Mickey Arthur is the youngest national coach in contemporary cricket. He seemed to have shown attributes of being a good coach even during his playing days for Griqualand West and Orange Free State as a right-handed batsman. The 38-year-old from Johannesburg may not have played international cricket, but his surprise choice as the successor to the strict Ray Jennings in May 2005 has worked well for the South Africans, who are currently ranked number two in the world.
Arthur lays out his ideas to beat the upcoming rivals, Sri Lanka first on Tuesday here followed by the game against Pakistan on October 27 if South Africa are to enter the semifinals.
Excerpts from a chat with Arthur after Sunday’s practice session:
On areas to improve ahead of Sri Lanka game:
We have to improve on all areas. It is a huge game for us. Every game is a semifinal. It is a must-win situation. There is a lot of pressure on us. That is the way we like to play. We are looking to improve in all areas.
We were a little bit disappointed with our overall performance against New Zealand. The wicket obviously did not help when we batted. But we did not play well enough to threaten New Zealand. So we have got to lift our game hugely.
On contemplating any change in playing XI:
We have an option, whether to play an extra batsman or play an extra bowler depending on the conditions. The option whether AB de Villiers will come in our starting line-up will be decided on Monday after having a closer look at the conditions. We opted to play the extra bowler against New Zealand but there may be a strategy change in this game.
On how tough it was to regroup the team after abandoning the tri-series in Lanka in August:
That was really tough for us and that hampered our preparations hugely because we were looking at one-dayers against Sri Lanka and India to try certain combinations and try some younger players. We were without Smith and Kallis. It gave our fringe players some opportunity to bat and bowl in really important positions in the team. Unfortunately, that did not materialise. We did try to improvise in the series against Zimbabwe and a couple of franchise games at home and in three practice matches out here. But we wanted to see the guys in some stiff opposition that Sri Lanka and India provide. It was very disappointing to miss out on games in Lanka.
On the pressure, especially after each of the other teams in his group having won a game each:
International cricket is always pressure. We play under pressure whatever the situation is. It is nothing new and will always be there. The destiny of these competitions still lie in our hands. We win the two games and we will be in the semifinals. We beat Lanka, we beat Pakistan and we qualify. We hold our own destiny and do not have to rely on results.
Whatever happens is up to us. If we perform well, if we play well we can still go all the way in this competition and we have to be on the top of our game to do that.
On whether he subscribes to the use of Poly Vinyl Acetate on Brabourne pitch:
Unfortunately it was our game, the way the pitch behaved in the second half, that probably prompted that decision. In ODIs, you can’t have a game of two halves. You can’t have a pitch behaving totally different in the second innings. Yes, we had the advantage of winning the toss but we squandered that advantage.
On what makes his side strong contenders:
We have a lot of stars. We have a lot of guys who played for the World XI this time last year. One of our strengths is our togetherness. The diversity of the country has brought us together. We play as a unit. That is our strength. The team spirit is brilliant. The guys tend to look after each other and that is important in cricket.
On plans to tackle Muttiah Muralitharan:
We discuss Murali a lot and we have got a lot of video footages of him. We have just come out of a Test series where Murali bowled a huge amount of overs against us. He is a world-class performer and challenges any team that play against him. Ours is no different. Our guys played him fairly well in that Test series. We are confident we have a plan against him.