Pakistan v Sri Lanka: Mickey Arthur returns with a point to prove in historic Test series

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A familiar figure touched down in Islamabad on Monday as the Sri Lanka squad descended on Pakistan for what will be a historic two-match Test series.

The islanders have arrived in the country with a new man in charge of affairs and it is a face which is well known to Pakistan cricket. Having been appointed as the new head coach of Sri Lanka, fate has conspired with Mickey Arthur who’s first assignment is against a side he led for more than three years.

While he might have had his critics during his three-year tenure, there were many things to laud about the former South Africa and Australia coach’s work with the Pakistan cricket team. For starters, he led the team to a historic triumph in the 2017 ICC Champions Trophy in England where they thumped their arch-rivals India in a lopsided final.

His reign also saw Pakistan establish themselves as the undisputed No1 side in the T20I format for over two years and running, although that crown is now on the verge of slipping after a spate of recent debacles.

However, the team’s failure to qualify for the 2019 World Cup semi-final proved to be Arthur’s undoing, with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) opting not to renew his contract despite his enthusiasm to continue at the helm.

Instead, they have turned to former skipper Misbah-ul-Haq, a man who was ironically on the PCB’s cricket committee which voted against handing Arthur a new contract. Misbah has been handed complete control of Pakistan cricket with the former batting stalwart juggling the triple role of head coach, batting coach and chief selector.

It is just the fourth month of Misbah’s tenure but the results are already damning. Under him, Pakistan were resoundingly whitewashed 3-0 in a T20I series by a second-string Sri Lanka outfit. His side did manage to pip the same Sri Lankan team in the ODI-leg and that remains the only positive result besides his name in his new roles.

More recently, they have just returned from a chastening tour of Australia where they were emphatically crushed in both the T20I and Test series by the marauding hosts. In simple terms, life under Misbah has been as harsh as it gets for Pakistan with the bright spots being few and far between.

Some of his selections have been questionable at best while the results have been anything but flattering. His decision to appoint Azhar Ali as the new skipper of the Test outfit is also not looking like a wise one based on the evidence of the Australia tour. He is, after all, a man with no prior coaching experience on his resume and the responsibilities which have been placed on his shoulders are immense.

Arthur's Pakistan reign had plenty of high points.

Arthur’s Pakistan reign had plenty of high points.

Although it might be unfair to judge Misbah so early into his tenure, the signs are already starting to look ominous. So, as Pakistan get ready to host their first Test match in over a decade, they might already be missing the man who will now be seated in the visiting team’s pavilion.

Arthur’s Test record with Pakistan was used as a stick to beat him with the team falling to ‘home’ series defeats against Sri Lanka and New Zealand in the UAE during his stint. However, there were also some good things achieved in red-ball cricket including two drawn Test series in a row in England, an away series win in West Indies and a home victory over Australia last year.

Say what you may about Arthur, but the man has considerable experience, and at the highest level to boot. It wasn’t surprising that Sri Lanka wasted no time in securing his signature once he was relieved of his Pakistan duties. Their gain is starting to look like Pakistan’s loss and Arthur now has a golden opportunity to remind his old employers as to what they are missing.

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