from Mumbai to Lahore.
Arthur was at the Gaddafi for a performance review called for by the PCB management committee head Zaka Ashraf following Pakistan's relatively underwhelming World Cup campaign; they were knocked out at the group stage with four wins and five defeats. Arthur, Pakistan's team director, was already looking ahead, focusing on a high-profile three-Test tour of Australia, a country where Pakistan had lost every Test they had played since 1995.
"At the end of the World Cup we went back to Lahore," Arthur tells ESPNcricinfo in his first interview since his exit. "We had planned the whole Australian tour, so much so that we had thought about teams and combinations. We arrived in Pakistan and there was silence initially.
"And then Zaka wanted a review meeting of the World Cup. We went to that, I did a presentation, Rehan [ul Haq, the team manager] did a presentation. Grant [Bradburn, the head coach] spoke, the whole management team was in this meeting.
"There was a recess and we were starting a camp two days later. I was still on the balcony organising with Usman Wahla what our logistics were going to be. And I wondered why there was such a break in this review. And then I got a little whisper in my ear that Zaka wanted to see me in a separate office in the museum at the HPC [High Performance Centre]. I went in, he asked me a whole lot of questions and then he said, 'look, we're going to remove the whole support staff and captain, basically, and that was it.'"
That moment set off bedlam in Pakistan cricket. It would emerge that none of Arthur, Bradburn or Rehan would go to Australia or the subsequent series in New Zealand. Former Pakistan allrounder Mohammad Hafeez, who did not have any coaching or management experience, was appointed team director as well as head coach, concentrating the responsibilities of both Arthur and Bradburn into a man who had the experience of neither.
Ashraf views it differently. "Hafeez is patriot," Ashraf tells ESPNcricinfo. "He has a lot of cricketing experience. He had a lot of coaches under him who could handle and organise. Mickey was also not personally handling coaching himself.
"Hafeez was the team director like Mickey and had to manage things, which he did in a professional way. At critical situations during international tours, Mickey had to fly and he had refused to join Pakistan because of his contract with Derbyshire county. He was basically coaching online. I have all my respect for him, but how can you do coaching on Zoom?"
Arthur, who is currently two years into a four-year contract with Derbyshire, was pursued by Ashraf's predecessor Najam Sethi, who wanted him in as head coach. "It was a stable job," Arthur says pointedly. "I had a really good contract. I couldn't just drop this and do Pakistan. That goes against my grain. And I told Najam that."
The PCB and Arthur eventually worked out a deal where Arthur continued with his job at Derbyshire while appointing a team to work with him as team director. It meant he wasn't around for a significant chunk of his time with Pakistan cricket, especially during the English county season.
"I used to wake up early," he says. "I used to be up at 5.30 in the morning. I would do all my correspondence until 7.30, then get into Derbyshire, do our day, while being available on the phone through the day. And then when I got home I would sit with Grant over Zoom, and we'd plan out what the next block of days looked like for the Pakistan team. So I was spending a lot of time daily with Pakistan when I wasn't there too."
Either way, Arthur joined the team part-way through the Asia Cup, and was with Pakistan for the entirety of their World Cup campaign. There was no clash with the England domestic season during Pakistan's tours of Australia and New Zealand, and he was slated to be with the team throughout those tours when the decision was made.
There was something even more immediate, though. Babar Azam, Pakistan's captain in all three formats, was also at the performance review. He was told he was being removed, and opted to issue a statement of reluctant resignation. The PCB's official version suggested he was only told he would be removed from ODI and T20I captaincy, although this is a version that has been disputed.
It all happened at a time when Ashraf was only acting as PCB chairman in a caretaker capacity since he was never formally elected to the position. As such, he was barred by a court in Pakistan from making decisions that extended beyond nominal day-to-day operational calls. In practice, however, that distinction was never truly enforced, and turnover during Ashraf's time was high.
"The whole review was just a charade," Arthur says. "I would have had a bit more respect for Zaka if he'd said it straight out. The way I realised the whole thing was a charade was Mohammad Hafeez was already sitting at the PCB offices and that's why Zaka got into trouble because our meeting went on and on and on."
Unlike Babar, though, Arthur and the coaching staff did not resign. "I was savvy enough in my contract negotiation to put in a clause that there was a three-month termination settlement, not a one-month settlement. We weren't going to resign because the minute you resign, you walk out and that's it. For all the efforts we put in, the coaches and I deserved the three-month settlement.
"The PCB said we would be reassigned, but that was impossible. You can't reassign people who have signed contracts. You can't just reassign the team director, head coach and batting coach of the national team. That was a charade to get rid of us."
In the end, a new management team was ushered in, with Adam Holliake and Umar Gul coming in as batting and bowling coaches under Hafeez. Pakistan endured a disappointing tour, with Australia running away with the Test series 3-0, while New Zealand swept them aside 4-1 in the T20Is.
Before that series ended, Ashraf was also out of the PCB, resigning two weeks before the extension awarded to him lapsed. PCB elections still haven't been held, with the board presently chaired by Khawar Shah, the PCB election commissioner.
While Arthur does not rule out a return to Pakistan, he admits his enthusiasm for it has dimmed.
"I still followed Pakistan cricket and I'll always follow it," he says. "But the vigour and thirst and passion I have for Pakistan cricket waned a little bit after that. To be brutally honest, I think Pakistan cricket is in a very disappointing place. There's a massive amount of talent there, There are some world-class players, not just talented players. They're not given the support structure that they need to flourish.
"The one thing we had in 2019 and from the time we won the [2017] Champions Trophy to the end of it was an environment where the players were pushed. There was a lot demanded of them, but I backed every one of those boys 100%. So then they went out and played for the team instead of playing for them themselves.
"When there's security within the environment, Pakistan is very good. When there's that insecurity, players start playing for themselves instead of the team because they're thinking of the next tour, and the next contract. That's a dangerous place to be in, and that's kind of where Pakistan cricket is now. And that's something that's very disappointing and sad for me."

Danyal Rasool is ESPNcricinfo's Pakistan correspondent. @Danny61000