Mickey Arthur: What Pakistan must do to win in Australia

The former Pakistan coach expects the top six to score heavily, but is concerned by the inexperience in the pace department

Mickey Arthur
Azhar Ali relishes the opportunity of leading Pakistan in Test cricket  •  PCB

Azhar Ali relishes the opportunity of leading Pakistan in Test cricket  •  PCB

Pakistan have never won a Test series in Australia. They've lost nine series and drawn two as well as drawing a one-off match on their first visit in 1964 - with some hefty defeats among one or two closer contests. Now, under the new leadership of captain Azhar Ali and coach Misbah-ul-Haq they will try to overturn a home side that is finding its mojo again and remains formidable in their conditions. ESPNcricinfo spoke to Mickey Arthur, the former Pakistan, Australia and South Africa coach - and perhaps soon the new Sri Lanka coach - about what it takes to win in Australia and whether this Pakistan can manage it.
Be positive in attack and defence
The key to having success with the bat in Australia is committing to your defence and attack. If you get caught in between you get yourself into trouble. The challenge is different simply because of the bounce. The wickets in Australia are very good if you get yourself in and commit to your decisions, but there is the extra bounce which keeps the bowlers interested all the time. That's why good balance and committed footwork is the key. I think Pakistan are getting better in these conditions. It might sound strange because we lost so badly to South Africa last year but the wickets there went up and down. On the consistent wickets I'm backing Pakistan to bat very well.
Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq are vital, but watch Babar Azam
The two senior batsmen had very good tours last time. Azhar got a double and Asad got a 140 [137] in Brisbane chasing. They are very good players, their games have developed in leaps and bounds over the last couple of years, and I do think it's a very solid top six now. I'm thinking of a top six along the lines of Imam-ul-Haq, Shan Masood - who played really well in South Africa - the experience of Azhar, who plays well off the back foot, then Babar Azam, followed by Haris Sohail and Shafiq. I just think Babar is an unbelievable batsman. His record would tell you that white-ball cricket he has conquered, red-ball cricket not yet. But he's just an incredible batsman and it won't be long before he scores in all formats, without a doubt. Those guys have now developed their games to be able to play very well in Australia. I think they'll get enough runs in that top six.
Keep the scoreboard moving
You've got to be looking to score in Australia all the time. You've got to have a mindset about how you are going to score, rather than a mindset of how you are going to survive, because if you are looking to just survive you'll get tentative and if you get tentative in Australia you'll get found out. Australia will use that, they'll look to strike with the new ball and then they'll look to build pressure as the ball gets older, then [Nathan] Lyon comes into the equation. Pakistan have got to keep looking to score because that's their best way to counter Australia.
Inexperience in the attack a concern
It surprised me that so much inexperience was picked. In Mohammad Abbas you've got a very, very good new-ball bowler. Abbas can strike for you and dry up runs, so he gives you that balance. Shaheen Afridi is going to be an incredible bowler. He's coming off dengue fever so he hasn't bowled that much but he is the future, he's going to be very good. Then it will be who they bowl with those guys - you've got Imran Khan, and the youngsters - so that third seamer will be vital. I think Naseem Shah and Muhammad Musa will be very good bowlers, without a doubt, and the tour is really good for their development, but the thing that worries me is the ability to get six balls in the right area and you need to have that ability in Australia: strike with the new ball then go into a holding pattern. You've got to be able to be very consistent with your line and length so it will be interesting to see if they can get that balance right with their attack.
Pitch the ball up
Your lengths are going to be fuller rather than shorter. You are using the short-pitched ball, the bouncer, as your surprise delivery, your change up, but in Australia you are always in the game because of the bounce if you can get the batsman driving. It's a case of not getting carried away, hitting your areas. Too often we see guys coming to Australia with the pace and bounce, they get cut and pulled, and suddenly you look at the scoreboard, Australia have got off to a flyer and you are trying to pull the game back. You have to have that ability to build pressure. They'll have to do that for long periods of time. I used to coin the phrase that it's okay to be boring if it leads to a positive result, and they have to be able to do that.
The Yasir factor
Yasir Shah didn't have a good tour of Australia last time. The legspinners don't get much turn but they get bounce, particularly at the Gabba, and Shane Warne always said the Gabba was his favorite ground to bowl spin on because of the bounce. Nathan Lyon will say the same thing. Yasir Shah has to deliver in those Tests in both a striking role and a holding role for Pakistan. On the last tour I just think the Australians took him on. They realised that if they could take Yasir on then it means the seamers would have to bowl more overs which would tire them out quicker. It could be an option not to play Yasir, Imran Khan is experienced but then you but then you are going down to playing one of your young seamers. If they get it wrong, the Australia batsmen will come hard at them and they'll bleed quickly. It will be very interesting to see the balance of the side because they don't have an allrounder. The spin-bowling allrounder was Shadab Khan and we tried to develop Faheem Ashraf as well, although his batting hasn't gone to the level in should be. With those guys you could have had Mohammad Rizwan at No. 6. It made the side look a lot more balanced and was a positive side. It was the attacking option and that's the balance I liked with Pakistan.
Don't slip up
The catching is particularly important behind the wicket - slips and the gully. A lot of chances go in that area so they'll have to be on the money. I know that [fielding coach] Grant Bradburn works unbelievably hard and I know they will have put the time in. It's just up the players to hold onto those chances. You have to keep attacking, but you can do that with in-out fields. You could keep an extra catcher but drop your backward point onto the boundary. The dilemma is that lot of runs go to third man in Australia in Test cricket, but that means holding one less catcher so it's a balance. With the new ball you want the catchers in, you want to be as attacking as you can. But when the ball gets older you want to be able to squeeze and build some pressure so hanging onto your catches, being alert in the field, looking for run-outs, saving the one, that's what it all comes down to. Fielding is an attitude. If your attitude is right when you go out to field you'll field well but, again, the key, and I know Grant works so hard on it, will be in the slips. They will get chances in Australia and need to hang onto them.
So can they win?
Getting 20 wickets is the key, it is everywhere. Pakistan, I think, will get enough runs. They have a very solid top six. It's going to be the ability to bowl Australia out twice that will be tested. But the likes of Abbas and Afridi, I have no doubt with. Yasir Shah is a quality bowler, I hope that he steps up the challenge, but it will be the other seamers and how they adapt which will be the biggest question mark.
As told to Andrew McGlashan