Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles
Former Australia coach tells Richard Edwards why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Wednesday 16 April 2014
Mickey Arthur is no stranger to chaos. After all, it's not every day that an Ashes coach loses his job before a ball has even been bowled in anger.
Now, though, as England try to move on after a truly dreadful winter, the former Australia coach has called on England to hold their nerve despite a miserable World Twenty20 campaign which included a humiliating defeat to the Netherlands.
Ashley Giles, the limited-overs coach, looked shell-shocked after that loss, as Arthur did in the immediate aftermath of Australia's Champions Trophy exit on English soil last June.
The South African would be relieved of his duties just three weeks before a memorable first Test at Trent Bridge and a series that would ultimately see Andy Flower's England continue their hold over Australia.
Much has changed since, but Arthur believes that evolution rather than further revolution will help stabilise and potentially reverse England's decline after a week in which some of the most eagerly awaited job interviews in English cricket history finally began.
Peter Moores has emerged as a likely front runner for a coaching job that appeared to be in Giles' hands but Arthur believes the England and Wales Cricket Board should tread carefully as it considers Flower's successor.
"Clearly there was a succession plan with Andy Flower, with him [Giles] coming in to the one-day team as coach," says Arthur. "You would have thought that they wouldn't veer off that succession plan. I think it will throw English cricket into a massive amount of turmoil. It could be chaos.
"Suddenly Moores has been made the front runner but it would be tough for him to come back and do it again. I think they've got to give it to Ashley and see how it goes."
It was Arthur's misfortune to find himself involved in an unexpected piece of succession planning in England last summer.
The former South Africa coach had delivered some positive results during the early part of his ill-fated tenure with Australia but found the public mood – not to mention the mood of some of his more disruptive players – was irrecoverably altered during a tour of India shortly before the Aussies touched down to try and reclaim the urn.
That unfortunate piece of pre-Ashes scheduling pitched Australia against a rampant India team who scented blood. In the end the majority of the blood-letting was self-administered by the tourists after Arthur suspended four players – including Shane Watson and Mitchell Johnson – for breaches of team discipline, which amounted to them not handing in suggestions of ways in which the team could improve performance and preparation: "Homeworkgate" as it came to be known. Australia would go on to lose the series 4-0.
It would ultimately prove his undoing, with Darren Lehmann – who was already in England as coach of the Australia A team – taking over the job after Australia's similarly dismal display in the Champions Trophy. "The first 15 months I had in the job, we played some very good cricket but although last [Australian] summer's results were good I just felt [like I was under] more scrutiny and more pressure," says Arthur.
"At the end of the summer we went straight to India and that was a tour from hell for me. I'd be lying if I didn't say that I took a massive amount of strain on that tour. The tour to India was always the death knell for me. I had to make a stand because I thought standards were slipping. I wanted to make a proper stand and set high standards, that's just how I am.
"I wanted people to know that playing international cricket isn't a right and that there are high standards and high expectations and high levels of responsibility.
"The whole saga of leaving four players out was effectively the end for me. Once that happened I did lose one or two players and I was under massive scrutiny from everyone who was just waiting for a slip-up."
That, though, was merely the precursor to a sensational turn of events once the team arrived in England.
"It didn't cross my mind that I wouldn't be leading the side in the Ashes, although once we got knocked out of the Champions Trophy the silence was deafening," he remembers. "I did get a funny feeling in the last two or three days that something wasn't right.
"I was sacked by Australia and my mum passed away the next day. It was a tumultuous time for me. It was really a black moment."
That death, of course, put cricket clearly into perspective, but Arthur's departure does carry the uncanny echo of Flower's experience just seven months later.
In many ways the end of Flower's reign as coach was even more dramatic because so few people saw it coming when his side boarded the plane to Australia as favourites to claim a fourth successive Ashes triumph.
"Australia are tough to beat in home conditions, but I was very surprised at how England folded," Arthur says. "It did surprise me because they had some quality players who, when they got under pressure, just folded.
"I'm very respectful of Andy Flower but my heart just went out to him because I could see how it was going to end. I saw how it ended for me with Australia and the same thing happened to him. He fell out with some players, and player power wins in the end.
"He has done a fantastic job for English cricket but unfortunately as an international coach it always ends in tears somewhere. These jobs don't often have sweet endings."
The distrust between Flower and Kevin Pietersen ended in both losing their jobs, although the Zimbabwean is still working for the ECB as the technical director of elite coaching.
Pietersen, meanwhile, is captaining Delhi Daredevils in the IPL and will spend the rest of his summer playing for Surrey and the St Lucia Zouks in the Twenty20 Caribbean Premier League.
"Was I surprised to see the end of Kevin Pietersen? He was the one player that I always sat up to watch," says Arthur. "It's a tough one because ultimately if those ructions become too much you have to cut them out. It's a massive call because he's certainly England's best player and still one of the best in the world."
Arthur has been linked with the England job but tells The Independent that he "has not thrown his name into the hat". Instead, he insists, he is happy as a director of cricket at a private school in Perth, combining that with work at his private cricket academy and a new role with the Western Australian rugby union side Western Force.
He will also be coaching the Jamaica Tallawahs in the CPL later this year. "It's a little bit less stressful than coaching an international side," he smiles.
Arthur's relaxed demeanour suggests that, despite the events of last year, things have turned out all right for him in the end. Whether the same will be said of England at the conclusion of this summer, only time will tell.
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