Arthur learns to appreciate Sohail Khan again

Sohail Khan had conceded 20 off the penultimate over allowing the visitors a series-levelling victory, but Mickey Arthur launched into an unlikely and passionate defence of his charge

Danyal Rasool
Danyal Rasool
Sohail Khan dropped Mitchell Starc at long-off, Australia v Pakistan, 2nd Test, 5th day, Melbourne, December 30, 2016

Sohail Khan dropped Mitchell Starc at long-off  •  Cricket Australia/Getty Images

A hard taskmaster. A feared disciplinarian. The sort of chap who'd send Mitchell Johnson home from a tour for not doing his homework. The kind of guy who'd round up his team mid-T20 game and dress them down in front of a packed stadium, not to mention the millions watching at home. The type of bloke who'd single out Sohail Khan and tear into him for not meeting the standard he has set. That's who Mickey Arthur is.
But if you had attended his press conference following the World XI's nail-biting defeat of Pakistan in the second T20I in Lahore yesterday, you might have been forgiven for thinking he had sent in his mellower doppelganger to face the media. This was a contest that had all the ingredients to brew up a Mickey Arthur-temper. There had been a failure to stick to team plans, lack of discipline in the field and loss of nerve when the pressure really began to tell. But here sat the forbidding head coach, agreeably explaining what had gone wrong, and defending - no, emphasising - the importance of giving players second chances. Even when specifically questioned about Sohail, who had conceded 20 off the penultimate over allowing the visitors to even fathom a series-levelling victory, Arthur launched into a passionate defence of his charge.
"We're trying to win a series here and we haven't given the Sri Lanka tour a thought. What I do know about Sohail Khan is that Sohail's worked exceptionally hard. We can see his fitness levels are far better. He's a very skilful bowler, Sohail, you know, he really is. That was never the issue. He worked hard, he deserved a comeback, he deserved another go."
Mid-sentence into his exoneration of Sohail, the power in the media centre went off, plunging the place into darkness. It is, unfortunately, not the most uncommon sight in Pakistan, and many started laughing, a sort of gallows humour that has become the best coping mechanism against such a major inconvenience. Arthur, however, did not want his praise of Sohail to fade away into the darkness, and even before the power came back on to allow his microphone to start working, he raised his voice over the stream of chattering that had broken out in the room.
"Just to finish the point about Sohail, he's going to get opportunities like everybody else will. He's deserved this opportunity to come back because he's worked damn hard. He's put in the time, he's put in the effort."
It might just be a sign of Arthur mellowing; he did, after all, repeatedly talk about how he wished to give lots of players opportunities to allow them to prove themselves. Or perhaps after being seen as unfit even by Pakistani standards, Sohail may indeed have been stung into action and impressed his head coach with his commitment to training. Or maybe - and this is where many will hedge their bets - Arthur simply came to realise that if you operate a one-strike policy in Pakistan, you run out of players rather quickly.
Either way, Wednesday's press conference might have sent a message to his players, particularly in light of the recent spat with Umar Akmal, that none of it was personal. Here was a coach used to exacting standards of performance from his players, and any castigation or chastisement was just his method of trying to get them to raise their game. Most importantly, with the right attitude, you could bring him round.
On a day when others might be ripping into Sohail, he had his coach, formerly his bête noire, to defend him. Sohail, nor anyone else, was immune to rehabilitation.

Danyal Rasool is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Danny61000