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One minute down - Mickey Arthur's tryst with Pakistan cricket
The Turbulent Journey

One minute down - Mickey Arthur's tryst with Pakistan cricket

Around the time that General Ayub Khan was reeling from the impact of the 1965 stalemate with India (depending on who you ask), Mickey Arthur was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. The English team with the likes of Ken Suttle and Derek Underwood was wrapping up its tour of Ceylon and Karachi as Arthur opened his eyes to the world.

Roughly half a century later, ex-cricketer and now coach, Mickey Arthur had his hands on the soon to be cancelled Champions Trophy winners medal as his side had done something only mercurial sides of yesteryear could achieve. There was something about this Green Shirts squad. A certain winsome swagger, the ability to burst through with moments of mind-boggling brilliance that would put match-fixing convicts to shame. Be it that extra hint of reverse swing, ostensibly due to 'questionable' handling of the ball or a gritty lower-order half-century, there was a spring in this side's step. Much praise was heaped on Chachu Mickey as he is affectionately referred to by my coterie of close friends who lead double lives as Pakistan cricket fans as they saunter through the mundanity of corporate slavery every other day.

Ahmer Naqvi of the Karachi Khatmal infamy once tweeted that he would rather his kids grow up to be narcotics addicts than fans of Pakistan cricket given the excruciating turbulence that the journey involves. I will not bore you with factoids about Arthur’s achievements, those are always one Mazher Arshad tweet or a Cricket Monthly piece away. What I will try to impress upon my reader is the pitifully poor treatment that was meted out to Mickey Arthur as he departed from Kardar Road to what must have seemed to him at the time to the markedly greener and wetter pastures of Colombo. On the eve of a lukewarm World Cup where the 'Shaheens' led by Shaheen Shah Afridi blew hot and cold, Arthur was mercilessly shown the door. Vigorous yet ill-informed debate ensued about the efficacy of the decision as Kaptaan 2.0 Misbah-ul-Haq was handed the reins of a team that seemed to be in a state of constant flux. T20 chart-toppers on one hand and number seventh in ODIs on the other.

Confusing dissonance is something you can find in the average Pakistani liberal as well as a Punjabi bowling attack for the Quaid-e-Azam Trophy final (you know who you are). Alas, a rained out game against the Sri Lankans and a tepid performance against the Aussies at Somerset ensured that the team was on the next flight home after the group stage of the 2019 World Cup was over. There were positives, sure. From Babar’s perseverant knock against the Kiwis to Shaheen’s emergence as a spearhead fast bowler, there was much to write home about.

Also Read: ‘Babar’s hundred against New Zealand in World Cup one of the best I’ve ever seen’ – Mickey Arthur

Soon after, followed a flurry of arguably poorly informed administrative decisions from Chairman Ehsan Mani and MD Wasim Khan. The latter’s clipped prep school accent ensured that he would never be welcomed warmly at the PCB headquarters in Gulberg. Naturally, he faced heaps of opposition from the old guard. Soon enough, it was clear that he was calling the shots on most things. And whilst we must not point fingers at someone with a spick and span administrative record, the Misbah appointment led many a Pakistan cricket fan scratching her head. How could someone who was still studying for his MBA whilst the squad members he coached were scoring tons against India in India, effectively manage the historically mismanaged? Moreover, the dual nature of his rule ensured, as an Indian journalist and public intellectual pointed out, that players would not be open to the coach about technical deficiencies given the possibility of non-selection.

 Mickey Arthur chats with then-Test skipper Misbah-ul-Haq ©Getty Images

Mickey Arthur chats with then-Test skipper Misbah-ul-Haq ©Getty Images

The treatment that was reserved for Mickey, who led us to Champions Trophy, Test and T20 glory is commonplace in Pakistan. Be it Younis Khan or Mohammad Yousuf or Rashid Latif, all have suffered the hypocritical wrath of those in power. Nonetheless, Pakistan cricket manages to achieve in spite of the diseased system. The system is all-encompassing - media, players, agents, sponsors, Mickey Arthur's like those of the late Bob Woolmer, Jonty Rhodes, etc. before him can not be written off easily. But woe is us, a decade later Chachu will just be another name at the gallery outside the media suite at the disgustingly named Muammar Gaddafi stadium.

Misbah’s induction into the think tank speaks to a larger Pakistani fascination with iron-clad fists and a romanticisation of the past. Take the team’s only World Cup win. The current Prime Minister made it all the way from Zaman Park to Constitution Avenue on the back of a chambre and characteristically Pakistani performance down under. A PPP spokesperson once commented that one Wasim Akram spell and Ramiz Raja’s safe hands gave us the current ruling elite. But this is not about electoral politics, not yet.

The victory might have brought temporary satiation but in the long run, everything from the mental health of the average Shaheen fan to Pakistani music and arts suffered. Pakistanis settled for a broken first-class system and a less than mediocre music scene as countrymen and women realised that you could produce results by putting in a half-hearted effort. From the tawdry 2003 World Cup anthem by Strings to the still gaping lack of a hard-hitting opening batsman are all a result of the 1992 victory.

Back to Chachu Mickey. One hopes that history will be kind to him and that he will be remembered for his services to the game in Asia more than how he hurt fragile egos in Australia. It might be fair to say that Chachu had some dictatorial tendencies and a soft spot for the next biggest thing in batting. Certain sports presenters who took the liberty of pointing the latter out had to learn of Babar’s distaste at being called Mickey’s son, the hard way. And as Pakistanis, we are highly attuned to the ‘dunda’ mode of rule. Where those that step out of line are either beaten into shape, maimed, tortured, threatened or worse called traitors. Mickey was subjected to none of this but his palpable antipathy towards sections of the local media are no secret. He is generally seen as media-friendly and keeps his responses crisp. As fate would have it, Arthur’s first order of business was to fly back to Pakistan for a two-match Test series against his former employer’s squad. The Lankan Tigers were defeated but an effusive Arthur seemed to be in a good space. The expletive-laden shots of him in the dressing room biting his nails and pacing back and forth were missing. Perhaps due to the absence of a helpless Wahab Riaz in the Lankan team.

A few months ago Maleeha Lodhi was fired as the Permanent Representative of Pakistan at the United Nations. She was replaced by Munir Akram, formerly accused of sexual assault. This move on the incumbent party's part also speaks to our obsession with tried and tested experts. The failings of expertise are lost on no one. Timothy Mitchell and Van Jones could write a thesis on it but bringing him back is a daft move, to put it mildly. Misbah’s appointment is in the same vein. A glorification of bygones that never really made it or rather underachieved is embedded within the Pakistani psyche.

Some time before his departure for Colombo, John Michael "Mickey" Arthur said: "A good coach will come in ra, ra, ra and rejig the whole set-up. That might work for a year or 18 months but isn't sustainable. A great coach has the ability to get the best out of his players without the ra, ra, ra stuff.” The lack of 'ra-ra' continues. Perhaps one day Pakistanis will learn to respect their heroes and spend less time about which sect to call infidel and attack beliefs of the other.

Till then, a small couplet from a gentleman all too familiar with fate’s cruelty [translated by Bhupinder Singh on WordPress]:

Where a tradition has been invented- that none shall walk with his head held high

If at all one goes for a gander, a pilgrimage

One must walk, eyes lowered, the body crouched in fear

The heart in a tumultuous wrench at the sight

Of stones and bricks locked away and mongrels breathing freely

In this tyranny that has many an excuse to perpetuate itself

Those crazy few that have nothing but your name on their lips

Facing those power-crazed that both prosecute and judge, wonder

To whom does one turn for defence, from whom does one expect justice?

But those whose fate it is to live through these times

Spend their days in your mournful memory

When hope begins to dim, my heart has often conjured

Your forehead sprinkled with stars

And when my chains have glittered

I have imagined that dawn must have burst upon thy face

Thus one lives in the memories of thy dawns and dusks

Imprisoned in the shadows of the high prison walls

Thus always has the world grappled with tyranny

Neither their rituals nor our rebellion is new

Thus have we always grown flowers in fire

Neither their defeat, nor our final victory, is new!

Thus we do not blame the heavens

Nor let bitterness seed in our hearts

We are separated today, but one day shall be re-united

This separation that will not last beyond tonight, bears lightly on us

Today the power of our exalted rivals may touch the zenith

But these four days of omniscience too shall pass

Those that love thee keep, beside them

The cure of the pains of a million heart-breaks