Australian cricket has been in a transitionary phase for the last two years. After being put under Mickey Arthur's charge in 2011, the national team has largely performed well. This article explored the challenges that Arthur faced at the start of his tenure as Australia's coach.
No longer had Australia scripted a thrilling victory against South Africa in Johannesburg, Cricket Australia announced the appointment of Mickey Arthur as Australia’s new permanent head coach. He is Australia’s first foreign coach. Arthur is widely respected in cricketing circles and was behind South Africa’s rise to the number one spot in test matches in 2010. Having built up his reputation during his five-year tenure as South Africa’s coach, he proceeded to coach Australian domestic side, Western Australia, in 2010.
After becoming Western Australia’s coach last year, he has made a serious effort to familiarise himself with the workings of Australian cricket. He is not somebody who suffers fools gladly and at Western Australia, he developed a strict regime which triggered off the process of revitalization of the state side last season. As the Argus committee recommendations have been accepted now, Arthur will enjoy unprecedented powers as Australia’s coach. Apart from coaching duties, he will be on the selection committee and will also be able to shape the coaching philosophy and structure of all the state sides in order to assist the national team.
After the small matter of a two-match test series against New Zealand at home, the first major test for Arthur will be the subsequent home series against India. India, who are themselves coming back off a humbling defeat in England, will look at this series as their best ever opportunity to win a test series in Australia. Australia are in a period of transition and, as seen recently in South Africa, they have developed a habit of buckling under pressure. After the recent travails of the Australian side, even the most ardent fan of Australia will find it tough to be confident about Australia’s chances in the forthcoming series against India.
In South Africa, many problems regarding the current Australian side came to light. One of the major problems currently plaguing the Australian team is the inconsistent performance by their bowlers. There are questions over Mitchell Johnson’s ability to lead the bowling attack for Australia. He has had a poor 23 months, averaging nearly 40 runs per wicket in tests, and if not for his batting he might have well been dropped by now. Peter Siddle is largely innocuous and has struggled to provide vital breakthroughs for Australia. The lone bright spot for the Aussies has been Ryan Harris, who has taken wickets regularly in the last six months, but a chronic knee injury has ensured that it’s tough for him to play regularly. Nathan Lyon is a decent spinner, in the Nathan Hauritz mould, who can provide useful support to the pace attack but he is more of a defensive, rather than an attacking bowler.
Along with Mitchell Johnson, another player whose place in the side is under scrutiny is Brad Haddin. The wicketkeeper batsman has rarely contributed with the bat in recent times and he should consider himself lucky that he hasn’t been dropped for the test series against New Zealand. Matthew Wade, the wicketkeeper from Victoria, has averaged 55 in the Sheffield Shield this season. He has been touted as one of the possible replacements along with Tim Paine. The New Zealand series will go a long way in determining Haddin’s future.
Another major decision that Arthur will have to take at the start of his tenure will be to define Ricky Ponting’s role in the team. Ponting has had a horrible time with the bat in the last two to three years and some experts believe that he should retire now. However, the value of an experienced player like Ponting to the inexperienced Australian squad is immense and Arthur will do well to stick with him. Ponting’s fighting knock in the final test against South Africa showed that he still has got a lot to offer to the Australian side. After all, form is temporary and class is permanent.
Mickey Arthur’s relationship with captain Michael Clarke will be vitally important for Australia’s future. As Arthur said, the relationship between a coach and a captain is like a marriage. In the past 2-3 years, one of the major reasons behind any team’s success has been the relationship between the captain and the coach, as seen in India and England. Mickey Arthur himself shared a great relationship with Graeme Smith, during his time as South Africa’s coach. Michael Clarke has a daunting task of bringing back the halcyon days of Australian cricket and he will require his coach’s undying support to overcome this tough challenge.
Finally, there’s no doubt that Mickey Arthur has taken up the most challenging job in world cricket presently. He has courageously put his reputation on the line and as he is Australia’s first foreign coach, he will face an even greater scrutiny from the Australian media and fans than what his predecessors had to go through. In such a tumultuous period for Australian cricket, Cricket Australia has shown that it’s not averse to making bold decisions. Now it’s Mickey Arthur’s turn to make some bold decisions of his own.